Why SoulCycle is in a downward spiral

For those who aren’t following along, SoulCycle is at the epicenter of a big backlash after reports of the owner’s hosting of a Trump fundraiser. It happened back on August 7th, but a month later and SoulCycle continues to decline and serve as the another examples of a misalignment of brand values and actions. And let’s not mistake that at its very core, this is a brand problem. Let me explain…

SoulCycle had built its cult-like following on a number of principles that attracted a loyal fanbase. When looking at the company’s website in search results, their principles are immediately clear: “Change your body. Find your SOUL.” The attraction wasn’t solely because the spin classes were different and unique. The company couldn’t legitimately claim that their spin classes somehow delivered better results. What built SoulCycle’s success was the principles and beliefs that the brand itself claimed and delivered.

What caused the downward spiral?

It’s easy to point at the Trump fundraiser as the catalyst for the spiral and you’d be right, but possibly for the wrong reasons. SoulCycle’s decline is a story of betrayal of core brand values by the one of the owners, Steven Ross.

Owners and C-level execs represent a brand’s ideal despite how disengaged from the day-to-day operations they may be.

 SoulCycle’s classes didn’t change. Nothing in the organization shifted meaning their product was completely intact, and as effective as it was priory to August 7th. What changed was the legitimacy of the values from a perceptual level. And therein lies the key.

Brand’s are chosen and adopted by Patrons (our word for “consumers”) because of the values they hold. When those values align with a Patron’s desired perceptual state the brand becomes primed for adoption and allegiance. The act empowers a Patron to absorb the brand’s traits as a part of their own to curate a persona they want the world to see. Therefore, when a brand damages the validity of the values and perceptions, the Patron feels a sense of betrayal.

Betrayal isn’t something that comes with light negative effects.  No, betrayal is an outright destructor; and ender of worlds. And in this instance, the betrayal was very real for the loyal Patrons of SoulCycle.

Why didn’t Chick-Fil-A see more of a negative impact?

Unlike SoulCycle, Chick-Fil-A wasn’t a betrayal of it’s core values, and it wasn’t a blindsided action by ownership. The Chick-Fil-A brand is an icon, but not just for consumers. It’s an operations playbook and ideal.

Chick-Fil-A has always been a company owned and operated with faith-based ideals. They’ve never tried to hide this, and they never will. It’s not something they’ve ever shied away from. Most Patrons already know this about the organization. So, when the news hits that Dan T. Cathy has made comments against same-sex marriage, it’s not a surprise nor a true betrayal of values.

Yes, Dan T. Cathy’s comments did offend and hurt a group of Chick-Fil-A Patrons, and there certainly was backlash. However, most people in the public already knew the faith-forward nature of the family, so it wasn’t a scandal or betrayal of brand values.

For SoulCycle, the damage is done and it will a long road to recovery. It may not even be possible. Hopefully they have the legs for it.

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