You probably won’t have heard of Pace Cycling, which shouldn’t come as a surprise; it’s my local spin studio and is less than a year old. But it occurred to me during my workout last weekend that, despite its small size and lack of experience, Pace has mastered the skill of creating a community. This is something that even the most well-known brands find tough to do, but Pace seems to have nailed it. 

How did Pace manage this? By taking immense care over every touchpoint of the customer experience. As you walk in, the receptionist is happy to see you and immediately offers you a drink. A further pre-ordered drink – with your name on it – is waiting for you at the bar after you finish spin class. The shower area is thoughtfully laid out with everything you need, and the design of the reception area where spinning gear is sold creates an energetic yet feminine feel at the same time. Everybody knows each other, and the owner is usually around to listen to feedback, or to take a ride. People come for the work out, but they stay for the community – it’s really that bond that keeps them coming back, time and again. 

Pace teaches us that brand building doesn’t have to be about stunning technology, amazing aesthetics or bumper budgets – it’s about capturing hearts and minds. In a world where rising numbers of adults are describing themselves as lonely, largely thanks to the steady rise of technology, smart phones and social media, it’s clear that brands genuinely have a positive role to play. For me, one of the most rewarding parts about brand-building is the creation of a community on a mass level, which has the ability to inspire and engage people from all over the world. 

Peloton is another example of a brand operating in exactly the same space as Pace, but which has a built a community via technology rather than physical customer touchpoints. Peloton’s flagship product, a high-end indoor fitness cycle, allows users to experience spin studio classes in their own homes by allowing them to participate in live classes over the internet via a monthly subscription fee. 

Dubbed ‘the Apple of fitness’, Peloton’s business model is built on enticing customers to pay for the monthly fee (the touchscreen on the bike becomes virtually useless without it), but impressive work has gone into creating into a library of content in the form of both live and on demand classes, a range of retail products that supplement the bike, and a real community spirit. 

Peloton classes are built around encouraging competition in a healthy and positive way, pushing you to reach your personal goals without the kind of aggression that is sometimes associated with a standard fitness class. In effect, it’s a brand that brings a community into your home. Where else could you find yourself racing against more than 20,000 people, and digitally rubbing shoulders with the likes of Hugh Jackman and Richard Branson? The company’s results are as impressive as its content, with more than half a million subscribers and a prospective IPO that could value Peloton at $4 billion. 

What can we learn from these examples? Firstly, there are significant lessons for the retail sector, which is on the cusp of a dramatic shift. A report from UBS in April suggested that as many as 750,000 stores in North America could close down over the next eight years as the power of e-commerce firms like Amazon continues to grow. 

By far the hardest hit, the research argues, will be clothing and apparel retailers, with brands such as Gap and JC Penney already announcing plans to shutter stores this year. Perhaps that should come as no surprise, given the rise not just of Amazon but companies like Peloton too, which are augmenting their revenues by muscling in on what were once clothing companies’ traditional domains. Industry boundaries are blurring, non-retailers are selling to customers, and retailers are expanding into adjacent sectors and services. 

Nike is an example of a brand that gets it. Its new flagship store in New York covers six stories, features an entire basketball half court and a treadmill in front of a jumbotron that simulates outdoor runs. Away from the size and the next-generation gadgets, however, it’s clear that Nike has also worked hard to build personal touches into every touchpoint of the consumer experience, from customizable sneakers to a range of perks and an exclusive lounge at the top of the store for Nike Plus customers. In short, Nike is using its retail stores to inspire its community and bring them together. 

The takeaway here is that while technology is integral to the needs of today’s consumer, what matters most is community. To be successful in an era when consumers are promiscuous shoppers, are more demanding and less brand loyal than ever before, companies need to understand that real connections are what people want. It is vital that brands continue to transform, engage constantly and grow with their communities. If they don’t, they risk losing that loyalty to a competitor that’s willing to offer them an experience that is authentic, human and personalised.