How Tonal Pivoted During COVID-19, Challenges Seen During Recovery

Okay, I have to admit it. I want a Tonal system, the wall-mounted smart-gym home exercise equipment that simulates weights.

On Monday during a panel, Sichia Bell, Sr. manager of growth marketing at Tonal, shared the company’s strategy to adapt during COVID-19 at the first virtual Search & Performance Insider Summit. It impressed me.

Tonal launched in 2015, but the company didn’t gain a substantial following until this past year. Bell said the company went from being a startup with aggressive growth goals to dealing with a pandemic and inventory shortages as consumers tried to find exercise equipment to fill their lost time at the gym.  

“We didn’t know if we should change the messaging,” Bell said, referring to the period when COVID hit and gyms closed.

The company pivoted to change its messaging across social, TV, OTT and other media. “Being a startup where you’re sitting pretty scrappy and moving quickly helped,” she said. “We updated about 300 ads within two days.”



Tonal’s marketers thought they knew its audience, but they didn’t. They needed to step back and re-evaluate all channels. It’s an expensive home gym, like a Peloton for strength training. “We assumed our customers were high-income bracket and lived in an owned home,” she said. “One channel we turned back on that hadn’t previously worked was non-branded search. It was very expensive and didn’t always work.”

Bell said Tonal's marketers saw a shift in buyer behavior as people searched for a home gym, which changed search into a stronger channel through keywords like “workout from home.”

Typically, the company focuses on demand generation and prospecting. Trying to leverage paid search to benefit the enterprise, marketers shifted more dollars toward terms not usually bid on like “customer care” to drive consumers to self-service options.

Then marketers began looking at the key performance indicators to determine whether they were measuring the correct metrics. “When it comes to brand performance, consumer behavior has changed and caused us to re-evaluate some of our KPIs and make sure we’re pulling in KPIs relative to the moment, such as the virtual retail experience,” she said.

One thing that allowed Tonal to move quickly was a focus on YouTube content. The company asked consumers to video themselves working out on their equipment.

“Last year we started testing TV and OTT and saw varied performance, but it was really important to keep testing on Hulu and others,” she said. “One thing we’re concerned about is coming out of COVID when people go out and back to the gym. Will there be a need for an expensive gym?”

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