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Brand Deep DivesMarch 11, 2021

The Audiences Driving Calm's Brand Success

March 11, 2021
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Elena Prokopets
Freelance Writer & Content Strategist

In 2020, the global mental wellness market (including both digital and physical products & services) was worth $121 billion. The meditation and mindfulness segment within it jumped to a staunch $2.9 billion. This makes sense as the pandemic has prompted us to seek out solace and try new therapeutic routines to cope with the uncertain reality.

But even before the world went into shambles, the meditation app market had a lot of movers and shakers. Attest analyzed the popular wellbeing apps in the U.S. They found that over a quarter of people tried one at least once. Among “regulars”, Headspace and Mindstrong were leaders in the pack, with Calm reigning as the most well-known app: over 58% of respondents said that they recognized the Calm brand (even if they didn’t use the app).

That data left us wondering: what’s driving Calm’s success in the mindfulness market? We wanted to dig deeper and discover just which segments of the general population helps the brand achieve over 3.9 million app downloads in one month?

We used our brand tracking platform to analyze Calm’s brand activities and funnel to identify key target audiences driving brand performance. Here’s what we found.

How You Can Become as Cool as Calm

In 2012, Calm entered the market as an online tool for hyperactive Silicon Valley developers. Their simple website featured several free guided meditation classes with extra exercises for poor sleeping, stress, and work performance management — all available for a monthly subscription fee. But despite a sound value proposition and good pricing model, Calm was struggling to turn in a decent profit.

Seven years later, Calm grossed over $92 million in profit from over a million paid subscribers. So how did a geeky tool become a celebrity-endorsed (and even backed!) product with a 10-episode HBO Max series called A World of Calm?

The Calm team got way better at understanding their target audience needs. Then, they “packed” this knowledge into a new brand positioning strategy and went on a major roadshow with it. As a result, we were able to identify some key audiences attributing to its position as the number one wellness app.

1. Polish Your Brand Positioning to Reach Frequent Meditators

Similarly, we found that Calm is known by almost 60% of people who meditate regularly. This user cohort is even more eager to consider Calm as their primary product of choice and feels more inclined to use this app over others.

Thanks to consistent and strategic brand building, Calm gained very high brand equity among people who meditate regularly. How did that happen?

Calm wasn’t the first successful product Acton Smith brought to the market. In the early 2010s, he was better known as the founder of Moshi Monsters — Britain's viral kids’ browser app. At the pinnacle of its growth, the cute monster game had over 50 million registered users.

But by 2012, Moshi Monsters started tanking as kids moved on to mobile phones. And Acton Smith moved on to building Calm. While he was already known as a successful entrepreneur in the UK, Acton Smith lacked “credibility” in the US. His early VC pitches missed the mark and he struggled to acquire more users for Calm.

As often happens in Silicon Valley fairy tales: Acton Smith also experienced a light-bulb moment. He realized that a lot of people saw meditation as something either too religious, too outdated, or plain New Age woo-woo. So he decided to challenge that narrative.

Calm’s team invested significant marketing resources in cementing the idea that meditation is everyday mind science for anyone — overworked developer, stressed-out celebrity, or anxious college graduate. This pitch took off because it was better aligned to their target audience’s beliefs, values, and preferences.

2. Educate Your Audience to Become a Thought-Leader Brand

We also found that Calm’s best-performing audience is people who are interested in health and wellness (not religion, for instance). Among this demographic group, Calm has 55% aided brand awareness. Also, 44% of respondents would consider using Calm over a competing brand.

Why does Calm strike a chord with health buffs? In the words of Acton Smith:

We’ve done well at understanding the brand and taking the crunchiness and health and wellness from California and not leaning into it; instead of making it more western, more mainstream — and in a way, more British and cynical.”

Unlike many other wellness brands, Calm heavily focused on the scientific benefits of mediation and other mindfulness practices, rather than “perceived and unproved” guru-style claims. An entire section on Calm’s blog is dedicated to original research and commentary on scientific findings in the sleep, mindfulness, and meditation space.

As marketers, we know that target audiences can be swayed by both rational and irrational factors. But in the long run, continuous audience education pays off better than click-bait or FOMO-driven practices.

3. Pick Your Brand Battles

Not everyone’s too keen on Calm though. We found that audiences with low education have a 9 percentage point lower brand awareness of Calm compared to regular meditation practitioners and are less likely to consider or ever try using this app.

Given Calm’s heavy reliance on science-based evidence and neuroscience references, it is understandable why they are not the top choice for the “low education” crowd. Their “geekier” positioning, claims, and slogans don’t quite land with this target audience.

Still, Calm has relatively high brand awareness numbers even among this non-core audience. It may be because Calm heavily invests in paid ads. They are one of the biggest advertisers in the mobile ad space as per MobileAction.

Also, they heavily invest in Facebook, Tapjoy, and Instagram ads at different stages of their customer journeys — from acquisition to retention and reactivation. If you are on their targeting radar, you’ll likely see a lot of Calm in your feeds.

Then again, they could do better with audience segmentation to curb ad waste on users who are least likely to engage with their product. Having high brand awareness is good. But earning high unaided brand recognition numbers among the main target audiences is priceless.

Final Thoughts

Calm chose “mindfulness is science” as a hill they choose to defend and stand by that claim throughout all touchpoints with customers. The company leverages deep audience knowledge, paired with a distinctive brand positioning statement and paid advertising to amplify their content’s reach.

While Calm amassed over 60 million app downloads, they are present on 2.2% of smartphones globally. The meditation and mindfulness app segment is growing bigger year-over-year with enough room for new entrants, proving that this focus on audience segmentation works. In order to beat Calm at this point, other mindfulness brands will need to identify and target the core audiences providing them with the downloads.

Interested in growing your brand in the health & wellness industry? Learn how you can get health & wellness industry insights.

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