Makers #1: Cavan Huang & André Souza



Makers #1: Cavan Huang & André Souza

Working to improve the digital experience at Planet Fitness, our Group Creative Director and VP of Strategy forged a winning partnership. In the process, they discovered new ways of working and realized the importance of visualizing value for the client.

Interview by José Simián.

Photos by Diego Nicolau.

In this first installment of Makers — a series showcasing how professionals solve problems together across crafts at Huge — we brought together Group Creative Director Cavan Huang and VP of Strategy Andre Souza to talk about their work for Planet Fitness. Both have been instrumental in unlocking new growth and improved user experiences for the 18-million-member international gym franchise. The Planet Fitness app is the number 1 free health and fitness app in Apple’s store, has already attracted 2.3 million new users in one year, and generated an 83% increase in workout sessions.**

Andre Souza and Cavan Huang.

The Makers.

Andre Souza: I’ve been at Huge since 2015. When I joined, my goal was to help our experience design at the time and to think about product strategy, data, and business. Since then I’ve changed countries — started in Brazil, and moved to the U.S. — and most of the time I've been working with designers and creatives by trying to help them frame problems: How do we evaluate success? How do we get a sense that we have achieved success? And how can we be on the same page about the problem we’re solving? 

Cavan Huang: I've been at Huge Brooklyn for almost three years. I joined right during the pandemic, and was very excited about the possibility of working with top talent. That’s what I find amazing about Huge: everybody is multi-talented and wears many hats — super creative, but also super strategic. Fortunately for me, when I joined, Planet Fitness was one of the clients that fell into our laps. So I've been on that account since the very beginning. And we built a small but nimble super team to help solve these experience problems.

The partnership. 

Cavan Huang: The thing that I’ve longed for in my career, in all types of agencies, is a strategic partner who can bounce ideas — help make me a better creative and vice versa. And I haven't found many like that. Finding partners is a hard thing to do because sometimes the traditional model of agencies either leans too heavily on strategy; where strategy leads everything and then creative follows; or it's so heavily based on creative that strategy doesn't have any voice and it's an afterthought. It’s developed in silos, one followed by the other, and I think that's the wrong way of working. I’ve been fortunate to have a few amazing strategic partners on Planet Fitness, including Andre Souza and Chris Tanabe, who manages the product stream.

What I’ve found really wonderful about the collaboration and partnership with Andre is that it's been so integrated that the lines blur between who's doing the creative thinking and who's doing the strategic thinking. It has often ended up in a dialogue that produces a better result.

Andre Souza: I agree. I feel like I've worked on projects where creatives just kind of followed very tight briefs, and two things happened: one is they die trying to follow the brief, and the brief is very constrained, so they can’t do a lot. Or they just ignore the brief and do whatever they want and go a different way, with their own perspectives, and then strategy has to come back later and redo the brief. I feel like on Planet Fitness we were able to avoid both. So I think we get a good cadence running not only with strategy but also with research, data, and all the things we needed to generate a very iterative cycle. It wasn’t like a waterfall: we had a lot of checkpoints, and we always managed to tie our work back to the business or strategy goal.

Cavan Huang: I think that the iterative thing you mention is what made the difference. In so many other projects I've seen, you present this amazing vision, and everyone's like “yeah, great,” but no one wants to build it because they don't see the strategic value or the business value behind it. But here, rather than having that business value in the front or the back of our work, it was always there, always in the mix, so it couldn’t be denied.

Cavan and Andre at Huge’s headquarters in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard.

Visualizing value.

In 2023, Andre and Cavan collaborated on two streams of work for Planet Fitness: innovation and the core product experience (for the company’s app and website). These simultaneous tracks allowed the team to develop and launch a new app in one year, redesign the company’s website, deliver a product roadmap to drive digital transformation and omnichannel innovation and implement a global design system. But perhaps the big breakthrough for both the team and the client was when they realized the growth impact of this creative and strategic work.

Andre Souza: I think one big unlock that we had last year is that we were able to get a feedback loop from the things that we designed and proposed. So we had ideas, we took them to market and we got feedback that allowed us to think again and iterate. And more than that, we were able to really put a number of value to the experience. We're able to go and say yes, we built some amazing sign-up flow here, some amazing new experience, but there’s more: it’s worth millions of dollars at the end of the year thanks to a 7% increase in conversion flow. It’s very powerful when you get the client to see how much value we're unlocking, and for our creative team to see how much value they are able to generate with their design and creative work. This is not something that happens often in accounts.

Cavan Huang: We had a lot of ideas that were floating around before this year: recurring themes like a virtual trainer, a way of onboarding that was more immersive; or a way of incorporating gaming in a fitness environment that makes workouts fun. These are all recurring themes that the client could see but what we needed to do was to first show them that it was something tangible that could be built from a tech feasibility perspective. But that requires a strategic point of view. And then —to what Andre was talking about — we needed to show them that investing money into building this is worth it. That’s the unlock that needed to happen: you can mock up things and make them beautiful, and show site stats and best practices in the industry all you want, but getting into the data of the research (we talked to more than 5,000 members throughout the year), and then tying that with real business outcomes, that’s what I hadn’t seen before. So we’re almost pioneering a new way of selling something that is really scary to a traditionally cautious organization, but without doing the Don Draper reveal where you just hope that magic happens. (It usually doesn’t happen!) We go the route that’s much more friendly but gives us the permission to be innovative while staying grounded in real value and outcomes.

*Average App Store ranking - Jan-Dec 2023 - SimilarWeb.

**2.3MM more users than the previous year, and 83% increase in workouts in the app - Jan 2022-Jan 2023.

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