Sweat equity: How companies can win in the age of connected fitness

Sweat equity: How companies can win in the age of connected fitness
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Most people hate exercise. Yet the connected fitness marketplace is worth billions. And it’s growing. According to market intelligence research firm Parks Associates, “Global revenues from connected fitness trackers will increase from over two billion in 2014 to almost five and a half billion by 2019.

While there are a few hardcore ultra marathoners among us, there are tons of people running around wearing Fitbits, Apple Watches, Jawbone Ups and all manner of monitors synced to smartphone apps. Why?

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The answer is data and what you can do with it.

It turns out the connected fitness market is aspirational. While most of us can only dream of riding in the Tour or getting our race bib from the Boston Marathon, the promise of a healthier life is available to all of us.

If only, the pitch goes, we could track our steps, measure our sleep and monitor our heart rate, we might watch our weight, exercise more, sleep better and lead healthier, happier, more productive lives. All it takes is the right gadget.

And if that’s not enough, there’s now any number of fitness networks we can join, from Under Armour’s Connected Fitness, to Peloton’s Cadence and the Nike+ Training club.

The connected fitness world is all about accountability, inspiration, goal setting and encouragement. And it begins with data.

My data, my self

In an age of the quantified self, people are in love with their own data. Two years ago we could track steps. Today, smaller, low-cost sensors have made it cheaper than ever to build devices that measure our heart rates, monitor our sleeping patterns, and even track changes in elevation.

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That trend isn’t slowing down either. In fact, it’s about to explode as a new generation of fitness apparel hits the shelves with embedded, washable sensors woven into the fabric.

Now that even our underwear holds the promise of telling us which muscles are firing most effectively, how can brands play in the connected fitness arena?

First, it’s important to understand the user experience. At POSSIBLE Mobile, we’ve built connected fitness apps for Runner’s World, WeGo. If there’s one thing we’ve learned, when it comes to connected fitness and users, the apps we build are only as good as the data we collect and the uses we find for it.

Our users want to get into their workout as quickly as possible. They want to open the app, start their workout, track their performance, and then brag about it with their friends. Our KPI for success during a workout is how little time we spend on the screen.  

Implicit in the tracking of data is the need to do something with the data.

Before we build an app we ask ourselves, “How do we make it useful, beautiful, understandable, and actionable?”

To provide utility in the interpretation of data means we have to understand the effect of data tracking on behavioral change. In other words, how do we use data to change habits? And that means understanding the goals and needs of our users. Do our users want to run more? Socialize more? Or shop for more gear?

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Changing behavior through data

With every fitness device connected to a smartphone, or sending signals to the cloud, the connected fitness marketplace provides opportunities for brand marketers to build stronger ties to their audience, not just in the world of fitness, but in health care, sporting apparel and more.

Imagine this scenario. You are a recreational runner. Someone at work got you to sign up to run a charity 10K. And you don’t want to embarrass yourself.

So you buy a fitness tracker and connect it to an app. Now your app maps, measures, tracks, stores, and reveals your runs. Over time it can tell that your performance has hit a plateau. Perhaps, the app suggests, you could try running a new, more challenging route? Or you may want to join a gym.

The app can suggest a few in your neighborhood. Or you might wish to download a training program designed to increase your endurance. Of course, the app can also recommend a new running shoe that’s designed precisely for people running 10Ks who want to lower their times.

Now, data doesn’t just change behavior; it becomes a proof-point for a sale.

From sneakers to silicon

Perhaps no company understands this better than Under Armour.

The sporting apparel company is rapidly transforming itself into a technology company. They’ve placed big bets in the world of connected fitness investing $710 million to acquire My Fitness Pal, Map My Fitness and Endomondo.

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In the process they’ve acquired a community of 140 million connected-fitness subscribers. Those users are already driving in-app sales. Fortune magazine recently reported revenue from Under Armour’s connected fitness business more than doubled last quarter.

For Under Armour the equation is simple: the more people exercise, the more opportunity Under Armour has to provide quality products and services to their audience.  They have thrown down the gauntlet at this year’s CES, announcing the rollout of Healthbox, a $400 package that combines fitness tracker, heart rate monitor and digital scale that can measure weight and body fat.

Connected to Under Armour’s blue tooth enabled Gemini 2 running shoes, Healthbox promises a seamless digital fitness ecosystem.

Crossing the finish line

Savvy marketers understand the world of connected fitness is about more than exercise. It’s a place to leverage content across a different vector. To succeed in this ecosystem means more than building a killer app. It means developing a strategy to provide value through the user’s own experience.

To do that, companies need to build a digital platform or partner with an existing one such as Under Armour’s to reach their audiences. To establish an authentic voice in the fitness world, they’ll need to become experts in the vertical space or work with mobile technology developers that understand how to get a product to market, and tell great stories around the product experience.

Using an existing platform is quite attractive to some brands. Under Armour’s backend provides data storage and tools to help jumpstart the endeavor on web, mobile apps, and wearables. In addition, if a user is already participating in the Under Armour eco-system their user profile seamlessly logs into other Under Armour-powered applications.

Now, obviously other brands will see a competitor in Under Armour. But other platforms do exist.  A cost analysis can weigh the pros and cons of a pre-made solution versus building from scratch.  

At the end of the day, your customer doesn’t merely want to count steps. They want their steps to count. They want to know how their fitness connects to their lives, their sleep, their diet and their health.

Brands that understand that are poised to win the connected fitness race.

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