Wearable fitness technology should do a better job of making our nation fitter.
More than 20 million people in the UK are physically inactive and on average, people spend almost 10 hours a day in a sedentary state. We are simply not moving our bodies enough, 7 days a week, 365 days year.
But, that said, there is also a tremendous amount of investment going into technology that encourages people to be more active. And it seems to be working, if sales are anything to go by.
The brand leading the charge is Fit Bit, with a market share of 22% and over 20 million sold in 2016. That’s more than Apple and Samsung’s wearable technology combined!
Consumers now have a wide choice available, all using the basic idea of measuring movement of the human body.
But beyond the initial sale numbers, we have to ask - do they actually help people get fit?
For many users, we know it encourages them to be more active, walking instead of getting the bus, or donning their trainers for a lunch break run. The idea of hitting a daily target brings out the competitor in us. So, we can take pride in shouting “I hit 10,000 steps today”. This can’t be a bad thing, and we applaud their efforts. However, for many others, after the initial excitement the daily motivation slowly loses its appeal.
Research reviewing over 400 overweight American adults wearing fitness tech, tells a more alarming story. All participants were told to diet and exercise more. Half the group were then assigned a fitness tracker. Two years later, the results defied expectations with unmonitored slimmers losing more weight than those digitally tracking themselves.
Closer to home, our fitness consultant asked clients for feedback on recent fitness tech purchases. The majority of clients continue to use the devices for well over 12 months, tracking activity almost daily. But not everyone saw results.
So, the big question is, how do fitness brands get people emotionally engaged in sports whilst also achieving lifelong fitness?
The answer is, ironically, getting people to go beyond using just the device, to instead creating a love for online communities.
We know, through our own research, that women in particular prefer to engage with brands or products through smaller closed group forums. The creation of a social platform that acts as an enabler rather a product sale are the ones getting it right.
Strava is possibly the best example of this. First launched in 2009 it now has tens of millions of users around the world, many of whom find it completely addictive, myself included.
The brands success comes largely from their focus on sociability through the app. Users can upload photos, follow friends’ activities, comment on each other's rides (or give ‘kudos’ ) and take part in monthly challenges. The desire to share your performance on other platforms also creates a deeper emotional relationship with the brand.
This, coupled with its ongoing app development, in-app UX strategy and local social community initiatives, sees it continue to grow year on year.
Their founder, Mark Gainey, adds: "We are the world's social network for athletes, but I'm also very pleased that we are simply encouraging more people to be active."
Yes, Strava isn’t strictly wearable tech, it still relies on connectivity from other devices. But it’s recent partnership with global fitness brand, New Balance, for the launch of its wearable technology RunIQ, clearly indicates that both brands recognise the importance of combining online brand engagement with technology.
The inactivity of the UK’s population is an ongoing problem and a ‘quick fix’ with increasing sales of novel fitness trackers is not enough to make real social impact. To make, long-lasting difference, brands must go beyond just the technology itself and also create an online environment that people want to actively engage with and build brand love towards.
Users will continue to go back time after time. They will take other people on the journey with them and by updating daily achievements, they can inspire others.
Marketers of sports brands should strive to create long lasting relationships with their customers. Good for their brand, good for people.