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Tech-Savvy Brands Share 4 Vital Tips for Going All in on Wearables

Fossil, FitBit say flexibility and social are key

Wearables have been a big talking point at Mobile World Congress. Under Armour, Fossil

BARCELONA, Spain—Connected devices and the so-called Internet of Things has been a massive theme at this year's Mobile World Congress, particularly in fitness.

A quartet of brands today spoke about how they've built platforms and services that cater to specific types of consumers like athletes and fashion trend setters.

Here are four tips the panelists shared on how marketers can replicate their success.

1. Build an ecosystem.
At CES, Under Armour unveiled a four-piece equipment set called HealthBox that tracks athletes' health. It includes a scale, fitness band, heart-rate tracker and smartphone app.

Robin Thurston, Under Armour's chief digital officer, explained the digital tools are the result of several years of work and investment.

"The conversation that we're changing by having invested close to a $1 billion in digital in the last two years is to change the way athletes live," Thurston said.

Despite being known as an athletic brand, Under Armour is also diving into health and wellness with its digital health project. For example, the system recommends workouts based on a person's diet.

The takeaway: If brands want to help people change their lifestyles, they have to become experts in all areas of health and wellness.

2. Keep the design simple.
In order for connected devices and wearables to catch on with consumers, it has to be something people want to wear and designed with the same care as clothing, said Stephane Marceau, OmSignal's co-founder and CEO.

"If you're wearing something on your body, you're making a comment about who you are to yourself and the rest of the world—that will not change," he said.

With OmBra—a biometric sports bra equipped with sensors that records a person's heart rate—women designed the product, making 1,683 prototypes before the final version of the garment was created.

"We saw a gap in the wearable market. Since the beginning of wearables, women to a significant degree have been driving adoption," Marceau said. "Think of FitBit, Jawbone Up [and] Nike FuelBand and arguably even today, many of the products out there seem to have been designed by men."

3. Bet big on investments.
The No. 1 issue with technology is getting it to scale, said Greg McKelvey, chief strategy and digital officer of Fossil Group, which has a portfolio of 16 brands including Burberry, Kate Spade and its flagship watch brand.

That's why Fossil acquired wearables maker Misfit for $260 million last year.

"In order for us to scale, we needed a platform—apps and the cloud that supports those apps are now a part of the brand," he said. "We sell 30 million watches a year and all they do is tell time. People buy them constantly with fashion seasons and fashion upgrades. Now we have the ability to add technology and have them do something other than just tell time."

4. Make fitness social.
According to Aideen O'Colmain, FitBit's corporate wellness director, users who have friends on the platform take 27 percent more steps than those without friends.

"When you combine the ecosystem of the motivation and the inspiration, it really does help people progress up to that 10,000 steps that we're all advised we should be taking," she said.

Those kinds of stats are why more corporations are setting up wellness programs that equip employees with digital tools to improve their health and life.

"People who even do a little bit of exercise, maybe walk around the block as opposed to sitting at their desk or walk to someone's desk versus sending a text, do that and they start seeing their results," O'Colmain said. "Their concentration level is better. Their resilience to stress and the way they deal with change in the workplace is much more positive."

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