Can Brands Ride the Next Wave of Fitness Apps and Wearables?

Data reups branded health investments

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A new set of investments from big-name brands Nike, The North Face and Tory Burch are bringing some much-needed utility and appeal to mobile apps that keep them afloat.

Once considered the primary (and often uneffective) way for brands to get into mobile, brands are now applying better types of content and data to fitness apps. And as more marketers look for ways to experiment with connected devices, brands are also looking to piggyback on the success of health trackers like Jawbone and FitBit to reach wider groups of consumers. "In some ways, it’s making mobile more exciting again," said David Berkowitz, CMO at MRY.

Branded opportunity

One brand that is fairly well-versed in utility apps is The North Face. Its Snow Report app gives skiers and snowboarders information on weather updates and resorts launched in 2008 and has been updated consistently since then.

Now, the outdoor brand has a new iPhone app called Mountain Athletics that includes strength and conditioning workouts that help athletes train for upcoming events in six-week increments. The North Face claims that features like in-app video will help differentiate it from competitors. "The fitness app space is crowded, but Mountain Athletics is specialized, sport-specific for outdoor pursuits, and there just isn't anything that meets that need on the market," said Aaron Carpenter, vp of marketing at The North Face.

A paid media push will likely help boost awareness of The North Face’s app, too. Ads on Apple’s iAd network, mobile display networks, Facebook and Twitter will be used to drive downloads.

Nike also recently launched a global app called Nike Soccer in 46 countries and 19 languages, making it the largest single app roll out for the brand. The app is aimed at millennial soccer fans around the world. With that millennial-focused mindset, the app is split up into two different parts: A newsfeed akin to Facebook or Twitter’s set-up and a live chat feature where consumers can play virtual games.

Nike Football is targeted towards local and global content timed around sports and Nike’s brand calendar. For example, a sports fan in London will see different content than someone in Brazil.

Despite numerous rumors that Nike is looking to get out of the health and fitness category in technology by shutting down its FuelBand wearable business, Jesse Stollak, Nike’s vp of global digital brand indicated that these types of niche apps will play a more prominent part of the brand’s strategy going forward. 

"It started with fitness apps, but it will ultimately be about real utility and taking the equity that brands are trying to build with people and finding ways to create wearable experiences as much as any other experience we’re trying to create for people," said Lee Maicon, svp of strategy at 360i.

Building on mobile players

Tory Burch is also looking to get into the wearable space but unlike Nike, will not be developing its own line of devices. Instead, the fashion brand is partnering with Fitbit to create a line of bracelets and a necklace that fits over Fitbit Flex devices.

Wearables have long been viewed as an eyesore for brands, and while Tory Burch may be one of the first to work directly with a company that makes the devices, it will not be the only one to do so, said Ramon Llamas, research manager at IDC.

"When you put it all together, I think there’s an opportunity here not just for Tory Burch, but think of all the other fashion houses who aren’t in wearables yet, but they could potentially partner up with a Fitbit, a Jawbone, a Samsung, a Motorola or an LG to develop a certain skin or certain version of a device that is a little more appealing to the female gender," he noted. "I think it’s a better job to address a part of the market that was ignored during the design process."

However, Tom Edwards, svp of digital strategy and innovation at The Marketing Arm, argued that brands should develop their own wearables because of the trove of data the devices open up for better marketing. "Brands like Nike see the day coming soon where it is less about the hardware and more about sharing and visualizing the data that is collected through whatever the device, be it smart clothing, watches or glasses."

@laurenjohnson Lauren Johnson is a senior technology editor for Adweek, where she specializes in covering mobile, social platforms and emerging tech.