When Fitbit launched its IPO on June 18th the company was valued at $4.1 billion and $20 per share. By the end of that first day the stock price jumped by 50% and since then has trended upward, hitting as high as $48.98 per share and a $9.78 billion valuation. It was a sign of a company on a roll. Fitbit’s sales more than tripled last year, to $745.4 million and growth in wearable fitness tech continues apace. According to a November 2014 report by Juniper Research, the number of devices used by customers is expected to triple by 2018, to more than 70 million, and as of 2014 Fitbit had almost 70% market share.
It’s been a good run for Fitbit, and the bulk of its growth has happened without a major brand marketing campaign. The eight-year-old brand’s first major advertising effort didn’t launch until November 2014, with an anthem spot firmly establishing it as a friendly idealist that saw fitness as a tent big enough for everyone and anyone regardless of age, gender, or athletic ability.
That was quickly followed by a charity spoof of that same concept, starring Joel McHale getting “donutfit” and “creepyfit.” Its latest campaign “Know Your Heart” focuses on its ChargeHR model and tells the story of a guy getting in shape to impress a girl. Less adrenaline-pumping action, more rom-com, fitting the brand personality to a tee.
But as the wearable fitness tech market heats up and competitors including Jawbone, Garmin, and, of course, the Apple Watch continue to fine-tune their own products and brand proposition, Fitbit is going to have to find ways to give consumers a reason to avoid the i-vortex, or to keep existing fans coming back.
Tim Rosa, vice-president of global marketing at Fitbit says the brand’s overall marketing strategy is still rooted in identifying as an underdog. “I look at us as a challenger brand, even though we have a big portion of the category,” says Rosa. “That’s an important mindset for my team and the way we think about things, and it gives us the freedom and flexibility to do things differently.”
Rosa says that any marketing conversation at the brand begins with establishing a core idea, and working out how it can manifest across different platforms and touchpoints in a way that is relatable to its consumers.
“The way we think about the right marketing mix for any campaign is that there is no silver bullet,” says Rosa. “The first campaign results were awesome, driving awareness and sales. But it wasn’t one thing, like the TV ad, that did it, it was everything.”
Rosa points to a range of digital creative that tied the product to specific weather and events, as well as working with networks like ESPN and ABC on product integration in programming during the NBA playoffs and The Amazing Race.
“We’ve cultivated relationships with the networks that are meaningful,” says Rosa. “The integration with The Amazing Race was a real partnership, we were involved with the production and it continues to be a deep relationship and you’ll see more of that in the future. I’ve always said the the right ad can break through, but we’ve covered ourselves with these integrations, and sometimes we’re not always promoting them, but there are a lot out there and going strong.”
A lot of marketers talk about having an always-on relationship with consumers, but Fitbit can claim to be attached and in touch with its consumers 24-7 thanks to the nature of its product. Rosa says the company is working on tapping all that data in order to serve its users relevant content. The brand already has a blog filled with tips, but it’s now taken steps to significantly ramp up its content marketing.
“We’re building out a robust content strategy,” says Rosa. “We just brought on a managing editor who was at Shape magazine, and we’re looking to figure out ways to get content to people that is relevant, meaningful and dynamic. It’s getting to you across multiple touchpoints and at the moments you most want it. It’s not easy, but the beauty of Fitbit is we’re always on. Our consumers are very engaged and passionate and open to getting this kind of content from us. We’ve also built a network of ambassadors who are experts in their domain, from sleep to nutrition to fitness and yoga, so we’re tapping that network now to provide more meaningful content and that will manifest itself in a variety of ways.”
While the wearables market is poised for explosive growth, fitness wearables is an especially competitive category, with products from a range of competitors–including one particularly scary recent entrant to the market–taking a swing at Fitbit’s core market. But Rosa cites Nike’s decision to euthanize its Fuelband hardware as evidence of just how challenging the market is.
“We’ve seen companies try and get into this space but, as I said, it’s not easy,” says Rosa. “We’ve been doing it the longest and that has worked to our advantage. It’s also about knowing what the market is ready for. I think that’s been a bit of the challenge with smart watches–some of the infrastructure isn’t quite there to give them true meaning and purpose. I’m really excited for the next generation of smart watches but right now it’s too far ahead of the market and where consumers’ minds are. The infrastructure of The Internet of Things isn’t quite there yet, the pieces are being built brick by brick and it’s going to happens so we’re doing a lot to be ready when the market is.”
Fitbit is planning for the future, but wary of rushing its roll-out. “We’ve tried to focus on what we do well,” he says. “We could’ve added a lot of features and functionality, we could’ve added a lot of things to the user experience, but we chose instead to perfect what we’re doing well first, and then wait for the right moment to roll out those developments. We’re not trying to jam in too much information. We’re figuring out what info is most relevant to the consumer.”
Speaking of info, the brand is actively investing in its platform marketing, looking for ways to use Fitbit users’ data to serve them better. The company acquired Fitstar in March, and with that comes FitStar’s mobile exercise apps and more ways to track and customize users’ fitness experience. Rosa says the second phase of the brand’s marketing development resides within the platform, as opposed to the hardware.
“The first phase was addressing the hardware side of the business, product development, product marketing and the last six months for me has been very much focused on how we can drive engagement once we bring people into the product,” says Rosa. “[Through data] we have an understanding of what your goals and interests are so we can provide you with the type of content that will be relevant and meaningful to you. If we know you have a certain product and we see your engagement has dropped off, there are certain things we can do to spark more engagement. I can’t say too much since we’re now a public company, but where we’re headed is very exciting.”