Before a wristband started counting for you, did you ever think about taking 10,000 steps a day? Before choreographed lighting and music to the perfect bpm made exercise exciting would you have paid to spin in place? To be sure, a Fitbit is a non-intrusive way to get active and SoulCycle has turned endorphin release into a chic hobby. But the consumers who bought into these experiences are changing, new players are picking up where they left off, and we think there are plenty of untapped opportunities waiting to be uncovered in the world of connected fitness.
It is no secret that fitness technology makes healthy goals more achievable by optimizing performance and providing motivation. What people consider less often is that motivation comes in two forms—extrinsic and intrinsic—both of which are generated by very different desires. A product can service extrinsic motivators or its design can activate intrinsic motivators. Both drive consumers to purchase. Extrinsic motivation means you’re performing for some purpose other than yourself; what you’re doing is a means to an end, like receiving a tangible reward or a coach’s approval. Detached from its ability to bring you those things, the product is worthless. Intrinsic motivation, on the other hand, doesn’t require external rewards because the reward is the behavior itself. Fitness products achieve this when they bring people closer to a state of well-being they actually want, like enjoying a physical challenge or the desire to beat a personal best. It’s the difference between “I’m doing this because it makes me money” and “I’m doing this because it makes me happy.” Brands that recognize the difference will create loyal customers and capture new markets.
The following imperatives express how a few brands have capitalized on the underlying motivators that drive action. Then we address how frog might extend these notions into the world of health and wellness beyond their current applications.
Wristbands have led the wearables market for a long time. This year—for the first time ever—sales are flat, and it is the only wearable category expected to decrease over the next five years. While Fitbit remains the leader in the category it invented, consumer interest in taking 10,000 steps a day is flagging. People are getting savvier about their health and thus expect more personalized insights that help them reach more relevant goals. To sustain extrinsic value, smart brands are attaching more benefits to their fitness wearables and designing devices not just for activity, but competition and health as well. While Fitbit tries pivoting its strategy to focus on platform solutions for corporates and health providers, it may struggle to survive among competitors who are evolving their hardware to meet the consumer’s physical and digital needs. Consider the growing category of smartwatches, which grabbed a 46 percent market share among wearables worldwide this year. Apple is leading the category here, releasing features like ECG and heart rate alerts on their Series 4 Watch. And while the average adult may not worry about heart irregularities, external motivations such as compensation or social recognition can drive consumers towards demand. For instance, in an effort to reduce healthcare costs, Whole Foods gives its employees steeper discounts for achieving an optimal BMI and other biometric measures. Even if it feels unnecessarily robotic to have a watch remind you to breathe, drink water, and sleep, you might be more motivated to shell out $400 for sophisticated self-measurements if it means endless discounts on your favorite organic foods.
Then there is Sweatcoin, a cryptocurrency you earn by walking or running. The app on your phone tracks your steps and allows you to exchange the currency for products and services ranging from high-tech shoes to anti-gravity yoga classes. The fact that the app’s value proposition is to get consumers to act differently than they would otherwise, makes Sweatcoin’s value extrinsic by nature. Fit tech solutions like the Apple Watch and Sweatcoin are sticky so long as they offer consumers the superficial rewards they are seeking. By no means is it dishonorable to desire these things, however, the pronounced risk for these tech-enabled fitness offerings is that the product becomes irrelevant based on the fading value of that motivation. If you walk 10,000 steps a day for five years, you still won’t have enough Sweatcoins to buy an iPhone.
Alternatively, intrinsic motivation drives more habitual behavior change. When design emphasizes and celebrates a consumer’s intrinsic values, it creates an experience that provides natural satisfaction. That could be the enjoyment of a fitness challenge, continual self-improvement, or the quest for self-mastery. With an increasing awareness of the health benefits of exercise, consumers are prioritizing an active lifestyle. Millennials are now willing to pay a premium for group exercise experiences, which has spurred the growth of boutique fitness and its variety of social training activities. When SoulCycle gave people a way to connect with others and compete with themselves, they simultaneously tapped into the external gratification of being part of something exclusive and the inner urge to perform at one’s maximum potential. A new player recognized the difference between these two motivations and decided that software could evolve and scale the core value of this experience. That player was Peloton. The company has had a meteoric rise to prominence in the fitness world over the past few years thanks to these rapidly changing trends reshaping consumer demand. Without SoulCycle, there would be no Peloton. In fact, according to the data analytics firm Second Measure, in the first quarter that a cyclist tries SoulCycle their odds of spending money at Peloton double and continues to rise thereafter. The brand is currently valued at $4.4 billion. To put that number into perspective, Peloton is worth more than half the global market for consumer fitness equipment, which came in just under $8 billion last year.
Peloton removed the barriers of time, space and proximity to focus on the intrinsic value of human connection and competition. This multiplied their capacity to deliver that euphoric feeling of accomplishment. It lets them reach the at-home Millennial moms who miss the SoulCycle bikes they strapped into through their 20s. It lets them connect the father in Seattle and the daughter in Boston who continue their traditional Saturday morning rides. And when the brand made a move to focus on appealing to users’ athletic drive over social status, they quickly unlocked new revenue opportunities. Just look at the spike in Peloton subscribers who joined the community once additional financing options were offered. Last year, 64 percent of fourth-quarter equipment orders were being financed. This shift opened the brand up to consumers with different economic circumstances but similar ambitions to perform. Their product line continues to expand as they design new ways to apply distributed technology to the fitness category.
In the world of health and wellness, frog sees massive potential to extend connected fitness into the corners of physical activity that don’t make it to group chats or news feeds. Take Mirror, the self-contained fitness system that is neatly designed behind a sleek mirror and operates on a content-based subscription model. This life-size streaming technology can enable a whole new type of interaction across time and space. How could this technology be used for a palliative care program that balances relief with quality of life. What if a patient’s intrinsic motivation was a desire to be with family above all? What if an otherwise de-motivated patient became happily committed to daily exercise routines if they could perform them alongside their grandchildren through a similar streaming connection?
Different circumstances afford different perceptions. These connections between products and their value (whether external or internal) are not mutually exclusive. But it is an effective way to consider why certain brands continue delivering innovative solutions while others become artifacts of a passing fitness trend.
At frog, we are obsessed with uncovering the difference between observed consumer behaviors and precise user insights. We believe in designing around the attributes that drive the motivation, rather than charging the consumer with an interest that will wane over time. In other words, when it comes to designing for connected fitness, the form must take into consideration more than just motion. As our founder, Hartmut Esslinger said: Form must follow emotion.
Siena Hickey is a Senior Strategist at frog. She has a background in international market expansion and organizational design for several global brands. Siena holds an MBA from Dartmouth College and a bachelor’s from Boston University in International Relations and Economics. She has lived and worked in over 10 countries.
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