Health, fitness, mindfulness and wellness have taken center stage during a global pandemic. Brands across all industries have had to address the table stakes issues for how they are keeping the buying experience safe – from digital orders to contactless payments to curbside pick-up or digital content delivery instead of in person. To differentiate, brands need to engage customers between transactions, provide a stronger emotional appeal, and integrate other forms of wellness into the offering. Retailers are leading some of the most interesting approaches; examples range from giants like Amazon to perhaps unexpected brands like Talbots. The effort has been worth the prize for early movers. Brands, such as Nike, capitalized on their exercise-centered brand image and made huge gains in fitness-related engagement, which ultimately protected their 2020 sales. Other brands like Kohl’s are diversifying into health and wellness to recapture their customer base which has shifted preferences over the past year.1
However, jumping on the wellness bandwagon is not without risk, because the line is very thin between showing concern for an individual customer’s health in a way that builds brand trust and triggering privacy concerns that instantly destroy brand trust.
Taxonomy of Approaches
There are multiple paths a brand can take for adding health, fitness, wellness, and/or mindfulness to their brand image to engage members between transactions while building emotional loyalty and trust.
The options cover a broad range of strategies and risk factors:
High risk but with high potential engagement: Device and app-based strategies
- Nike exercise apps
- Amazon’s entry into health monitoring wearables with the Halo fitness monitor and subscription service
- Google’s acquisition of Fitbit
- Lululemon’s acquisition of the Mirror personalized workout experience
Lower risk but requires ongoing commitment and refreshes to drive engagement: promotions, products, positioning, and partnerships
- Kohl’s adding health and wellness products plus mental health partnerships with Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Boys and Girls Clubs of America
- Talbot’s launching “Haven Well Within” sub-brand for wellness products and content
- Starbucks promotion with meditation app Headspace
Starbucks took the purely promotional partner route with an offer of “5 free meditations for you and a free 60-day trial.” This route avoids most of the data creepiness factors because it is clear that Starbucks has no relation to ongoing use of the Headspace app. On the flip side, it will not engage members long-term between transactions. The strategy would require repetition with other promotional partners and campaigns to nurture an ongoing association of Starbucks with wellness and mindfulness beyond keeping their socially distanced mobile ordering protocols.
Amazon’s Halo fitness app demonstrates the limits to how far consumers will go in engaging with and sharing health information to receive a service. However, early Halo reviews mention “the creepiness factor”, including from standard media outlets like The New York Times to tech reviewers for The Verge. As the CNET reviewer put it, “the biggest barrier to entry is privacy. Sharing any kind of health data requires next-level trust, and …[Amazon] doesn’t exactly have the most pristine track record” with Alexa and Ring already triggering concerns with instances of violated trust.1 Amazon will likely re-evaluate and navigate towards a better solution as they usually do, but the initial market impression was poor. While it was a simple, easy-to-wear design, the faceless device provides little incentive to interact more deeply with the companion mobile app.
Google’s acquisition of Fitbit is being very carefully positioned by Google SVP Rick Osterlohas as being “about devices, not data” while Fitbit co-founder James Park wrote: “The trust of our users will continue to be paramount…Google has made a series of binding commitments with global regulators, confirming that Fitbit users’ health and wellness data … will be kept separate from other Google ad data.”1 The Fitbit experience is similar to the Apple watch in some important ways; each leverages familiar design hooks starting with the clock “face.” As Kobie’s CX Digital Design team says, “it is familiar enough to be usable and unique enough to be memorable.” The question is whether the familiarity and Fitbit’s past consistent data handling relationship with users will bridge the potential trust gap of having Google ownership.
Lululemon’s integration with Mirror is particularly instructive for how to build between-transaction engagement and they have balanced the privacy concerns so far. The Mirror product is literally a full-length mirror within your own home where you can see a virtual fitness instructor and icons for others who are also in the workout. This product effectively served as a virtual replacement during lockdown for Lululemon’s in-store classes that supported the brand’s mantra, “Come sweat with us.” The classes also provide a subscription-based revenue stream.
At a time when other retailers are considering scaling back or eliminating points, the Mirror app is using a re-imagined version of points for engagement. During the workout, a points progress bar will be displayed in the top right corner where you can see your heart rate and calorie burn. These two pieces of data can help foster a competitive environment as you can see your progress compared to others in the same class.
Points are beneficial as they provide a way to recognize progress and engagement for less tangible things that have variable value (heart rate earns at one multiplier, minutes exercised earns at another, and steps at yet another). People can understand points and progress bars when they might have difficulty calculating target heart rates.
When does familiarity, comfort, and an emotional connection to a brand override straight-up convenience as triggers for consumer willingness to share their data? Amazon, Google, and Lululemon are finding out. Can other brands leverage an emotional bond through wellness without an individual’s data? Talbot’s, Kohl’s, and others are working on that question as well. It is clear that health and wellness in many forms will continue to be a key theme and brands need to keep a focus on this. It will engage members between transactions and build a consistent emotional connection over time that softens privacy fears.
Self-care is helping retailers stay afloat, Karen Ho, January 9, 2021, Quartz. https://qz.com/1954750/self-care-sales-boost-bath-body-works-helen-of-troy/?utm_source=Sailthru&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Issue:%202021-01-12%20Retail%20Dive%20Newsletter%20%5Bissue:31841%5D&utm_term=Retail%20Dive
Amazon Halo fitness tracker sounds awesome, but also like a Black Mirror episode, Scott Stein, Vanessa Hand Orellana, CNET.com, Sept. 13, 2020, https://www.cnet.com/news/amazon-halo-new-health-app-fitness-tracker-metrics-include-body-fat-tone-of-voice/
Google’s Fitbit acquisition is official. Brian Heater, TechCrunch, January 14, 2021 https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/14/googles-Fitbit-acquisition-is-official/