Reebok on connected fitness: ‘We are not a tech company at our core’

The race for digital fitness may be heating up, but don’t expect Reebok to reposition itself as a tech company in the mold of Nike or Under Armour anytime soon.

“We don’t plan to become a tech company like some of our competitors,” said Emily Mullins, senior manager, global business development at Reebok. “We plan to become the best fitness apparel and footwear company.”

That’s not to say that the Adidas-owned company hasn’t made any digital strides. In 2013, Reebok introduced its platform ReebokONE for fitness instructors and trainers, in which members are given priority access to the latest fitness products and also receive substantial discounts to new merchandise. And last year, it partnered with Handstand, an app that directly connects local trainers to customers, without the pesky gym fees and contracts.

The Handstand partnership is also at the center of the third iteration of its global “Be More Human” campaign launched this week, where the brand is offering customers free workouts with thousands of ReebokONE trainers in cities across the country with the tap of a button. Users with Handstand app will log in, select the “Free Reebok Workout” option, select the type of workout (for example, yoga or Pilates) and select the “Free Session” option to be paired with a nearby trainer. The only catch: The user must share a photo of a handshake with the instructor post the workout on social media. The campaign also includes TV and digital ads, and an online collection of inspirational influencer testimonials.

Mullins acknowledged that the brand’s approach to digital fitness has been markedly different from its competitors. Under Armour has built up its digital fitness capabilities through acquisition, investing approximately $750 million combined on apps including MapMyFitness, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal, while Nike has been focused on building and integrating its own digital software with the Nike+ app. Reebok, on the other hand, has prioritized identifying the right partners and communities, and then working with them.

“We didn’t necessarily want to reinvent the wheel in terms of who we are as a brand,” she said. “We wanted to stick to who we are, which is identifying and tapping into great fitness communities and embracing digital fitness with such partners.”

It also ties in with the brand’s attempt to reposition itself as a personal fitness brand, as opposed to a professional performance fitness brand in recent years. Partnerships have been key to this: The brand has teamed with highly engaged fitness communities like Crossfit and the UFC, and gotten endorsements from fitness gurus and stars like Gigi Hadid and Australian fitness pro Emily Skye, in lieu of pro athletes.

“Reebok’s open source approach to partnering with apps already out there is a different one, and is certainly economical,” said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at the NPD Group. “At this point, nobody has really figured out the winning strategy to capturing connected fitness, so it may just end up working out for them, at least monetarily.”

Nike and Under Armour may be more bullish in their pursuit of digital connected fitness, but Reebok doesn’t feel threatened. The brand believes that its strategy of aligning with communities and facilitating their fitness journeys will work to not only further its connected fitness efforts, but also its brand. People are more likely to stick around if they’re part of a community, said Mullins.

It already works closely with its network of instructors on ReebokONE, for example, to suss out new product ideas from the data it collects. Now, with Handstand, it plans to use the reams of data to get to know its customers and service them better.

“We’re not a tech company at our core, so when it comes to digital fitness, our approach is to seek great tech partners,” said Mullins. “And once we’ve introduced ourselves in the right way to the right people, it’ll be about personalisation and customisation moving forward.”

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