What We Can Learn from Nike 8/14/12

I wrote about my wife getting a Nike Fuelband a few weeks ago. Overall she likes it, but it’s a tad annoying that she has to recharge it nightly. Nike claims a longer battery life but she can’t seem to get through two full days without charging. She’s taken to charging it overnight to solve the problem. It’s also hard to believe the values that Nike calculates for calories burned and what that value really means. Those are the critiques but as I said, my wife really likes it. She’s increased her goal and works to beat it each day. She doesn’t share on Nike+ with other Fuelbanders but instead shares on Path when she meets her goal (pictured above).

She also uses the Nike+ running app, as I do, and we both like it and prefer it to Runkeeper. I got to thinking over the weekend how I haven’t owned any Nike apparel in a very long time. I don’t wear Nike shoes or clothes when I run. Neither does my wife. What’s interesting about this is we both use the brand name Nike much more frequently than Brooks or Mizuno, the makers of our running shoes. Nike, despite not winning the apparel war, is winning the battle of the minds because it is ahead of the other brands when it comes to the newest form of fitness gear – gadgets and apps. And Nike has been doing this for years. It has had sensors in shoes that sync to iPods and integrations with other tracking products.

I got to thinking how Nike is a great example of company that is proactively moving beyond its traditional product base to embrace new ways that people exercise and stay active. And this new segment of the fitness market, the gadget/app market, is poised to grow very fast over the next several years.

The parallels between Nike and segments in health are obvious. I remember reading an interesting blog post a few months ago that I linked to in a news post. I went back and re-read it and realized it missed the point (and I missed the point in my summary of it). That post was about how Nike should partner with pharma to market the Fuelband for health and wellness, and not focus only athletes only.

In healthcare, very large industries produce and distribute a lot of healthcare devices (for both providers and patients), educational materials, and medications. The organizations in these industries are well placed to take advantage of the increased push, and eventual adoption, of mobile technology into healthcare delivery and education, chronic disease care, and remote monitoring.

What I think is that players in the health system, especially pharma and pharmacy, should be pushing harder to do what Nike is doing in fitness. I know some of these companies are, but the nature of healthcare just makes adoption slower. I did report on efforts by pharma and retail pharmacy last year and the companies have been more active.

Bigger companies are developing or already have mobile-enabled services for patients. What’s interesting in looking at Nike is that is is succeeding with users outside of its historical customer base, like my wife and me (I know, it’s a small sample size). I’d be curious to see if a Merck or a CVS could develop health apps or services for users that don’t use their products or shop at their stores. That would certainly be a successful strategy to expand from companies that know healthcare and have resources.

But I think lots of others, aside from the usual suspects of pharma and pharmacy, could be doing it as well, though I acknowledge health is harder than fitness. What about publishers and device makers for patients? It seems like lots of them are content to have smaller third parties make accessories for their devices? Also, many of the companies, especially pharma companies, have significant perception issues to overcome that Nike doesn’t have.

My other question is around regulatory issues or limits for some of these companies. I really don’t know if a pharma company would have any issues branding and giving away apps adherence of remote management of elderly family members, though I feel like they already do similar things with with online communities. Does anybody out there know of any regulatory issues that restrict companies from expanding into the mobile app and services side of healthcare?

Travis Good is an MD/MBA involved with health IT startups. More about me.

  • Anonymous

    Re: FuelBand recharging.  Is she constantly hitting the button?  I’ve been wearing mine almost 4 weeks and charged it twice.  Neither time was it lower than 25% on the power meter.

    I agree about not trusting the numbers it shows, but I use it as a relative gauge of how active I’ve been in a day, which can motivate me to get out and exercise on those less active days…

  • MC

    I have to charge mine every other day too.  I just got it 🙁 I don’t press the button that often and I only sync once or twice a day.

  • MC

    I just spoke to Nike support.  The small only lasts 2 days because of its size.  The medium lasts 4 hours.

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