5 lessons 10 years of Fitbit teach us

They call Istanbul “the crossroads of the world” because it’s a place where three major continents come together. In a similar way, Fitbit – famous for its ubiquitous little black wristband – is a crossroads for many (if not all) major streams of commercial technological and marketing innovations.

And, as Fitbit is celebrating its 10-year anniversary, it’s a good time to look at how the company has leveraged five important technologies and marketing strategies to power its growth.

Player in a new product category

For the last few years, we’ve been reading a lot about “wearable tech.” It’s one of the new product categories that holds great promise for the future, although it has lost a bit of its shine recently.

Fitbit is probably the most recognizable brand in the wearable tech sector. Sure, there are other health and fitness devices competing for the business, but Fitbit is the name most people know. In fact, if you say you have a Fitbit, everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. It’s possible that the name will someday enter the language as a commonly used noun, like Kleenex®.

Old made new again

Despite the fact that I’ve started this by relegating Fitbit to the new product category of wearable tech, we need to recognize the fact that at its heart, Fitbit is an old product that has been revitalized by new technology.

After all, most Fitbits are essentially pedometers that have been supercharged by digital electronics. This is not a knock on Fitbit or similar devices. Recognizing how new technologies can be applied to existing products is very smart because the basic understanding and acceptance of the product already exist in the marketplace.

I suspect that thousands of people who used pedometers for a while and then relegated them to the bottom of their sock drawer went out and bought Fitbits when they understood how much more useful they are due to the addition of new technologies. In fact, they probably realized that back in the day when they bought their first pedometer, it was really Fitbit functionality that they wanted.

Physical product tied to the online environment

There are two riddles many businesses are trying to solve today:

  • How to bring users of physical products/stores to the Internet, and
  • How to get Internet users to use/frequent a physical product/store.

It’s fairly easy to be all-Internet or all-physical (brick and mortar). It’s much more difficult to be both simultaneously. Fitbit accomplished this through the “dashboard” that updates users on their activity levels.

Fitbit syncs with a mobile device app and with the user’s account on the Fitbit website. This helps create a deeper relationship between the company and the customer. Fitbit users see the devices on their wrist nearly 24-7 but the company also has the opportunity to relate to them via the online world.

Freemium and premium accounts

The success of my previous point hinges on Fitbit’s strategy to offer a free account. Today, all kinds of businesses are leveraging freemiums to build their user base. Once they have a good population of freemium users, two revenue streams open up to them:

  • Advertise to the base of freemium users, and
  • Upsell freemium users to a premium service.

The beauty of Fitbit’s free account is that it is extremely useful. It’s something Fitbit wearers use every day and probably a few times each day.

Gamification and socialization

Fitbit has also done great work in gamification and creating social networks of users. Fitbit hands out various “awards” for achieving goals such as walking the top-to-bottom length of Italy. It publishes interesting challenges. Users sign up for them and then measure their progress. There are little rewards along the way to keep users engaged.

Fitbit also let users create groups. For example, you might join a group of 30-somethings in Indiana and then post various challenges that users in your group could join. When you’re participating in a group challenge, you can message each other, which is a great feature for a fitness program.

I’m thrilled that Fitbit is celebrating its 10th anniversary, it might mark a major crossroads for this company that has been a technological and marketing crossroads. I know that competition is tough in its niche (check out Brian Withers’ article on Motley Fool) and I suspect that there will have to be some consolidation before too long. However, no matter what the future holds for Fitbit, the company can be very proud of all that it has accomplished so far.