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Fitness Apps Download Their Values

by Jim Heathman

With gyms closed and people stuck at home, digital fitness is taking off. Power yoga, trainer workouts, pilates, spin, meditation, running, barre — you name it and people are finding it on mobile apps, live-streaming classes, and on-demand video.

Of course, disruption means adaptation and that can mean opportunity. Enter the host of companies now offering their digital fitness apps for free.

  • Peloton is giving new customers a 90-day free-trial of Peloton Digital (regularly $12.99 a month). Even if you don’t have their bike, you can get live-streaming and on-demand classes for spin, yoga, dance, strength-training, guided runs, and even meditation.

  • Nike, taking lessons learned during self-isolation in China, is dialing up its digital response stateside and offering its NTC Premium subscription service free — indefinitely.

  • Regularly $14.99 a month, NTC Premium includes access to Nike App, the Nike Running Club app, the Nike Training Club app, select social channels, and its training podcast.

  • Down Dog is making its popular apps – including Yoga, Yoga for Beginners, HIIT, Barre, 7 Minute Workout, and Prenatal Yoga — free for everyone through May 1 and until July 1 for students, teachers, and healthcare pros.

These are just a few digital fitness brands now offering free trials of their apps. No surprise then, that downloads of health and fitness apps were up 40% in March alone.

But what interests us as much as what brands do in response to crisis, is how they communicate that response. And nobody in recent years has owned their communications’ point of view quite like Nike.

In its original blog announcing the decision to offer NTC Premium for free, Nike never once mentions COVID-19 by name. Yet they convey empathy and leadership in the moment, speaking to optimism and staying away almost entirely from the ubiquitous, if genuinely felt, “we’re all in this together.” More importantly, and for them on-brand, Nike launched a social media campaign advocating for both social distancing and sport under the new tagline “Play inside, play for the world,” and as reported previously made $15 million in donations to a variety of frontline covid-response organizations.

What allows brands like Nike to act — rather than react — during a crisis is having a firm understanding of their brand values. When many athletic brands took a quiet wait-and-see approach to the Take a Knee movement a couple years ago, Nike went all in backing Colin Kapernick with a full-blown ad campaign. Of course, that was a business decision for Nike. But it was consistent with their values. And whatever else customers may have thought about it, the move left no doubt where Nike stood.

We can imagine, given Nike’s history, that when the current crisis rolled onto America’s shores their communication team spent little time wondering “what’s our position?” and were instead immediately freed to apply their considerable talent and resources toward making a plan. Freedom to act quickly. That’s a luxury you have only when you are consistently acting and communicating out of your values.

Giving away a fitness app or any service right now can be seen as an act of good faith in tough times. But is it a smart business decision? It can be, provided you’re moving forward from a place of values and care, not just reaction.

It’s true that in the months ahead, we may yet see large uninstall numbers eliminating the current growth in downloads. And it’s unclear how many people using these free fitness apps can be converted to paying customers down the road. (Soft offers on acquisition always make for more challenging retention.) But that’s a challenge we’re sure any digital growth team would eagerly accept. Isn’t showing up in a real and meaningful way for people when they need you, highlighting your brand values, and potentially adding to your community, worth the effort and limited risk?

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