March Madness And Connected Fitness: Who’s Best In The League?

Editor’s note: Scott Snyder is president and CSO of Mobiquity.

March: the month where brackets are set, all-star players and teams are matched up and competitions determine who is best in the league.

As the intensity of March Madness is upon us, I’ve been watching another landscape in which, similar to NCAA basketball, players are closely being measured and champions are already being predicted. I’m talking about the connected fitness market, which was catapulted onto the global scene by Apple with its Apple Watch.

While we can expect to continue to see new players emerge, the time is coming when a division leader will rise to the top – and I believe that could be Under Armour, which has broken into an early lead with its evident and public focus on big data.

Top seed: Under Armour

With 120-plus-million fitness users across MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo, Under Armour – the recent acquirer of the aforementioned companies – now represents one of the largest digital health and wellness companies in the world, with unique leverage points to secure a leadership position.

First, Under Armour has a strong brand affinity, paired with extensive expertise in fashion and apparel. Under Armour is able to make digital health apps and devices more relevant and integrated into what people will wear every day (something I have been predicting as a key to success in this market for some time). With their retail presence, Under Armour can create cool devices as well as leverage rewards and discounts to drive healthier behaviors, creating a cycle that drives both more engagement and increased product sales.

Second, the company has access to a significant amount of fitness data from its acquisitions of MapMyFitness and others. Why does this matter? There are some who still view wearables as trendy accessories for gadget junkies. Not so. It’s the data that counts.

Every activity – e.g. heartbeat, blood pressure reading, etc. – is providing a rich new source of information to be analyzed and acted upon, with many players who could benefit. Under Armour also has the ability and potential to integrate with other health profile data via data aggregators like Apple’s HealthKit or Google Fit and ultimately, become a “health hub.”

The fact that people are more likely to open one of their fitness apps than one from their healthcare provider or insurance company, means that Under Armour will have an initial stronghold on the collection of valuable customer insights.

Despite these strategic moves, Under Armour hasn’t taken a stronghold yet. Just like in basketball, the winner is not determined until the championship is over, and the competition will be fighting hard to stay in the game until the end.

The competition: catching up

Wearables are on the brink of being as important to healthcare as the stethoscope and thermometer. Nothing can replace doctors, but the more they can learn about their patients between visits, the more likely successful treatments and long-term health benefits can be achieved.

Given 90 percent of patients say they would use a health app to help manage their condition if their doctor recommended it – compared with 50 percent on their own – it is critical to get doctors engaged to help drive m-health adoption. What will get doctors engaged is evidence that these types of apps and devices can really provide real benefit for patients (better outcomes).

Until now, the healthcare sector has been pretty much data rich and synthesis poor. The effort has to be on effectively analyzing the information. This is why becoming a “health hub” would be so advantageous for Under Armour. By connecting with consumers on a more personal level, the opportunity is there to drive engagement and positive behavior change. It will take a company with a strong retail brand and a significant base of users (such as Under Armour, Apple, Samsung, WebMD, Nike, Adidas, Weight Watchers, Walgreens, CVS and others) to create a similar footprint.

But, what will determine the real champions?

Post-season: key differentiators

Outcomes are key. Companies that can offer initial data from pilots will be the ones that begin driving this cycle and eventually gain not only prescriptions, but possibly reimbursement. In addition, the companies that can leverage analytics on their user data to drive better segmentation, more personalized and relevant interactions and ultimately outcomes will be the real winners.

Apple may be in a top position to do this next with an expected 30 million Apple Watch buyers and a base of 320 million users on iOS 5/6 smartphones capable of running HealthKit. A mainstream wearable like Apple Watch, with a seamless health interface like HealthKit, will close the gap between intent and action because less is asked of the person.

Consumer brands like Under Armour and Apple will continue to enter the healthcare market. User experience, seamless integration of health data and privacy management will become key differentiators among digital health solutions – and ultimately determine who will become best in the connected fitness league.