With New CMO, NordicTrack, iFit Look To Reclaim Connected Fitness

Can NordicTrack, almost 50 years old, reintroduce itself as a cutting-edge tech brand? Parent iFit believes it can, recently hiring Mark Phillips as chief marketing officer to oversee the launch of new campaigns. Phillips tells D2C Insider why he’s so eager to jump into a category that’s been one of the year’s biggest dumpster fires.

D2C Insider: You recently started as iFit’s CMO, joining from McKinsey. The connected-fitness market has been a post-pandemic slugfest, bruising competitors like Peloton and knocking out others, including Lululemon’s Mirror. Why take a job in such a tough category?

Mark Phillips: It's a challenge. But this is an amazing category. Exercise adds real value to people's lives. You see our transformation effect on people through sport and fitness, especially now with the connected fitness piece. And yet, the company had never told that story.

Personally, this purpose -- the transformative experience of fitness -- means a lot to me. I spent eight years at Adidas, running the Olympics business. And we spent much time working on ways to get kids to do sports. That was one of my career's most rewarding times and what I’m trying to bring back to the table here.

D2C Insider: As a legacy brand, how does NordicTrack stand out in the vastly changed home exercise gear market in 2023?

Phillips: NordicTrack has been a name people have known for almost 50 years. Then, about 10 years ago, we introduced iFit, combining software with our equipment. Then all hell breaks loose during the pandemic, with incredible acceleration in the market. We're now in a post-pandemic phase, focusing on this integration between hardware, software and content. We’re adapting to hybrid fitness, which is an area I don’t think any brand is serving all that well.

D2C Insider: How do you define hybrid fitness?

Phillips: Consumers are still working at home. Home fitness is still a big thing. But they're also back at the gym, and sales in the whole category of machines have declined. People are also exercising outdoors. During the pandemic, many thought consumers would want just one brand, and there are lots of data platforms trying to be that brand.

We’re moving toward a multimodality model. Pandemic fitness may have been sitting on a Peloton bike four days a week. Now, people want to run outside. They want to hike. They want to play pickleball on the weekend. They may want to do a quick 30-minute class at home because they’re time-pressured, but they also like the sociability of classes at the gym. So they’re looking for flexibility.

We want to create that culture of personalization and multimodality. Nobody’s doing that.

D2C Insider: The iFit subscription to digital content costs $40 a month, the same as the Peloton app and Lululemon All-Access membership. How is yours different?

Phillips: There’s the travel component, shot on location, like Mt. Everest Base Camp, Machu Pichu and the English Channel. People have a very personal relationship with our trainers and want those connections. We’ve got Olympians as trainers, including Sanya Richards-Ross, also known for her role on “Real Housewives of Atlanta.” We’ve got marathons and Tour de France content, for example, all focused on bringing sport to the consumer. It’s something competitors do not have.

D2C Insider: How do these new campaigns explain all this? And why multiple campaigns?

Phillips: Trying to tell three stories in one ad spot is just bad advertising. These campaigns, created by AKQA, focus on the unique technology that makes our products smarter. “Incredible Machines” focuses on how our treads and bikes automatically increase the gradient and speed for you and how they combine software and product features with content.

The second focuses on iFit and the diversity of workouts and trainers.

That ad conveys how we take people anywhere in the world. The third part, which we’ll release on social media over the next two weeks, is based on user testimonials. The combination of these three elements tells our story. Again, it’s about this combination of modalities. We're not just strength, mental health, or treadmills. We've got content that reflects that.

D2C Insider: How are your sales, and how much are you spending on this?

Phillips: We're a private business, so I can't release numbers. We are spending a significant amount of money on this campaign, in the double-digit millions. The whole category has been challenged, but our numbers are looking good.

D2C Insider: Aside from boosting holiday sales, how do you plan to measure the effectiveness of these ads?

Phillips: Tracking awareness and consumer engagement, especially with this travel fitness we’re creating. As I said, we haven't told our story enough and need to do that more. We want to see ways people can connect what they do in their house with what they do outside.

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