Tech: Nike rediscovers its leadership position with FuelBands

Nike FuelBands: the talk of SXSW this year
Nike FuelBands: the talk of SXSW this year

The proliferation of Nike FuelBands at the recent SXSW festival is an indication that the brand is once again leading the way on innovation. John V Willshere outlines the strategy behind the product.

For the past few days, I've enjoyed seeing pictures of folks I know bouncing around the technology festival South By South West (SXSW) with a glowing wristband on the end of their arm.

Yet despite SXSW's reputation as an event where the party is becoming more important than the technology, this wasn't some retro glow stick shindig. Nike chose to bring its hard-to-get FuelBands to an event that's now a fixture on marketers' calendars.

It's the flagship product of Nike Fuel (the next generation of Nike+). By wearing the FuelBand, people can see how active they are and set daily goals, all measured in 'Fuel', a sort of universal currency.

Inside the FuelBand is an accelerometer that measures how much you are moving, and how much energy you're expending to do it. It syncs with your iPhone, but for more instant, visceral feedback, 100 LEDs light up in the rubber surface of the wristband, displaying data and goals at the touch of a button.

Nike is not the first to create this type of device, but FuelBand may well be the only variant many people will ever see. Why? Because it's not just a matter of units sold; once again, Nike has developed something that it is as much about marketing as it is product.

Nike has been using technology to fuse product and marketing for years. For instance, NIKEiD, a platform that enables users to design their own trainers, launched in 1999. Other trainer brands are still trying to catch up.

Then there is the original Nike+ system, first launched in 2006; it's still the go-to example of 'product as marketing'.

The point is that whether you've used or bought any of these products, you will definitely have heard about them. Nike's technological wonders tell a story not just of what it is now, but what it will be in the future. If you want to join Nike on that journey, the technology can be yours.

Well, for a price, of course. The FuelBand will sell at £139 when it arrives in the UK this May.

John V Willshere is the founder of Smithery, an innovation works for marketing and product development. Follow him on Twitter @willsh or at smithery.co/blog

NEED TO KNOW

Three trends of which savvy marketers must be aware:

The rise of the 'appcessory'

Branded phone apps have tended to disappear inside the phone. Creating physical products that use the phone as a link to the internet allows brands to start embodying their ideas and values in a 'real world' object. It's an expensive game, however. Fashion brands could have a field day; FMCGs less so.

Not seen on screen

Not everything needs to be screen-based in the future. Hiding displays in a product's surfaces offers a delightful, robust way for data to come to life at the user's request. We could soon be viewing weather reports in brolly handles, or carrying suitcases that tell you how heavy they are. It's a great opportunity for brands to add more utility to the experience.

Movers and shakers

Movement is a tricky thing to capture with words and pictures, so devices such as the Nike FuelBand can tap into the moments when people are using a brand's products. I blush slightly as I suggest it, but think of the field day a brand such as Durex could have with accelerometers ...

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