The era of social training

Written by Lucas Vingilis Scridelli


It is widely known that sports are the most popular hobbies people cultivate around the world, jogging, golfing, cycling, swimming, surfing, triathlon and hundreds of other sports are practiced by ordinary people whose profiles vary as much as the modalities practiced. This leads to electronic gadgets, social media and the Web 2.0 that are transforming the landscape of the “weekend enthusiast” by empowering and connecting people from all around the world. 

(Figure 1: It always starts with a diving deep)

But how can these new activity trackers help us understand the shift in consumer behavior and the role of marketers and brand managers? This article aims to explore further the world of
activity trackers and the data generated by these communities and how marketers and brand
managers can best adapt their activities to the upcoming big data world.  

Hobby athletes, online sports communities and brand experience:

Since the 1960’s society has changed from the cultivation of material goods to a society of 
spectacle, shifting from producing commodities for consumption, towards the production of
images, desires, fantasies, dreams and meanings as commodities to be consumed so “the
spectacle has become the dominant type of experience in late modernity” (Gabriel, 2008). 

Hence, empowered by social media, this society of spectacle has optimized the experience of
leisure, turning one’s ordinary life into its own spectacle using social media as the stage for its
everyday performance, sharing pictures, videos and other media of one’s leisure activities. This
shift to active leisure can be explained by the idea that our post-modern society requires the
construction of oneself by choosing carefully activities in search for differentiation and for
standing out in the crowd. The cultivated personality rises as a refinement of the leisure,
connecting the persona to the lifestyle, designing the new self through what one does for a living and what one consumes for leisure (Corrigan, 1997). “In consumer society, our leisure is
commodified, with each activity being implicitly evaluated to see if its contribution to one’s
personal brand is worth the investment” (Egan-Wyer, 2013). 

Now that we set up the context we can move to explain how activity trackers are changing the
game of active sports leisure for marketers. 

Activity trackers and the Web 2.0:

For the present article I decided to choose two types of activity trackers: Strava app for 
smartphones and the Garmin Forerunner 910XT. Strava, which is an app for smartphones that
works as an activity tracker and also a website where you can upload your activities manually or  through uploading from other activity tracker devices. The Garmin forerunner 910XT is a watch with a GPS device and other technologies that serves as multi-sport tracker which can track swimming, running, cycling and other outdoors activities. 

(Figure 2: Garmin Forerunner 910XT)

Both devices (the smartphone with Strava app and the Garmin Forerunner 910XT) track speed, average speed, pace, distance, heart rate, elevation gain and loss, and trace the course one did
while training. The Garmin Company also offers a platform for uploading the activities from the devices very similar to the Strava website and it is not required to have a Garmin device to sign into the website as well. The Strava and Garmin websites work as an online activity community, where one can upload its activities, create dashboards and reports about training and racing while also interacting with other users of the community. Every activity is shareable on Twitter and Facebook. One last important feature is that in both communities you can also add to your profile the gear you use to train, type and brand of shoes, bicycles, etc. 

(Figure 3: Strava interface)

It is worth mentioning also that Strava has the ability to exchange data with any kind of activity  tracker, even with the Garmin, where one can synchronize data from Garmin Connect to Strava easily. So both Strava and Garmin Connect are very open platforms with the main goal of gathering all level athletes around their communities.  

By providing these tools, the activity trackers transcended the small group of friends one was
used to train with, comparisons of time, pace, speed are not only possible with your close
training partners, but now one can find peers from around the world, engage in virtual
competitions, earn badges for special achievements and become, for example, the “King of
mountain” on its local ride.  

“Consumers are motivated to generate and broadcast online content primarily for intrinsic reasons such as the enjoyment that the act of creating something provides, promoting themselves to attract attention and initiate conversation, or to influence others” (Singh & Sonnenburg, 2012). 

Web 2.0 empowers the weekend sports enthusiasts with such tools that provided the stage and the audience ordinary people ever wanted. Sharing the statistics of one’s training, attaching pictures, sharing achievements, comparing and competing against other athletes and also sticking together around the same interests. This is something that is turning these tools into real sports social media with high audience engagement and interaction.

“Web 2.0 fosters a sense of community through virtual connections among like-minded people and enables the search for and celebration of micro-targeted niche groups to which people can easily belong” (Fournier & Avery, 2011). 

Sales performance and revenue (which of course is very important) are not the worthiest things they have in hands; the greatest asset they have in hands are consumer insights. “Open source branding implicates participatory, collaborative and socially-linked behaviors whereby
consumers serve as creators and disseminators of branded content” (Fournier & Avery, 2011). 

By generating this type of data about ordinary people who enjoy sports as a leisure activity,
these companies gather a whole new amount of data about consumer behavior regarding sports brands. The more interaction between people on social media there is, the less control about the brand story-telling and identity the marketers and brand managers have. With the right approach on the gathered data, it is possible to better understand the story the customers are telling every day with their training sessions. 

One example of how brands can benefit from this type of online communities is the resonance
of the conversations (Fournier & Avery, 2011) about their brands in social media where users
can legitimize the quality performance of the product through the kilometers cycled, run or
swum. These platforms can also serve as a place for story-telling not directly from the brands
but directly from users, feeding the pinball way of marketing (Hennig-Thurau, et al., 2013). The
role of the marketing professionals here is important to assure that the brand identity is well
aligned with the resonance in social media. 

Big data and the new role of marketers and brand managers:

Big data is a well-known word and in the case of activity trackers with all the interaction and 
engagement generated, these companies have in hands an enormous amount of worthy
information, not only for their own business but for the entire sports industry. They have
information about when, where and why people train, the type of gear they use and the profile
of users. All this tracked behavior can offer a new perspective for sports brand related, therefore there is a huge challenge in creating the right big data analysis and take the relevant information for interpreting and understanding the consumer insights. Thus, here lays the main role of a brand manager and the marketing department that is searching the way brands can benefit from this kind of social media.  

“The rise of social media and the associated possibilities of large-scale consumer-to-consumer interaction and easy user generation of content put the spotlight on the importance of recognizing, and if possible managing, the multi-vocal nature of brand authorship advocated by the cultural branding view” (Gensler, et al., 2013). 

(Figure 4: Real time feedback of performance) 

There are many other devices, like the ones that were previously mentioned, about to be
launched. Interpreting and using all the data generated by these devices is the future to
understand better consumer behavior and turn consumer insights to innovation.  

“What consumers seek transcends product categories. Consumers sort out options based on both their emotional and rational feelings. Understanding which feelings are at work in any given situation tells you a lot about the considered product set as well” (Florin, et al., 2007). 

The more technology advances and the more Web 2.0 develops the interaction between people, the more the marketing role advances through unravelling human behavior and interactions. Since the beginning marketing activities changed from focusing on optimizing distribution and reaching new markets (through advertising and building brand awareness) to nowadays where marketing activities are more related to understanding interactions between companies and people with the goal of enhancing experience and facilitating the construction of the self. Consequently, satisfying not only the goals of the company but the consumer goals and expectations as well. 

In conclusion, we can see that brand managers and marketers still have a lot to learn with the
Web 2.0 and about how to take advantage of the era of big data. Yet Web 2.0 and big data can also be shaped by the work of brand managers and marketers by using their knowledge on consumer behavior uniting technology with humanity. In the end, it is all about human
interaction, even if it is in a different way. 

(Figure 5: In the end we are here to push the boundaries)












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