Here’s how it works: I put a chip in my (Nike) running shoe. This broadcasts information to the iPod nano I carry with me on the run. I come home from a run (more usually, a walk) and my iPod uploads my running information to the Nike website where it is aggregated with all the other running/walking data uploaded by all the other runners and walkers in America.
I know. I know. This is one of those classic innovation moments that makes you go, "Wait. What?" Actually, this is actually what I got engraved on my Nano. There’s a good chance you will have to try this technology before it makes perfect sense.
See the image insert. (Clicking on it will make it easier to read.) This describes my walk for yesterday. The line represents the moments I sped up and slowed down. It appears that I came to a dead stop at one point. I have no idea what happened there. Mooning over flowers, possibly? You can see the overall distance. Along the top are my accumulated stats. As I say, I am walking on most trips, so that’s why the mile per hour figure is so large.
One way to understand this innovation is to look at the private and public value it creates.
Exercise is lonely, painful, and boring. And this is enough to discourage most people from doing it faithfully (or at all). Nike + can’t actually do anything about the painful part, but it gets at lonely and boring very effectively. It allows everyone to devote their miles to challenges.
This means, for instance, that everyone on the South side of Chicago can now use their miles to compete against everyone on the North side of Chicago. The Nike + works as a vast spread sheet. It sums all the runs. At the end of every day, you can watch your run uploaded and you can see who’s winning the challenges you belong to.
That’s an incentive that may launch a couch potato out of the house. If our runner is just running for himself, well, the temptation to remain housebound is strong. But if he is now running for everyone on the South side of Chicago, and his team now happens to be just a few hundred miles from acing those North side numskulls, it’s a different proposition altogether.
The private value is that I exercise more. The public value is that I now "belong" to and participate with collectivities that would otherwise not much interest me. This is a kind of mechanized networking of the kind we see more and more of.
Of course, these are early days. I am using my accumulated miles to compete in a competition between my little town in Connecticut and Steam Boat Springs, Colorado. It’s not going very well. No one in Steam Boat Springs has picked up the challenge. Or maybe that’s not so bad. (We could take this one.) My little town in Connecticut is not always the friendliest place in the world. (That New England frostiness, you know.) But I can see our competition with Steam Boat Sprngs changing changing that a little. (I also issued an open challenge to all the towns smaller than 5 k in Connecticut, proving that I didn’t really get how challenges work.) As I say, it’s early days. This is one of those technologies that is going to find its own applications, and amaze us as it does.
I wonder if we are going to see that Nike miles "on the ground" will become anything like frequent-flyer miles "in the air." We were all surprised to see the air miles became a measure for things other than travel and a currency in markets beyond the frequent-flyer one. It’s not hard to imagine runners becoming "mile philanthropists," donating their miles to worthing causes, with brands other than Nike matching them mile for mile.
But these are down stream effects. In the meantime, the question is simply: did Nike accomplish something that is good for the brand. Well, in my own experience, it just went from being another sports supplier to an enabler that has changed the way I think about exercise and the way I participate in it. More than that, Nike has found a way to amplify my accomplishments…and then broadcast them.
Talk about engagement. Talk about partnering with the consumer! Talk about brand and consumer cocreating. Geez, Louise, this is good marketing.
I am traveling most of tomorrow. I will blog if I can but I will be most of the day in the plane.
post script 2
The partnership with iPod uses music in some interesting and useful ways. I left out this part of the story to simplify the exposition.
The website for Nike + is here.