The fitness fixation sweeping the nation

By
Elsie Bernaiche
,
Account Executive at ThoughtLeaders
May 27, 2020

In last week’s edition, we broke down the latest trends in foods and dieting, highlighting some major successes in meal prep and food delivery services that are focusing on organic (and sometimes even vegan) products to fuel the masses that have flocked to health food fads. As we discovered, both podcast and YouTube were popular places for different audiences seeking various food and diet advice, but specific brands are able to drive more success on podcast vs. YouTube because of the type of content they sponsor: as we concluded, it’s not just about the influencer, it’s also about what specific content you’re integrating your sponsorship into that drives results. 

Now that we’ve understood what drives markets and consumers in the health foods space, we can focus on the other side of fitness. What goes into the body is just as important as your overall output, and there are tons of fitness brands dedicated to keeping you active and on-track with your workout plan. We’re looking at trends in content, which brands are leading the way in sponsorship, and what promotions work to drive profits behind specific products. 

Ready to dive in? Let’s hit the ground running. 


Runner’s world

Speaking of runners, there’s a growing niche audience behind this longtime workout method. We all remember the days of C25K, a program that gets you from your couch to running a 5k in just a few weeks. What’s resulted is an entire world growing, dominantly on podcast, around the topic of running. Most of these podcasts are actually designed to be listened to WHILE running. We have over 2100+ channels discussing the topic of runners and running (284 of which are podcasts), showing there’s a wealth of opportunity for athletica brands. 


It’s no surprise that we’re finding brands like Rhone, Tracksmith, and Aftershokz sponsoring these podcasts. In fact, of 29 total sponsored channels Tracksmith has appeared on, 25 of them are running podcasts. 


Tracksmith
is an emerging brand and still new to branded content: founded in 2013, they first appeared on podcast in 2015 but have really hit on a more uniform strategy in 2017-2018 with consistent podcast mentions. The brand has definitely invested more into podcast, shown by the recent spike in mentions:



It’s impressive that Tracksmith has so quickly identified content producers that are working well for them: they’ve been sponsoring their top 3 runner podcasts over 15+ times in the past 2 years, a clear indicator that they’re seeing an ROI from repeatedly sponsoring a core group of content producers. They’re still testing new channels on newsletter and podcast, however, with 17 of their 29 total sponsored partnerships only seeing 1 sponsorship. This is par for the course, if not better, than many larger brands that sponsor loads more content but have a much higher failure rate. With such a specific audience for their product, one might think they would hit or miss more on their tests - but the key is the content. Just check out the podcast description for one of their most sponsored channels:



Other brands that want to position themselves as a fitness-industry product, like Aftershokz the headphone company, are sponsoring on as many as 6 of the same runner podcasts that Tracksmith has appeared on. 23 of Aftershokz’ 74 total influencers discussing their brand are also discussing running. While they are still testing some new running podcasts, Aftershokz has also explored tech and news content, frequently sponsoring content discussing “work from home”. 



Speaking of business-related content, Tracksmith also appeared on several business and tech newsletters… could there a relationship between the businessman and the gymrat? It’s not the first instance where a brand or a content creator has linked their love of fitness with their insane work ethic and discipline in entrepreneurship. 


In mentions of running, we find that the content categories of technology, lifestyle, and sports lead the way, and while we’ve been focusing on podcast, the majority of this content is actually being talked about on YouTube:


It makes sense - some of the leading podcast channels, like the Rich Roll Podcast, who pulls in a whopping $100M in annual revenue from his sponsorship deals, discusses topics like running and fitness as equally as business and entrepreneurship. He has 189 pieces of content discussing running, vs. 134 pieces of content discussing business topics. Host Rich Roll covers tons of themes on dietary wellness (he’s frequently sponsored by brands we mentioned last week like Four Sigmatic), physical fitness, and interestingly, mental wellness. Much of his content focuses on comprehensive and holistic wellness, which involves more than just what you eat or do: as his podcast description reads, “I used to be an unhealthy corporate lawyer. At 40 I decided to change my life. I switched to a 100% plant-based diet, lost 50 pounds and started exploring human potential in the worlds of ultra-endurance, wellness, mindfulness and spirituality. Now 51, I travel the world sharing what I have learned in talks, books, and on my podcast.” That’s why leading meditation and sleep apps like Calm are sponsoring heavily on the Rich Roll Podcast, keen to gain access to his wellness-aware audience. Both Calm and competitor Headspace have appeared on his channel over 23 times. 


Be mindful about your health: mental wellness apps

If we dive deeper into Calm’s activity, we can see they are dominating podcasts to reach nearly 90Million audience members, focusing heavily on keywords around health and wellness. We’ve provided a breakdown of the keyword search results in Calm’s sponsored content:

Mental health: 60 Results from 41 Thought Leaders 

Meditation: 341 Results from 137 Thought Leaders 

Sleep: 353 Results from 109 Thought Leaders 

Wellness/health: 234 Results from 123 Thought Leaders  

Anxiety: 192 Results from 87 Thought Leaders 

 

There is a clear focus on overall wellness in the content they sponsor, not just playing off the key aspects of sleep and meditation that Calm’s app aims to support. Calm appears next to brands like Headspace and Betterhelp, their direct competitors, but also alongside HelloFresh and Native Deodorant, which are other health food or hygiene brands that also heavily target wellness and fitness audiences in their sponsorships.

 

Here’s how the top mental wellness apps stack up in the health and wellness space:

 

 

Calm and Headspace overlap on 61 channels, and both brands have slightly different aims with their chosen sponsorships. Calm looks to widen their funnel by driving a higher audience reach (1Billion!), whereas Headspace has double the Thought Leaders and under 900Million in total reach. More than double the sponsored channels but less of a reach means they’re probably sponsoring channels with a smaller following, whereas Calm is sponsoring channels with millions of subscribers for maximum reach. There are pros and cons - Calm has probably spent less overall, but they’ve generated less impressions, primarily because Headspace is more heavily sponsoring on YouTube, where measures of impressions are much more standardized and easier to track. Headspace, on the other hand, has tested a wider range of channels and garnered nearly 32Million impressions from just 1000 or so mentions. 

 

Headspace again copies the tactic we’ve seen with other health and wellness brands: appear equally on business as on wellness channels. Headspace has appeared on 302 channels discussing business, entrepreneurship, marketing and other topics. They’ve had their leadership appear several times to discuss the brand, and they’re one of the #1 brands to leap into action and leverage the coronavirus pandemic to bring their wellness app to the masses:

 

 

BETTERHELP, the online therapist app, is crushing it sponsoring "mental health" podcasts, with 1706 mentions across 209 unique podcasts in the past year: 

 

 

6 podcasts are responsible for 250+ of those mentions in the past 6 months alone, showing the Betterhelp has found their core group, similar to Tracksmith. What’s really interesting about Betterhelp’s trends compared to the other mental health competitors mentioned? They appear to be heavily sponsoring on YouTube, but you’d be shocked to learn that within the past 30 days, of the total 460 pieces of content mentioning the brand from 140 total Thought Leaders, we’re seeing 379 episodes from 115 unique podcasts. That’s an incredible reach just in the past 30 days, and shows that Betterhelp is definitely pivoting toward podcast. 

 

In fact, Betterhelp might be one of the best examples in the “mental health app” space: check out their testing schedule over time, it’s showing that each consecutive year, they’re changing up their testing schedule and testing more aggressively. They’ve seen an ROI in their earlier experiments into podcast, and YOY are investing more into testing new channels.

For example, they saw a spike in the 2nd half of 2018 in new tests, compared to 2017, where they barely added any new channels until Q4 hit. Entering 2019, they tested new channels (50 per quarter on average) consistently throughout the entire year, and in 2020, we might have expected to see a slightly even more aggressive schedule, but the dip we’re measuring so far is most likely related to budgetary changes relating to the coronavirus epidemic. Almost every brand’s testing schedules have dipped in Q1 to Q2, so Betterhelp is on par with the industry. 

 

That being said, they have a high concentration of channels mentioning Betterhelp 3+ times, meaning that many of their new tests transform into repeat sponsor relationships:

 

What’s really fascinating is, with Betterhelp’s massive reach and all these tested channels, they only overlap on 7 of the same channels as Calm’s sponsored content lineup. These two brands have very clearly defined themselves based on the content they’re sponsoring. Other brands that we are keeping our eye on include: 

10% Happier

BioBeats

Mindshift

Moodkit

Talkspace

Happify

Sleep Cycle

“Root to rise”: the rise of yoga

Many of these mental health apps encourage mindfulness and meditation practices, incorporating movement into the practices a person can benefit from through the app. There is a strong relationship between fitness content in general and mental health apps: why else would yoga be one of the most popular video formats on YouTube?

 

In a search of fitness content on YouTube, we find yoga has been trending upward, especially in the past 12 months:

 

Yoga as a topic is clearly dominating YouTube, but interestingly is being discussed more on Lifestyle channels than Health & Fitness, indicating that it’s definitely a practice for everyone, not just athletes or hardcore fitness freaks (like those runners that have their own cult on podcast…). When we look through the nearly 18K YouTube channels discussing “workout, home workout, working out, OR how to work out”, we can easily sort by a few basic workout types. Counting up the total mentions, we have: 

6120 videos mentioning yoga

2889 videos mentioning weight training

5186 videos mentioning CrossFit

It’s incredible that mentions of yoga on YouTube outweighs CrossFit: CrossFit’s main objective in their marketing strategy has been to literally leverage people doing workout videos on YouTube, bringing them on as CrossFit ambassadors or e-trainers. It’s a highly successful, high impact content format that ultimately gets people to buy into the community and program.


CrossFit has reached the point where most of their content now falls under Tier 4 (owned media that drives ROI for a brand by creating interesting and engaging content based around their product/brand). Both the most # of mentions of the famous workout program and wellness lifestyle AND the most recent mentions are appearing on their own channel:



All the other mentions of CrossFit are most likely organic, with just the keyword “CrossFit” appearing on the channels. Only a few of the YouTubers shown above are also linking to the CrossFit.com website. CrossFit relies heavily upon ambassadors of their program (like Mindbodygreen, in a way) to promote the fitness method and brand by doing creative CrossFit workouts or making high-protein recipes on YouTube videos that can be found on the CrossFit website. 


On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we have apps like Whoop that are almost exclusively sponsoring content on other channels, although Whoop is doing something very interesting: they’re started their own PODCAST. 



Just like CrossFit, it’s risen to quickly become Whoop’s channel with the highest # mentions and most recent mentions. 


Nonetheless, they’re appearing more consistently on podcast than YouTube right now, but still taking every opportunity to enhance engagement. In this example, they’re sponsoring the podcast AND the corresponding YouTube channel of this influencer. 



That means any followers of this influencer will be that much more likely to check out Whoop, because they’re seeing the brand on multiple pieces of content and multiple platforms. Whoop hasn’t missed out on the yoga trend: 17 of 107 channels sponsored by Whoop are also discussing topics around yoga 339 times!


Some other brands we are foreseeing could take advantage of this trend are FitOn, a recent app launched in 2018 by CEO Lindsay Cook to provide personalized workout plans that go above and beyond some of the competitors mentioned above. FitOn has a huge opportunity to dominate the fitness space, given that so many of the main competitors are leveraging their own channels. When drumming up general brand awareness, partnering with 3rd party YouTubers will drive more traffic to your owned media pages, and there’s still an inventory of almost 377 top fitness channels that aren’t currently talking about Whoop or CrossFit but are sponsored by some other prime health brands that would be a win. 


Pro Tip: Did you know that you can “follow” brand strategies in our platform? You can follow rising stars like FitOn and remain updated on new channels mentioning your favorite brands, competitors, or indirect guide brands.
We are definitely “following” FitOn to pick up any new channels they’re exploring - I have a feeling we will continue to see female lifestyle oriented channels both on podcast andYouTube !



Trackers are trending

Speaking of tracking, one of the biggest tech trends to emerge from the health industry is health monitoring devices. FitBit may be the most well-known, but they’re certainly not the most high-tech. 


Oura has positioned themselves with a more reasonably priced product that provides more in-depth analyses of various aspects of our health. Oura’s biggest push in their promotions is their sleep tracking capabilities: of 417 pieces of content mentioning Oura from 121 total channels across podcast, YouTube, blog and newsletter, nearly 300 pieces of content from almost 100 Thought Leaders are discussing SLEEP. 



They’re defining a niche for their product, which is tracking your sleep behavior with a physical monitor. They’ve also made progress as one of the first brands to offer temperature monitoring on a wearable device. 


Looking at overall trends, Oura is succeeding on podcast, and specifically appearing on some of the same channels that are talking about Headspace and FitBit. Most of the content mentioning FitBit are comparison pieces and product review articles, but in the places they overlap with Headspace, we are seeing a heavy focus on diet and nutrition. Makes sense as both of these brands position themselves as apps that improve your overall health:




Oura is focusing on Lifestyle content to sell their tracker, followed by Tech content, but if we look at competitor Withings strategy, they’ve gone a completely different route and are appearing most heavily in Food content: 



Withings is known for design and innovation in connected devices, such as the first Wi-Fi scale on the market (introduced in 2009), an FDA-cleared blood pressure monitor, a smart sleep system, and a line of automatic activity tracking watches. It also provides B2B solutions for healthcare providers and researchers.


Why is Withings so big in Food, whereas they are very clearly a tech brand? And why, then, is FitBit dominating that space? If we run a quick keyword search, we can see Withings wants to sell themselves as a HEALTH solution. Searches of “blood pressure” and “diet” appear 10x more frequently in Withings content than FitBits (compare 1-2% of FitBit’s content discussing dieting and high blood pressure vs. Withings at nearly 18%). Their most frequent appearance is on a Foodie Youtube channel:


Withings was purchased by Finnish company Nokia on 26 April 2016 and became a division of Nokia known as Nokia Health. We can see on their trend chart below that around the same time, they really began to build out a strong podcast strategy that has scaled up pretty consistently since 2016.



So what can we expect from some of the newest trackers on the market? Will they perform like Withings, starting on YouTube and exploring podcast further down the line? Will these products take the aim of Oura, positioning themselves as a wellness lifestyle product vs. tech innovation? We’re keeping our eye on Embr Labs, who just created the Embrwave, a wearable device that acts as a personal temperature REGULATOR, not only tracking temperature but giving the wearer the ability to control how the atmosphere or environment feels to them. They received a recent round of funding in Sept 2019 and while the scant content mentioning the brand is all organic and focused on the business and technology angle, we expect to see them copy some of Oura’s strategy to raise general brand awareness and also sell to a targeted audience concerned about their health. 

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All these innovations leave me asking, is the market saturated? Or do these apps succeed in improving an individual’s health because they focus on one specific function, such as sleep, temperature, meditation, exercise, etc.? Will we see the rise of a titan that purports to provide a more comprehensive, all-in-one system?

From what we are seeing, that might be a tough product to market, given that the most successful sponsorships are from a very specific content category. We’ve seen that certain brands not only target athletes, sports, and hardcore fitness freaks in their content, but they go as far as to define themselves by one single fitness activity such as running. Some apps are so narrow in their content partnerships that they appear not just on channels discussing sleep, but channels that are specifically designed to help you get to sleep. On the other end, tracker brands are sponsoring these same sleep-related channels in order to promote their solution to tracking your activity once you’re already asleep.

There’s not only a specific role for each brand within a fitness-focused individual’s lifestyle, there’s a specific type of content and format that champions the marketing strategy for these brands. These brands don’t seem to be competing for space in the branded content world… yet.

But Fitness is the industry of competition and perfectionism and we will continue to report on new leaders in the space and their best practices to get their product to the masses.