Friday 26 June 2009

If knowledge is power is personal knowledge empowering?

Today I was told by someone that they hadn’t seen me for over 23 days, that I had lost 4lbs but was still overweight. In fact, after interacting for only a few minutes I was also told that my sense of balance seemed to have improved.

imageThis certain someone wasn’t a tactless friend with a strange ability to visually gauge weightloss and posture but instead was my Wii Fit which keeps track of both my weight, BMI and exercise plan – when I use it.

The Wii fit is just one product that keeps track of your health and fitness – there are a multitude of other services online whether it’s fitness specific like Traineo or weight specific sites like Weight Watchers which allow you to set goals, plan meals and track your progress over time.

This isn’t just fitness though - there is an emerging trend toward what is termed “self-tracking” – whereby people utilise various tools to track key activities – from what they listen to, what they eat, where they travel, what they read, what they spend or how much energy they use.

Nike+ is probably one of the most well known self tracking solutions.

Like many manufacturers, Nike would typically be removed from the consumer, with retailers owning the consumer interaction and any ongoing relationship. With Nike+ however, they have essentially created a connection with some of their best customers as well as an ongoing interaction.

nikeA recent article in Wired about Nike+ provided some interesting insights into self-tracking and the scale of it saying:-

By combining a dead-simple way to amass data with tools to use and share it, Nike has attracted the largest community of runners ever assembled—more than 1.2 million runners who have collectively tracked more than 130 million miles and burned more than 13 billion calories.

Now that’s loyalty and as strong a brand as Nike is, that’s a level of ongoing interaction they would have struggled to have garnered in more ordinary ways.

So providing consumers with access to information – their information – may actually help to build loyalty.

For many loyalty programmes it is typical for early behaviours to be indicative of future behaviours and engagement. For example, within credit cards, balances at 90 days tend to be indicative of balances at 14 months, so the challenge is to get people engaged with the right behaviours early on.

Apparently Nike found a similar pattern within it’s Nike+ service. For them the magic number was 5, whereby once a user had uploaded 5 runs they were then much more likely to continue using the service - making runs and uploading and sharing their data. As Wired puts it -

At five runs, they've gotten hooked on what their data tells them about themselves.

The thing which really interests me about this though is not just the “stickiness” which self tracking can bring – getting people hooked on the data - but it is the potential change (normally upwards) in behaviour as well.

Termed the Hawthorne Effect, the basic idea is that people who are observed change their behaviour. This is the idea behind the proposed roll-out of smart energy meters around the world – the hope being that as people see their energy usage and that of others, they will change their behaviour to bring it into line.

Rather than saying a watched kettle never boils, you could say a watched kettle may actually boil faster.

There are potentially a number of effects at work here though.

The first is the Observer or Hawthorne Effect as discussed, but there is also the Power of Communities – the principle being that peers influence behaviour and create an element of competition. Indeed, the Latin root for the verb “to compete” is "competere” which means “to seek together” or “to strive together”.

Whilst seeing your own statistics can be a powerful driving force, seeing others and having them see yours can be even more.

Whether it is positive encouragement, the fear of failure or just the simple desire to be the best, letting people see their data in the context of others can help to change behaviour.

The great thing is that these principles can be applied to many industries, not just health and fitness. All loyalty programmes gather information but typically this is kept locked away, being used at best to derive personalised one to one communications.

What Nike+ shows however is that if this information is presented back to consumers, it can actually make them more loyal and allow them to change behaviours. Essentially empowering them to take more control of a particular aspect of their lives and giving them visibility to compare, contrast and compete.

I think there is a great opportunity for loyalty programme owners to think anew how they can best use that most valuable of asset – the data – opening it up and making it work hard to better engage and retain consumers.

All that said though, my Wii Fit spends more time hidden behind the telly than being used in front of it – so I’m not hooked quite yet.