CMO of the Week: iFIT’s Mark Phillips - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: iFIT’s Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips joined iFIT, the company that owns NordicTrack, as chief marketing officer in November, as part of the company’s push to remake the 49 year old company as a brand of tomorrow. 

Under the leadership of CEO Kevin Duffy, the company aims to promote its hardware and software to offer what it calls “the world’s most effective fitness platform” to consumers.

“Our mission is really simple. We transform people’s lives. We’re here in service of the athlete,” says Phillips. “It’s about putting them on the podium and making them successful. fitness is an incredible gift, both physically and mentally.” 

​​iFIT has a multi-tiered business model. The company owns NordicTrack, the iconic home workout machines that turn 49 this year, as well as the workout software iFIT, as well as subscription content, that allows people to workout all over the world with leading trainers. 

The brand recently debuted two new brand campaigns from AKQA –“World of Intelligent Fitness” and “Incredible Machines” – to highlight both iFIT and NordicTrack. The effort pitches iFIT as a pioneer of intelligent fitness and aims to redefine NordicTrack as an innovator of exercise machines. “NordicTrack and iFIT are both purposefully designed to assist users to reach their fitness goals and unlock their full potential,” says Phillips. 

The idea came from working with the agency to determine that “the most incredible machine actually out there is always the human body and the human mind,” says Phillips. “We call it a machine, but it is an incredible tool in many ways. We try to help and support those machines to be the best they can possibly be.”

The second part of the campaign promotes the digital experiences offered through iFIT. The creative is based on the insight that listening to music or watching content can make a workout 24% more effective than not engaging with content.

“If you watch these videos, your brain gets taken away into a whole different place,” reflects Phillips. “You’re climbing up Everest, Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, or walking on the beach in the British Virgin Islands and your workouts can be that much better, which means you’ll also see better results as well.”

Prior to joining iFIT, Phillips spent eight years at McKinsey and held senior leadership roles at adidas, HotelTonight and Beats Music. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

What is your approach to the storytelling in this new campaign?

We are trying to tell a human story. What it comes down to is transforming people’s lives. There’s an incredible value to that. There’s incredible benefits to that. A lot of the category tends to try and sell you a large piece of black metal. That’s not a valued experience. What we really want to try and push in our storytelling is to actually really tell the human story. 

While there’s two commercials, a key third element of our campaign is actually a series of user testimonials. We have incredible results from people that actually use our products and so that’s a really important voice to get out there and to really bring this human side. It is man plus machine. The two need to connect together. 

January is a big time for working out. How are you thinking about marketing in the season? 

The January fitness craze is always there every year. We all wake up on January 1st and go, “This year is going to be different.” There’s a whole load of data around actually how long people actually last and how long those resolutions really carry on for.

We’re trying to make a difference. This isn’t a fad. We’ve been doing it for 50 years. We know it works. We know there’s a whole huge amount of science behind why we do what we do. It’s great that people are coming in January. It’s great that everyone’s thinking about it. But the important thing is actually helping them carry on for as long as possible. 

How are you thinking about innovation? 

Innovation is always fascinating. Typically, it always comes down to people, process, technology and data as the background framework for innovation. It’s really about the journey. It’s how you use those four different tools to have transformative journeys, which really make a high impact and value difference in people’s lives. That’s why we’re taking hardware, software and amazing content and we bring those three things together to really transform people’s lives and fitness journeys. 

We just also announced that we’ve just signed a deal with US Ski and Snowboard. We got in just before it was announced that the Winter Olympics were coming to Park City in 2034. We’re working really closely with the coaches, the athletes, the whole performance setup to really transform elite sports, the fitness experience, and then be able to take those learnings from elite sports and be able to bring that to a much more mass level as well. 

How are you differentiating yourself from the competition that’s out there? 

We’ve been in this game for a long time. We came out of the gym and fitness space. There’s a whole world which has come out of the studio and classes space as well, which we do. We do that. It works well for us.

There’s a third area which we’re really going to be building into, which we call hybrid fitness, a post-COVID thing. It’s about how you will exercise a day or two a week at home, you’ll exercise a day or two a week in the gym. People will be doing sport in a more casual and informal way, as well as actually doing the broader form of exercise and fitness. That’s an area which plays very much into our strengths.

We’ve got the biggest library of outdoor fitness content in the world. We can take you all over the world with incredible trainers to do incredible physical and mental feats. A lot of people are trying to do the studio thing. That’s fine. There’s time and place for it. But the world’s moved on and we want to be where the puck is going.

You have held roles at McKinsey and Adidas, among others. Can you talk about how your past roles have prepared you for this role?

I was at Adidas for nearly a decade in global marketing and then running the Olympics for London 2012, which was a real career highlight. There I was trying to get young kids to do sports. I’ve used a lot of learnings from that. Then I did my own startups. I tried to reinvent pro-cycling and mass participation cycling and got very involved in that. There’s lots of similarities here and we actually have the Tour de France rights here. 

Then I had a good run of startups with things like Candy Crush, where we really dug into performance marketing. We really did understand what consumer triggers are. I helped set up Beats Music before we sold to Apple and went through to the sale to Apple. That was really about building that combination of man plus machine, human curation plus the AI technology. During my time at McKinsey, there was a lot of digital transformation, a lot of building scale and growth for companies. Here I’m trying to bring together that combination of  the corporate world of sport and fitness, the mentality and a lot of the techniques from McKinsey and the growth mindset and growth focus.

I’m lucky I’ve come in at the right time and the business is in a good state and the numbers are all positive. Coming in now, I get to do the fun part, which is all the storytelling and bringing to light all the great things that have been happening here.

What predictions do you have for 2024? 

It is going to be a challenging year from a consumer point of view, retail point of view. The market is still tough and consumer spending is still challenged. Everyone sees that in all categories. We all need to be really mindful of that and very respectful of that as well. That said, there are still people who, the newest resolution mindset and the, “hey, we need to do something and change the world and change ourselves.” That’s still strong and getting stronger.

There’s some real potency particularly with things like the Olympics, particularly with some of the amazing things that Netflix are doing with their behind the scenes, human interest stories, which we’re seeing behind different sports. I’m hoping that we actually see people transform more in a positive way. We also see better storytelling that makes us realize that we should embrace our humanity and celebrate it. It’s always what’s next. There’s always another new opportunity.