The Ride of a Lifetime1 Jan, 2012 By: Thomas Haire Response
Eric Watterson says the ProForm Tour de France Trainer is the latest in a long line of innovative ICON Health & Fitness products to maximize a DRTV-to-retail marketing plan.
ICON has been doing DR for about 25 years — we believe in it,” says Eric Watterson, director, global marketing, at Logan, Utah.-based ICON Health & Fitness, a leader in the fitness market and parent of the new ProForm Tour de France indoor cycling bike. “It’s an effective way to expose consumers to our innovation and to support our retail customers. We have significant data that shows DR works, and we invest heavily in it.”
The 30-year-old Watterson is a bit of a lifer at ICON, and not only because he started there at age 18. His father, Scott, co-founded the business (then known as Weslo Inc.) in 1977 — four years before Eric was born. Since then, ICON has grown and changed immensely, acquiring major fitness brands and starting a bevy of other well-known marks — all with the help of DR marketing.
“Sometimes DR gets a bad rap as an old school ‘shout-and-yell’ form of advertising, but in this day and age, I think any effective ad should prompt people to respond right then and there. DR builds a brand, identifies the target customer, and increases sales from the direct standpoint and for our retail partners,” he says.
Those retail partners are a “who’s who” of big box and fitness retailers, all of which believe in the brands that ICON owns, including ProForm, NordicTrack, Weider, Health Rider, Rip:60, Free Motion, iFit and more. “What makes us unique is breadth of our retail distribution,” Watterson contends. “Our retail partners know that if they fail, we fail. We use DR as an effective lever to increase sell through for them.”
The company’s latest hit product — which is sold under the ProForm brand, but utilizes the company’s iFit technology and a licensing deal with the famous Tour de France cycling race — hit the airwaves last summer, but has increased its exposure in recent months. However, though the marketing for the indoor bicycle includes online, social, mobile and other facets of new media DR, it still follows ICON’s long-established blueprint for success.
Innovation Spurs Growth
When Scott Watterson and his Utah State University classmate Gary Stevenson co-founded the business in 1977, Weslo Inc. was meant to finance their college educations by importing kitchenware, tableware and marble products from the Far East. In 1979, the company acquired the rights to a freestanding wood-burning stove that was marketed under the name of Fire King Inc.
The company entered the health and fitness market by manufacturing trampolines, and as the 1980s unfolded, it quickly added treadmills, exercise bikes, rowing machines and home gyms by launching the ProForm Fitness Products Inc. business.
In 1988, Weider Health & Fitness acquired both ProForm and Weslo, and by July 1990, the group was operating out of a new 300,000-square foot international headquarters, which today houses state-of-the-art manufacturing and includes nearly all aspects of the company’s operation — research and development, assembly, customer service and marketing.
In November 1994, Bain Capital of Boston purchased the assets of ProForm, Weslo and Weider Care, renaming the business ICON Health & Fitness. Between 1994 and 2001, the company added such businesses/brands as HealthRider, NordicTrack and FreeMotion Fitness — setting it on track to become the multinational 4,000-employee business it is today.
In the midst of this growth, Eric Watterson joined the team during his years as a student at Brigham Young University (BYU). “I’ve worked here since I was 18, and have served many roles,” he says, adding that he took two years out to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Taiwan.
“I had to learn to speak Chinese,” he adds. “The mission helped me quite a bit with my marketing skills. You have to be a consummate direct marketer to understand the importance of speaking their language to connect with them in that role.”
Watterson has held his marketing position for three years. Prior to that, he was director of international business development — a powerful role considering ICON’s major operations in Asia, Latin America, South America and Europe.
“I was involved in many emerging markets — China, India, South America,” Watterson says. “We expanded our manufacturing capabilities in Brazil and China and established our brands worldwide. It gave me a hands-on understanding of what retailers need — branding and messaging. It really drilled home for me the key components of a DR campaign. And I learned how critical innovation was — no matter where consumers are in the world, everybody responds to innovation.”
Though he shifted into his global marketing role in 2008, Watterson still considers himself a marketing “neophyte.” He adds, “The successes of our campaigns are on the shoulders of so many people — it’s a big, collaborative team.”
Watterson says that he’s helmed 20 product campaigns in the past three years. “It’s very interesting, with the retail partners we support, to see how each campaign works a little differently,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot from campaigns that have worked, and maybe even more from those that didn’t.”
He cites one campaign that “didn’t make it out of testing.” Watterson says, “It taught me about understanding the target demo and speaking its language. You have to be able to connect with the consumer and sometimes, when you have a bunch of 30-year-old men writing a campaign targeted to 42-year-old women, it doesn’t work.”
Tour de France Trainer Maximizes Icon's Capabilities
Those learning experiences have helped Watterson’s focus remain laser sharp on the ProForm Tour de France exercise bike, which first hit the airwaves in June 2011. By licensing the Tour de France brand (the product is known as the “official training bike of the Tour de France”) and utilizing its best technology across a number of ICON brands, Watterson and his team believed the product had a lot of promise.
“The bike is a game changer,” he says. “Leveraging the licensing and brand of the Tour de France and combining it with the iFit story, we can honestly tell consumers, ‘This isn’t just a stationary bike anymore.’”
Research is just one reason that Watterson considers the product a star. “ICON has spent more money on research and development over the years than the entire fitness industry combined,” he says. “It’s allowed us to stay ahead of the game and develop things, like iFit, that were perfectly positioned for use on this product.”
The bike boasts iFit Live™ technology powered by Google Maps™, which allows users to “ride anywhere in the world.” In essence, customers can choose from 24 pre-mapped riding courses or create their own, including famous trail stages of the Tour de France.
“We thought the product would do well with the ProForm brand, which is No. 1 in the world in sales volume and dollars among fitness equipment,” Watterson says. “And the concept of the Tour de France name would help us tell the iFit technology story well. Whether you’re ‘riding’ in the flats or in the mountains, the product was a powerful vehicle for consumers to understand what iFit can do.”
The company also reached out for excellent testimonials from professional racers, including Lewis Elliot, a professional Ironman triathlete and former U.S. national team cyclist. “The ‘Tour de France Trainer’ is incredible because it has very realistic road feel,’ Elliot says in a testimonial on the product website (www.proform.com/tour_de_france). “In over 20 years of riding trainers, I’ve never ridden anything even close. My favorite features are the Google Maps iPhone application and that the bike actually rotates up or down based on uphills and downhills.”
The campaign has ratcheted up even stronger in recent months, with website, social and mobile components helping boost both direct sales and the drive to retail. For a product with a $1,499 price point, consumer targeting and education are absolutely crucial for the product to have any success.
“It’s been wonderful for us, after launching during the 2011 Tour,” Watterson says. “It’s all about strategic media placement, and Respond2 and Cmedia have done an excellent job in ensuring that our target consumer sees the product. We also have print campaigns in technology magazines, a PR campaign that’s gotten us on shows like Discovery Channel’s ‘Tech Toys’, and we stepped on the accelerator as the cold season and holidays hit.”
Still, even with an “exceptional capacity to manufacture,” Watterson calls the product’s biggest issue “building them fast enough.” However, Watterson says ICON is happy to have that problem as long as the company’s innovations keep reaching consumers, no matter the media outlet. “It’s about exposing American and global consumers to the innovation of ICON,” he adds. “Innovation sells itself — people can understand and connect with it.”
TV Messaging Remains the Key
Innovation is the one word that pops up more than any other in a conversation with Watterson. Innovation also means that ICON tends to move and change course quickly. “If we find a better way to do something, we will embrace it,” he says. “That’s why having an agency like R2C — one that understands, responds, enhances and embraces those changes of directions — is crucial. They work in our collaborative, constantly changing culture. If we need to make a move for our retailers’ sake, we will do it, and R2C understands that.”
He points specifically to the Tour de France campaign. “It was especially important to stay true to the message and speak the language of our targets,” Watterson says. “Jade Martin, who handles the campaign from the agency side, is a triathlete — when we discussed what to focus on, not only does he understand our goals but he can speak the language of the consumer.”
Martin, who serves as R2C’s account director on the campaign, agrees. “The passion that I have for the sport and cycling spilled into the creative process,” he says. “Working with our creative director, Gary Pilla, he was able to take what I described as visually appealing and rational to cyclists — along with my anecdotal analogy of a cyclist — to create a story that sparked attention and drew in the viewer because it truly spoke to our audience.”
Utilizing all the talents at hand is one reason ICON’s continuing focus on innovation works. “I believe it all starts with the development of the product,” Watterson says. “It doesn’t matter if you have amazing copy or unbelievable visuals — which we have on this campaign — if the product isn’t there. We work in that collaborative environment, find products that we believe America needs and spend as much time as necessary developing and refining them.”
He uses the example of the NordicTrack incline trainer to prove his point. “The campaign has been running for three years, and has been successful from every measure — it lived up to the established brand, our retail partners are happy, and consumers feel they got a great value,” Watterson contends. “This is a $2,000 product — with sales rising in a recessionary economy. It was about letting innovation be the message at the forefront of the campaign. And it’s a lesson we learn time and again, from a $49 fitness kit on a shelf at Wal-Mart to a $2,000 treadmill.”
Moving ahead, Watterson says ICON has its eye on innovative new DR mediums as well. “It’s important to allow consumers to find information about your products in the medium they choose to,” he says, but he still believes in the power of television to get the ball rolling.
“I have a cartoon on my office wall,” Watterson says. “It shows a ‘media guru’ on the top of a mountain, with a young learner at his feet asking the best way for his product to sell. The guru tells his acolyte, ‘You don’t exist until you’re on TV.’”
Hometown and Resides:: Logan, Utah
Education: B.A., English literature, Brigham Young University,
Family: Wife, Caroline, and two children, Kate (2) and
Ike (3 months)
Defining Moment: “When I first started at ICON, they put me and a couple of other kids my age up in what we called the ‘War Room.’ It was basically a storage closet — no windows, a plastic table. The CEO came into this sweaty little room and put a broom up against the wall. He told us, ‘It’s important to understand that you have to do what it takes to make a company successful. If that means you sweep the floor, then you sweep the floor.’ It helped me understand that I am part of a bigger team, and that I need to use whatever talent or resource I have to make the company successful. It defined how I tried to work with other people. We came up with a product line — scooters on rollerblade wheels — built to leverage ICON’s distribution capabilities. It was a tremendous success. Also, during my time as a missionary in Taiwan, I was in my early 20s, living away from home for the first time and made my own way. I was out on the street every day, talking to people from a culture I wasn’t familiar with. I learned how to listen and the importance of speaking their language, both literally and figuratively.”
Greatest Career Accomplishment: “Marrying my wife was the best sales job I’ve ever done! However, if you’re talking about work, being able to add value to this company is my greatest accomplishment. I love this company and the people that work here. To be able to join the team and add value, it’s by far my greatest career achievement.”