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MyFitnessPal enriches user data, leading to new marketing opportunities

At 50 million users and counting the MyFitnessPal app has been eating the lunch of some mainstay weight loss programs and, with a new upgrade dubbed Steps that tracks walking activity, marketers are envisioning opportunities for a wider array of brands, plus more finely targeted partnerships.

The nine-year-old free download got a financial boost last fall from Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers and Accel Partners to help it along a path taking it deeper into health and wellness. In February it acquired Sessions, a company that pairs people with fitness coaches.

?By integrating step tracking into its database, MyFitnessPal can now create richer data groupings that could be even more useful for brand advertisers,? said Nirav Desai, principal healthcare strategist at Mobiquity.

?For example, identifying a certain combination of activities and diet that works for people of a specific age and gender could lead to a community knowledge base ? an `Amazon-sized? resource for both advertisers and users,? he said.

According to Mobiquity research consumers are ready to incorporate smartphones into fitness regimes, with 63 percent saying they plan to use health and fitness apps more over the next five years. And 73 percent of those polled saying they ?feel healthier? when tracking diet and exercise with a smartphone.

Sitting on a gold mine
The Steps feature, currently only available for iOS users, will sync with activity data from MyFitnessPal partners Fitbit, Jawbone UP, Lumo, Pacer and Withings. It can also track steps directly via the iPhone 5S.

Users can see their daily step progress, along with calorie count adjustments based on their activity level. An Android version is forthcoming.

MyFitnessPal, a private company, has a reputation for being tight with its data. It did not respond to press inquiries for insight into its demographics.

The general consensus is that MyFitnessPal has amassed one of the world?s largest databases of what people eat, and has been investing in analytics professionals to sort it all out.

?Brand advertisers would love to have direct access to the data, so they could generate their own insights,? Mr. Desai said. ?But MyFitnessPal understands that the data is their real gold mine, and they are not going to share that anytime soon.?

MyFitnessPal provides ample opportunity to target specific audiences and also forge complementary joint ventures. ?For instance, a treadmill manufacturer could team up with an organic food producer,? Mr. Desai said.

Satisfying brand experiences
While users of free apps usually understand that the business model calls for advertising, it is still important to recognize their preferences when it comes to overall experience and privacy, advised Mr. Desai.

?Moving forward, it is critical for MyFitnessPal to analyze customer feedback, and use this to create satisfying brand experiences to encourage a loyal user base,? he said.

Jesse O?Gorman, chief operating officer of Parallel6, remarked that the best content, would focus on clean eating, wellness, vitality, fitness and even products and program providers who are promoting wellness challenges.

His opinion is that in-app advertising is best when the content is interactive, relevant and provides content-driven insights and analytics. Push notifications, in-app alerts, loyalty and reward programs and redemption options for offers, are some of the best methods.

Ideal partners
Wearable technology, fitness apparel, nutraceutical providers, food manufacturers and even insurance companies who now offer corporate discounts for health programs, are seen as likely to find success with MyFitnessPal.

?Wearable technology brands such as Fitbit, Nike Fuel Brand, Jawbone, would be a perfect fit,? Mr. O?Gorman said. ?We are seeing demand for wearable technology integration in the health and fitness sector, even within the USDA.?

Additionally, food and beverage brands interested in health and diet-conscious foods make are ripe for potential partnerships.

But the reach could be even further if the message is right. ?Advertising about a beach vacation as a reward for getting that beach body you?ve always wanted would likely be welcomed,? Mr. Desai said. ?And what if the advertiser offered a discount for everyone who managed to achieve certain fitness goals?

?The most successful brands will be the ones that can capitalize on new insights to offer more personalized, appropriate products and services for the users,? he said.