Brand Recognition as a Flawed Business Model

As we near the beginning of Spring, we are inching closer to wrapping up the first calendar year that FitBit has been publicly traded, and almost two years for GoPro. So, how have these companies performed since going public? FitBit is down almost 20 dollars a share since going public last June, and GoPro, after hitting a market high of 87 dollars a share in the fall of 2014, has fallen to around 10 dollars a share. The fall in stock price is further underlined by research showing that global demand for consumer electronics is expected to grow at a rate of 3% (CAGR) between 2015-2020.

Obviously, both companies were overvalued, and have severely underperformed compared to market trends. The problem with these two companies is that: they are manufactures of two relatively specialized products, with no way to prevent competitors from manufacturing extremely similar products in order to coax customers away, and they rely on brand recognition as their business models. The FitBit, the leader in the new trend of electronic “wearables,” is coming under siege by companies like Samsung, Apple, and Garmin who have introduced products that look eerily similar to each other. The Apple Watch, the FitBit Blaze, and the Garmin Vivoactive each look identical and offer the user almost the exact same benefits—heart rate monitoring, pedometer, calorie tracker, sleep tracking, music control, the list goes on. In fact, the technology behind all these features isn’t unique; there are no barriers to entry for other competitors, and most of these devices differ only in name. The same is true for GoPro, which can be compared to the Garmin Virb, the TomTom Bandit, and the Sony 4k Action Camera. Their technology is neither unique nor complicated, as the myriad of similar products shows.

Last quarter’s results show that FitBit’s grasp on the wearables world is shrinking. Even though the demand for wearables grew to 21 million units from 11 million units from 2014 to 2015, the market share owned by FitBit shrank from 38% to 27% during the same period. This shows that consumers are losing brand loyalty to FitBit and are willing to explore other options offered by more established brands.

So, what does the future entail for companies like FitBit and GoPro? Unless all of their competitors suddenly decide to stop making substitutes, FitBit and GoPro are destined to suffer until they sell to a larger company or declare bankruptcy. In other words, I see these companies going the way of Beats headphones. Beats is a brand whose name carried value, but whose product was not protected by patents. Beats was trendy and in high demand, but susceptible to changing popular tastes. Bose, Audio-Technica, Sony—all of these companies make products that are physically as good as Beats, but none of these companies enjoyed the luxury of brand recognition that Beats had established. Thus, Beats sold to Apple in a deal that diversified Apple’s offerings (not that headphones and computers differ much from consumer electronics, but it is a change).

FitBit and GoPro should (and probably will) sell to one of its larger competitors and retain its brand name, for the brands of GoPro and FitBit carry value, but the products themselves are nothing unique. Public sentiments change, and at some point in the future, the public will see no need for a compact action camera for recreational use. The trends show that consumers’ demands for these new products are rising, but so are the market shares of competitors. FitBit and GoPro both briefly enjoyed the pleasure of being the first names in their respective consumer biomes, but time has allowed much bigger producers to compete with them.

  • Richard

    I agree. A wise businessman in the Caribbean named Sir Kyffin Simpson always said that the key to success is progression and humility, and clearly he’s done very well for himself as a self made man!

  • John Andrews

    The Airgain IPO launches this week, and they’re a one-brand company.

    Some investors don’t think it’s a good stock though:

  • Cincinnati World Cinema

    Well said, Joe, and worth rereading on a regular basis! Another advantage of small-to-midsize city living is pace and competition. Living in NYC, LA and SF entailed a hectic pace, hallmarked by capital S striving, as one realized there were a ton of others doing what I do. Spending so much time in one’s car in SoCal meant much less time for quality pursuits and pleasures. A smaller pond with relaxed pace allows one to savor life and special moments.

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