Inside Outdoor | WINTER 2021 16 By gerald baldino H eading into year two of the pandemic, it’s clear there is a lot of work to do in the emerging vir- tual event space as or- ganizers look for ways to make experi- ences more engaging and rewarding for attendees. This is particularly true for events such as virtual races, which can often leave participants walking away feeling unsatisfied. “For many consumers, their virtual race experience in 2020 involved a transactional experience,” said Patrick Hitchins, who is founder and CEO of FitRankings. “They swiped their credit card, received a finisher medal, and posted a time manually on a webpage. These solutions do not deliver on the consumer thirst for community and en- gagement, only leveraging a small por- tion of the technology available.” Of course, 2020 was a learning experience for both organizers and attendees alike, and despite growing pains, there is reason to be excited about this growing market. “The good news is that brands, or- ganizations, and consumers have now dipped their toes in the virtual space as a result of COVID-19,” Hitchins add- ed. “While the market has initially been flooded with cheap solutions, the future is bright for virtual as a supplement to the in-person experience.” FitRankings is helping usher in a new era of connected innovation and changing the way consumers experi- ence digital fitness. The company launched back in 2015, creating a universal platform that connects to wearables and apps inclusing Garmin and MapMyFitness. Since then, FitRankings has built out an advanced enterprise-grade platform and technology. Consumers can now use FitRank- ings to discover and connect to digital experiences, view and access their own data, and connect with others. FitRankings expanded its capabilities in December, adding new features such as milestone triggered messaging and interactive mapping. FitRankings also allows organi- zations and brands including USA Cycling, Under Armour, and Tough Mudder to create digital experiences, challenges, events, and races that le- verage wearables and apps. “For many organizations in the ac- tive lifestyle space, the only digital com- munity they’ve cultivated is their Insta- gram or Facebook page,” Hitchins con- tinued. “The social space is increasingly crowded, resulting in higher advertising costs and lower ROI. For all the social followers and engagement an orga- nization has, we ask the question, ‘Is this approach delivering a deeper con- nection? Are they able to gather email addresses, and are followers actually engaged with the organization’s mes- sage and mission in a meaningful way? And what if there was a better way for companies to build virtual experiences and authentic digital communities?’” FitRankings provides the necessary technology for organizations to do more with the challenges they promote. “We encourage organizations to think outside the box and be creative,” Hitchins said. “Go ahead and plan 12 months’ worth of digital challenges and experiences to celebrate product launches, event partnerships, athlete endorsements, or charitable partners. We are here to help make that happen.” Brands can utilize FitRankings’ plat- form and technology to create experi- ences that appear as native content. The platform allows brands to build a virtual community hub directly on their websites. “Consumers want more,” Hitchins said. “Imagine releasing a product like a new trail running shoe, showcasing im- ages of the product on Instagram, and then inviting consumers to participate in a month-long challenge to cover an iconic Rocky Mountain route on the brand’s website.” FitRankings allows brands to drop in product-related messaging as individu- als cover specific routes and visualiza- tions so they can track their progress. Comments and likes can also be used to encourage others in a challenge. “Finish the challenge with a special offer tied to completion, and the likeli- hood that a consumer will have a deeper connection to the brand, said Hitchins. The company also has a long his- tory of working with retailers including Fleet Feet and Jack RabbitRetailers, among others. “Retailers have been using FitRank- ings to create virtual challenges and experiences to engage existing cus- tomers, to drive new customer acquisi- tion, and to drive sales,” Hitchins said. “Many retailers found that instead of the traditional in-person demo run, ride, etc., which might draw 10 to 20 people, they could launch a month- long virtual challenge which would draw 200 to 600 people over a longer period of time,” said Hitchins. Even better, retailers were able to reach busy customers who were not able to make in-person events. “Obviously,” he concluded, “COVID has highlighted the need for retailers to continue to expand their digital engagement strategy.” m FitRankings adds sense of community to virtual experiences TECH SAVVY AMissing Link