Welcome to our fortnightly newsletter. This week, we’ll be exploring the ins and outs of Keep. You may not have heard of it, but it’s China’s largest fitness app. With 200+ million users and over 3.6 billion exercises logged, it’s an important platform for any business in the health and wellness space to be aware of. It’s also almost impossible to miss if you’re on the ground in China…
In the years following its 2014 launch, Keep’s growth can only be described as exponential. They achieved one million users in less than 100 days earning them the coveted position as ‘App of the Year (2015)’ in China’s Apple App Store. Following this, they reported their first 100 million registered users in only 921 days.
Perhaps one of the major factors driving the early growth of Keep was Xi Jinping’s 2016 outline of the ‘Healthy China 2030’ initiative. Around that time, diabetes cases in China surpassed 100 million, meanwhile reports were coming through that over 30% of 12-year-olds were overweight (a proportion similar amongst China’s overall adult population). Healthy China 2030 specifically outlines the allocation of national resources to supporting and nurturing the development of a ‘health-based economy’. It also put health and nutrition into China’s national spotlight and encouraged regular exercise.
More recently, the health and wellness trend which has been sweeping China for the last few years has been catalysed by the global pandemic. Keep has been one of the fortunate benefactors of this trend. Even before their 12% YOY leap in Q1 2020 users, Keep saw their 2019 online revenues leap 286% YOY.
From a user’s perspective, the Keep motto can be summarized as follows:
The app itself is an all-encompassing fitness and exercise service. We find it easier to view it in terms of three key functions:
Keep allows you to plan your exercise: whether that be a holistic weekly timetable or a specific GPS route for an upcoming run. It’s also a powerful exercise tracking device comparable to Strava. With the aid of smart devices, it allows you to monitor your activities: i.e. track your bike ride, speed, duration, heartrate, GPS route etc.
Through Keep, users gain virtual and physical access to a variety of communities – whether they be swimming, bodybuilding or other disciplines. It is an amazing tool for scheduling group activities and keeping on top of fitness/sporting events.
Keep also acts as a kind of ‘community notice board’ for upcoming fitness events. These include races, marathons, swimming events, upcoming yoga seminars etc. As Keep has grown in size, they have become more and more involved in many of these events. Nowadays, they’re actively involved in creating fitness events, races, marathons etc.
The diagram below gives a bit of a flowchart into the user interface, and how different facets of the app are interlinked:
A major part of Keep’s popularity stems from the way it removes many of the traditional constraints associated with keeping fit.
As a ‘free fitness playground’, Keep provides targeted routines and video suggestions from qualified instructors; based on each user’s unique needs and interests.
These workouts generally don’t require much space or time. All this adds to a major drawcard for China’s millennials; renowned for their incredibly busy lifestyles.
At the time of writing, Keep doesn’t allow business accounts, or on-platform banner advertisements (with some exceptions). This is very intentional, so as not to draw away from their focus on developing their communities. However, that’s not to say Keep isn’t making strong plays to commercialise their business or work with brands.
If you have the resources, partnering directly with Keep is a viable option to bypass the lack of branded accounts and advertising.
For example, Lululemon brought their yoga courses onto the Keep platform in 2019. Since then, they have collaborated to roll out a number of digital courses as well as a string of offline yoga and fitness events. [Image: Jing Daily, 2019]
Similarly, Swisse entered into some form of exclusive advertising agreement with Keep last year. Swisse gained access to on-platform banner real estate normally reserved for Keep themselves. These ads targeted different groups based on target audience needs (i.e. men vs women, bodybuilders vs cyclists), offering direct links to whichever daily promotion was taking place on their various eCommerce outlets (i.e. on JD, Tmall etc.). Keep also posted a number of ‘Topic’ articles promoting Swisse from their own corporate account, including one about a collaborative fitness workshop the companies organized together. [Image: Ethnicity Blazer, 2019]
Similar to most community-oriented platforms, KOLs and celebrities are the most steadfast and convenient way to promote goods. In particular, people in peak physical fitness are objectively admirable and enviable to their subscribers. Purchasing the products/services KOLs use is the easiest way for their subscribers to ‘get a piece’ of the KOL’s good life.
KOL campaigns take place through their training videos/classes, through public discussions surrounding topics/hashtags, and/or even through events/races.
It’s relatively easy to find and approach KOLs on the platform unofficially. Their names and details are all quite visible, and they usually correspond to their Weibo handles. However, Keep also have their own official channels for engaging with KOLs. These include:
⭐ The ‘Star-K Program’: In this scheme, big-name celebrities are deployed into fan groups and public forums to promote products.
⭐ The ‘K-Star Program’: Keeps ‘KOL matrix’ which supports brands to identify the top KOLs associated with key sporting community circles (i.e. running, swimming, cycling etc.). Conceptually, they define it as more of a ‘grass-roots seeding tool’. The tool itself though, is powerful: it leverages the full spectrum of Keep’s big data insights to create accurate target market portraits and maximise crowd reach.
Keep have opened at least 15 gyms across China. Operating like a normal gym, Keepland offers paid classes. Notably, Zumba is by far the most popular course, accounting for up to 60% of their paid third-party courses in 2019. Intuitively, these are usually the venue for their various sporting / fitness events incorporating sporting icons.
At this point, you’ve probably been able to discern that at its core, Keep runs on big data. As is the trend with many China apps, Keep have been leveraging this data to optimise their eCommerce operations. However, Keep doesn’t operate a marketplace eCommerce model. They exclusively sell their own products, including collaboration products. These range from personal fitness and gym equipment, to apparel and even wearable fitness technologies.
Through their platform, Keep sell roughly ¥1 billion of products annually. Training equipment comprises 40% of this, smart devices account for 35%, meanwhile foods account for 25%. Whilst their Tech and hardware products fall under the KeepKit brand, they also have an extensive line of consumer goods – including sportswear and apparel.
Since launching their treadmill in 2018 (which today has sold over 60k units), Keep has launched a string of other hardware. These including the smart C1 spinning bike, the W1 walking machine and their B1 smart sports band. It appears they are vertically integrating their supply chain in an unbelievably multi-faceted way.
Like many other digital companies, Keep are now also starting to test the waters in the offline retail space. Leveraging China’s recent ‘weight loss’ craze following last year’s National Day, Keep launched their “Future Smart Sports Life Experience Hall” Pop-Up store in Shanghai.