Earlier this year, when health accessory brand Power Balance Australia released an official apology in their website stating there is no credible scientific evidence to support their product’s claims to improve strength, balance and flexibility, I resisted writing this article about their competition, Phiten.

While the latter employs a different technology from the one once claimed by Power Balance, recent years have just seen many “technological breakthroughs” turning out to be mere additions to a growing list of marketing scams, leading discerning consumers like myself to exercise more caution when it comes to patronizing (and writing about) new products and technologies.

However, with a growing number of consumers realizing the importance of leading healthier lifestyles, one can’t understate the fact that there really is a growing market for such products in the health and lifestyle accessory segment. “The truth is that there is a very bright future for products in our category—but only if done, sold and explained properly,” shares Ronaldo Q. Colmenar, the general manager of Sports Entertainment Events Management, Inc. (SEEMI), the local distributor of
Japanese brand Phiten. “But as with any new innovation in the market, there will be believers and skeptics, and it is really up to the manufacturer and distributor of the products to prove skeptics otherwise.”

Selling Benefits vs. Promises

Armed with the proper education, consumers will be able to identify a good product from a slew of bad seeds. A quick research on the Internet reveals that Phiten involves the use of the Phild Process, a method that incorporates nano particles of titanium into the raw materials of the brand. It works under the premise of a bodybalancing effect that enables consumers to enjoy three benef i ts: 1) it allows for better blood circulation, 2) it makes one more flexible, and 3) it helps prevent
injuries.

“There is a standing policy in our company to only tell these three benefits, nothing more or less,” shares Colmenar. “We do not say it gives users 10 times more strength or that it gives you the capacity to win competitions.

We’ve never done that to get people to buy more of our products. It’s really all about the long-term wellness of an individual for us.”

It’s a sales and marketing practice that has worked well for Phiten. Since its introduction to the Philippines in 2007, it now has five stand-alone stores and is available in more than 40 outlets nationwide. “We’re very happy with sales. Technically, in 2010 we sold at a pace of 48 percent growth. The year before (2009) was huge because we grew by 70 percent from the previous year,” Colmenar shares.

Skeptics, Believers

Filipinos are a generally skeptic lot, especially if a product requires a relatively expensive cash-out. Phiten bracelets can go as low as P1,500+ to as high as P9,000+, and for a relatively new product claiming its three benefits, it can be quite the test selling in a relatively cautious environment. “The challenge was really getting over the hump of people being very cautious about what the product is all about,” shares Colmenar.

When you Google “phiten”, you’ll find yourself in countless forums featuring entertaining consumer debates about the brand and its competitors. While users have claimed it helps with balance, critics dismiss it as placebo products with psychosomatic effects. “Consumers also often interchange it with the competition saying it uses magnetic technology, which isn’t really the case,” says Colmenar.

As with its competitor, Phiten started creating buzz for its products by introducing it through athletes.

“The ultimate question of athletes is whether the product will improve their performance,” says Colmenar.

“Because of our three benefits, we told them that yes, it will enhance their performance. It helps them become more flexible and less prone to injury, but whether they will win or not is not up to us—that’s largely skill-related already.”

Robin Valdes, 50, a cyclist, triathlon athlete, and the vice president for Finance of Rainmaker Asia, Inc. (a call center), attests to Phiten’s benefits. “Before I started wearing Phiten three years ago, I had chronic lower back pain every time I exercised too much. I have not had that problem since, and I have even increased the volume and intensity of my exercise with no adverse effect.”

Eye surgeon Dr. Adel Samson, M.D., was initially skeptical about the product. “I looked up the studies in the website and I told myself they were all biased. It was just mere curiosity that prompted me to buy the product—I wanted to give it my own ‘clinical trial’,” Samson shares. “The funny thing was that ever since I started wearing the necklace, I’ve been sleeping like a baby. It even helped lessen my
migraine attacks. I used to have about three to four a week, but now I get mild migraines once every four months.”

Phiten’s Potential

According to Colmenar, the aqua metal technology behind Phiten spells even more potential outside the health and lifestyle accessory category.

“ Phiten is something that you wear now, but technically, the technology can be
applied in many ways,” shares Colmenar. “Right now, we even have what we call a Phiten Room in our main office.”

Applying the same Phild process used in creating the accessories, a Phiten room is a place where one can relax 24/7. “The entire environment of the Phiten Room, from the bed to the sheets and pillow cases, even to the paint itself, is treated with Aqua titanium. This balances the ions in the air, and when ions are balanced, you’d have a better environment to relax in,” shares Colmenar, who stayed in a Phiten room in Kyoto Brighton Hotel in Japan. “This is still a technology down the road, but we were given the vote of confidence by Japan to try the technology here. But because it’s a revolutionary idea, it’s still quite expensive so it’s not readily available to the market yet.”

Published in the January 17, 2011 issue of the Manila Bulletin’s Business Agenda section.

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