Wearable technology is no longer the stuff of science-fiction. It’s real, albeit not mainstream, and, like the smartphone and tablet before it, has the potential to disrupt the marketing industry.
Indeed, many major technology companies are working to roll out that next big device. Already we know about Apple’s rumored iWatch, Google Glass, Samsung Galaxy Gear, the Qualcomm Toq, Garmin’s Vivofit, and Logbar’s Ring--to name a few.
“There is not one single technology or device that has huge penetration--yet,” said Lauren Bello, a partner at digital agency Ready Set Rocket. “There are more and more devices coming out. But right now, wearable technology is the wave of the future.
To be sure, the market for wearable technology is growing at a fast rate. In a recent study, Deloitte estimated that smart glasses, smart watches, and fitness bands will reach about $3 billion for 2014. New categories will represent about $2 billion in sales, based on 4 million units.
Canalys has high hopes for the smart band, which it estimates will reach 8 million annual shipments this year, more than 23 million units by 2015, and more than 45 million by 2017.
What’s more, wearable technology will not only include products for the masses, but for the medical industry, as well. For example, Apple and Danish hearing-aid company GN ReSound have released a hearing aid that is compatible with iDevices, and so can be considered a type of wearable device.
Again, the technology is still in the early days, according to Bill Briggs, CTO, and Deloitte Digital Global Lead, Deloitte Consulting. The market for wearables is small, the technology to date is limited in functionality, and the apps market around it is nonexistent. Deloitte’s view is that smart glasses will grow steadily over time, with adoption happening as devices improve in capabilities.
(Google Glass is currently being being developed by Google via the Project Glass research and development project)
According to Briggs, sensors and context-sensitivity are important components of wearables, and are generating lots of data from early adopters. Marketers can use that data to improve the experience, he added.
“If people are one day wearing them all day and every day, then that’s a huge opportunity in terms of all the data,” Ready Set Rocket’s Bello added. “That’s the biggest conversation right now: the positive device data and what people are doing on different devices. But it’s so early that we’ve yet to understand what this interaction point means in the sales conversion or content funnel.”
What do we know? Recent research from Adobe Digital Index (ADI), for example, found that first adopters of Google Glass are doing a lot of Web browsing. And although Glass makes up a small part of current total Web traffic, browsing has increased 135 percent in the past year, which is higher than the growth seen in the mobile (38 percent) and tablet (39 percent) categories.
ADI also looked at the types of Web sites Glass users browse. Media and entertainment Web sites held the largest share of Glass viewership, followed by technology Web sites (at a distant second). Retail Web sites had one of the lowest browsing shares of all the industries ADI tracks.
In addition, marketers can glean new data by integrating wearables--capable of receiving text messaging, GPS directions, and mobile coupons--into their existing marketing campaigns, said David Hostetter, chief technology officer at Hipcricket. Did someone receive a location-based SMS and then look at that specific brand? Or did a TV or print add trigger an action?
“The technology is about assisting us in making immediate decisions and taking actions in the real world, rather than just connecting us to the digital world,” Deloitte’s Briggs added. “Engaging with existing customers based on geolocation and context may become easier, but reaching out online to potential customers becomes harder.”
And, clearly, wearables offer brands and consumers a new way to connect.
“To fulfill this promise, marketers must provide value to consumers,” Hostetter told CMO.com. “If your marketing doesn’t add value, it’s a waste.”
(The Nike FuelBand is a fitness band that syncs to the user's iPhone)
The first challenge, according to Bello, is working with wearable device’s small screen size--much like the way the mobile market started out. Additionally, she said, the functions will be different than anything we’ve ever seen before.
For one, wearables don’t allow for typing. And because of the limited screen size, Deloitte's Briggs pointed out, they display only the top search result. That means there’s no second place in search.
Trust will also be another big challenge in terms of consumer privacy and data collection, according to Hipcricket’s Hostetter. In terms of the devices themselves, expect a learning curve as people adjust to this new form factor, he added.
“Given the display and communication limitations inherent in the ecosystem, marketers should view wearables as the latest iteration of smartphones and tablets,” Deloitte's Briggs said. “Direct advertising will be challenging given the form factors and the level of intimacy inherent in the devices. Unsolicited advertising could be distracting–or even dangerous–on watches, smart glasses, and the like. Contextual scenarios will be key, based on scenarios the user has opted into.”
Another challenge with wearables will be battery life, said Daniel Matte, a wearable technology analyst at Canalys, in an interview with CMO.com. Interactive ads can drain an already challenged battery life. And being the cause of a dead battery will be bad news for brand sentiment.
How To Prepare
On the technical side, Hostetter said, marketers need to focus on device rendering and responsive design. Just like the change from desktop to smartphones, Web sites and apps need to display properly on wearables. Users demand a native experience and will ignore companies that don’t deliver one.
Additonally, Hostetter said, wearables must interact and integrate properly with other devices. Many wearables to date aren’t designed to exist by themselves. They either pull or push information to another device. Those pathways must be easy to establish and seamless in their function.
Most importantly, Hostetter told CMO.com, marketers must be smart with understanding what they can do. They need to get creative and deliver a unique experience.
“Wearables are mobile, but they aren’t tablets or smartphones,” Hostetter said. “So, how can you deliver your messages in ways that take best advantage of wearables' distinct form and function? Marketers need to take risks and try things out. Now is the time when adoption is low. You can experiment without too much repercussion.”