Wearable technologies are the biggest tech innovation since the smartphone. Devices such as fitness trackers, smartwatches and virtual reality offer significant opportunities for the savvy business, but are not without their risks.
What is wearable technology?
Whilst wearable technology is embodied by gadgets we wear, this doesn’t extend to headphones or digital watches. This new type of technology is more about being connected, whether that’s to a phone, Wi-Fi network or an intelligent personal assistant in the home like Alexa or Google Home.
The wearable technologies market is set to take off
Wearable technology has tremendous potential, as was promised by smartwatches, medical devices and virtual reality headsets, but for a long time the products did not live up to the hype. Fitness trackers were quickest off the starting block because they were simpler to develop and use.
Now, advances in technology are finally allowing the reality to catch up with the ambition. The next generation of wearable devices comes with longer battery life, increased functionality and new metrics. Wearable will move beyond the wristband into smart jewelry, clothing, tattoos and even implantables.
All of this has contributed to a marketplace that experts predict will reach $53 billion in 2019 – more than ten times its size in 2014.
The opportunities for marketing
When smartphones arrived, they brought two major benefits to marketers. Firstly, the ability to be with the consumer at (almost) all times, rather than being limited to when they were at a computer or in front of the TV; and secondly, access to a much greater amount of data. Both of these are likely to be enhanced or superseded by wearable technologies.
The data provided by wearables adds extra detail to the location, preference and behavior information marketers are used to handling. But it will also add entirely new types of information: for example, virtual reality glasses may be able to track eye movement to gauge what sorts of adverts or messages attract attention. The next generation of health trackers will monitor blood pressure and sweat in addition to heart rate and activity. “Neuromarketing” promises to combine all this information into a cohesive whole, so that devices will know what their users want almost before they do.
For marketers, it will be a challenge to understand all this additional information and to integrate it into campaigns in a way that is meaningful. But for those who succeed, there are interesting opportunities. If you know a customer has just achieved a personal best in their workout, you could provide a message congratulating them and offer a related coupon. A customer who is sleeping badly could be offered a discount for a mattress, while meditation apps could be suggested for someone who is chronically stressed.
How wearables will change marketing
Wearables will not only change when we receive marketing messages, but how?
Virtual reality and augmented reality devices naturally favor video content. Audio content is likely to become more popular in the form of reviews or podcasts, and with voice commands becoming the norm, users will expect their brands to reply in the same way. But static visuals and text will also remain important, and marketers will need to ensure notifications display correctly on the reduced screen sizes.
As we increasingly link digital messages to physical situations, the distinction between online and offline will become increasingly blurred. Content will trend toward the hyper-local, focusing on a street rather than a city and on specific scenarios rather than time of day. Marketers will need to consider how they can best support their customers across a greater variety of channels in ever more targeted situations.
Concerns over data privacy
With all the additional customer data potentially being gathered, concerns have been raised about how that data is collected, shared and used.
Consumers are notoriously bad at managing their data security. If they have unwittingly agreed for their data to be shared and sold, there’s no way to know where it will end up. There are also concerns that developers are sacrificing security in the rush to get to market.
The security risks of wearables
For businesses, wearables may offer ways to improve employee wellbeing and performance. But they also present a number of threats.
Many wearables connect to phones through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, which subsequently connect to enterprise or cloud systems. If the feed between devices is not secure, hackers may be able to access corporate information. Alternatively, they may be able to use this access point to upload malware.
Many types of wearable tech allow video or audio to be recorded secretly. If hackers gained access to such devices, they could capture passwords and access keys as well as directly viewing intellectual property. Disgruntled employees or corporate spies could use these systems to deliberately steal company secrets. Live location data could enable thieves to target houses the moment the owners leave, or break into businesses that are empty overnight.
These security issues go beyond the limits of a typical IT department, so companies will need to take a step back to consider the best way to tackle them.
Wearable technology: too important to ignore
With technology changing so rapidly it can seem safer to wait and see before taking action. But today there are around 400 million wearable devices, and that number is set to double over the next four years. Whether they decide to embrace the opportunity or simply manage the risks, businesses will not be able to sit on the fence for much longer.
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