Wearables are a hot topic among tech companies, fashion designers and the media, especially given the recent Apple iWatch announcement, but what are they exactly? More importantly, are they something that marketers should be setting up campaigns around?
The term “wearable” includes a broad range of devices. However, they most commonly refer to three core types of device: activity trackers, smartwatches and head-mounted display systems (such as Google Glass). Let’s take a quick look at each:
These devices are by far the most widely adopted wearable and are designed to monitor your physical activity throughout the day. They’re able to track your activity through motion detection algorithms that can estimate the number of steps you’ve taken, similar to a pedometer (though some use a point system instead). Most of the activity trackers on the market today are worn on the wrist; but there are still many models that can be worn on a belt or on other parts of the body.
Activity trackers also commonly have companion apps that allow you to track the food you’ve eaten and the calories you’ve burned. But overall, these are specialized devices that provide a narrower range of functionality than other types of wearables.
In addition to providing the functionality of traditional watches, smartwatches offer a wealth of additional capabilities by connecting to your smartphone via Bluetooth. This connection allows alerts and notifications on your smartphone to be displayed on the watch. For example, when the phone rings, instead of pulling out the phone to see who is calling, you can look at your watch, view the Caller ID, and then accept or reject the call. Likewise, incoming SMS messages can typically be viewed, as can email and calendar reminders.
As the name suggests, a head-mounted display is wearable technology that’s worn on the head and overlays a video screen across the eyes. While this technology has been in development for 20 years, it's finally getting small enough and powerful enough to be used as a wearable. Some examples seeing a lot of press today include Google Glass and the Recon Jet. This class of wearable is also the most hotly debated — it will be interesting to see how the market embraces these types of devices because their ability to augment reality could provide the greatest value to digital marketers down the road.
There are a lot of opinions about wearables today, with some critics writing them off as a fad. However, many analysts see the market growing. According to IDC, shipments of wearables are projected to reach almost 112 million units in 2018, up from less than 20 million this year.
Strategy Analytics’ “Global Smartwatch OS Marketshare” report says that smartwatch shipments have grown 400 percent year over year in Q2, 2014. While smartwatch sales still represent a tiny fraction of the more than 1 billion smartphones that will be sold in 2014, there’s enough momentum to induce companies to move products into development and out of the lab.
The critical question we have to ask is what does all this mean for digital marketers and their marketing efforts? For starters, activity trackers can provide important data to companies when hooked up with the manufacturer’s app, thus enabling potential cross-sell and upsell opportunities. For example, an athletic shoe manufacturer’s activity tracker could track the number of miles on their jogging shoes and send automated reminders and discounts when it's time for the runner to replace them. They could also use discounts and other rewards as part of the gamification process of their fitness apps.
Smartwatches and other types of wearables have even broader implications since they are capable of displaying incoming emails, SMS and push messaging. This means that your digital marketing campaigns are already making their way onto these devices.
While the display size of the devices will be smaller; the impact of the messaging could be greater. For example, when combined with iBeacons, they could briefly “take over” a shopper’s watch screen to deliver coupons while a customer is browsing aisles in a store.
While wearables are currently receiving a lot of media attention, marketers don’t have to be too concerned at the moment as market penetration is low. However, as the technology improves and price points drop, we could see adoption rates increase rapidly.
It’s important to understand that wearables are limited in how many characters they can display. So only a partial SMS or email subject line may be seen. This provides a great opportunity for marketers to sharpen their messaging as the key will be to engage the customer enough to have them pull out the smartphone and read the whole message.
As with smartphones, people aren’t going to want to receive a barrage of interruptive, irrelevant messages on their wearable devices. So it’s going to be more critical than ever to pull Web, email, SMS and mobile behaviors into a single database and tie them to specific individuals so you can deliver the type of relevant, timely emails, text messages and push notifications that will encourage customers to continue to subscribe to, enable and interact with these communications.
1) Blog: “How Email Can Help Increase Mobile App Engagement”
2) White Paper: “Ultimate Guide to Assessing Your Digital Marketing Program”
3) Infographic: “Mobile Email, Search and Purchase Behaviors”