How to conquer the next media frontier: wearables

IPG Media Lab's head of strategy Melvin Wilson on why the market for wearables isn't catching fire, and the potential for brands in the space once it does.

By Melvin Wilson

With the recent launches of the Microsoft Band and Fitbit Charge, as well as the upcoming Apple Watch, everyone’s talking about wearables. But for all the hype, no one really knows what to do with all the data the tech is producing, least of all brands.

Furthermore, the seemingly self-contained ecosystem (the “internet of things”) can feel threatening to marketers, who might wonder if they’re missing out by not having a wearable device or how one might tie advertising into a wearable product (or even if you should).

Due to their highly personal nature, wearables present a unique opportunity to connect with consumers who are seeking to make sense of the data their gadget generates:

1. Provide insights: Brands can suggest and reward actions based on wearable data. Mobile advertisers like Kiip already send branded messages when users achieve a goal like completing a to-do list.

2. Develop a narrative: Brands can also add context to data by relating it to a story. A daily run, for instance, could transport the user into The Hunger Games, in which friends train and compete as characters from the popular series.

3. Invite participation: By using platforms like Lightwave, event organizers can transform biometric data into a display of the collective emotional state of the audience, creating a unique, real-time experience.

But as exciting as these applications are, the wearables market is still limited. According to an International Data Corporation study, by 2018, just 8.5 million units of wearables will ship to Canada, out of a total 111.9 million units globally. That said, Canadian consumers (14% of survey respondents aged 18 to 24 and 11% of all female respondents) are interested in the benefits wearables can provide, as they already use mobile apps to track health and fitness. Two obstacles are preventing wearable devices from scaling:

1. Unclear benefits: Most consumers don’t feel an absolute need for wearable devices. Brands can encourage adoption by creating experiences and solutions that delight existing users, resulting in positive word-of-mouth.

2. Cost: As not everyone is willing to pay for expensive “extras,” brands can subsidize wearables or lend them to users during events. As prices drop and more wearable technologies are incorporated into the smartphone itself, cost will become less of an issue.

The current state of wearables, though unsettled, is ideal for brands willing to experiment. By identifying consumer needs now and iterating potential solutions, pioneer brands will be the first to benefit when the market does reach mass. In the meantime, though, the simplest stopgap measure is to create a mobile tracking app, or offer integration with existing tracking apps, to get consumers used to the idea of managing their personal data.

MelvinWilsonMelvin Wilson is the head of strategy for IPG Media Lab

Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock