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Wearables: What are the customer engagement challenges and opportunities?

14th Oct 2015
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YouGov estimates that there will be 6.1 million wearable device owners in the UK by the end of 2015 and Juniper research predicts that wearable devices will generate $53.2 billion in global retail revenue by 2019. So what does this growing area of technology mean for marketers and their relationships with customers?

What’s interesting is that out of all of the wearable devices, smartwatches are expected to generate the highest adoption and spur the trend. Smartwatches are expected to replace fitness devices as the most purchased wearables category by 2017. Apple is the latest tech giant to make a play in this market and recently unveiled an update to its Apple Watch where third party apps can now be downloaded in isolation from the iPhone. Recently voted top of the ‘CoolBrands’ list, it’s likely that Apple’s foray into the smartwatch market will drive consumers to lust after the wearable tech trend.

Apple has a habit of making consumers feel like they need something that they didn’t even know they wanted. Steve Jobs is credited with sparking a PC revolution with the vision of a "computer for the rest of us" when computers were just for business.

The company then created the iPhone, a revolutionary product which allowed companies to literally get into the pocket of their consumers and get ‘smart’ about how to reach them. Now, wearables present the opportunity for brands to get even closer to their customers, tipping the scale of personalisation and giving brands the upper hand. Apple could be the company to bring smartwatches to the masses, opening a wave of opportunities for brands.

Data to tip the customer relationship scales

Mobile phones are always with us; in fact, in total we spend 23 days a year just on our phones. In comparison though, the smartwatch is even more personal because it lives on the user’s wrist. It’s with them at all times and can monitor their every action. As a result, it’s likely that the smartwatch could replace the smartphone as the consumer’s closest tech companion. For brands this closeness means that smartwatches offer the chance to gather more intel to inform marketing than ever before.

The data collected by wearables will give marketers a unique understanding of audience behaviour on an individual level, tipping the scales in the brand/customer relationship. For example, marketers will be able to identify where a user has been and the interactions they have had, as told by their geo-location data and the apps they have connected to. This information will be invaluable for marketers in learning how to personalise their marketing messages and target consumers based on their context.

Wearables can be particularly powerful for marketers because they allow brands to understand consumer behaviour within the context of other devices and actions in the wider purchase journey. 

For example, one challenge for brands at the moment is understanding the cross-device journey that customers go on whilst shopping. By using data from wearables such as location insights, brands can understand intent and second guess where the shopper will go next. For example, if a shopper is next door to a coffee shop, as told by their geo-location data, a brand could offer that person a reward for going inside to purchase a drink. 

Be careful that ‘always on’ doesn’t turn consumers off

While wearables present huge opportunities for advertisers, the personal nature of the ‘always on’ devices also presents challenges. If marketers are to provide real benefits to their customers and gain increased engagement through wearables then they need to carefully consider how they use the data the devices collect to inform their campaigns.

It would be highly tempting for brands to exploit the detailed information wearables offer them. However, brands must not lose sight of the importance of building valuable consumer relationships and giving the consumer choice. Wearables are aimed at making consumers lives easier and reducing the time between intention and action; the principal behind the development of these devices is that consumers have more control than ever before.

Marketers must not bombard consumers with too many messages or exploit the personal data they have to make brand communications appear ‘creepy’. They must refrain from sharing content too regularly and including unsolicited personal information that seem like an invasion of privacy. Brands need to be polite and seek permission first before serving targeted content.

As well as considering messaging, timing and frequency, marketers must ensure that the advertising creative and brand experience is seamless for the consumer. Creative must be responsive and complement advertising across their other channels – particularly mobile with which wearables are symbiotic. A lack of responsive design will aggravate customers to the point where they will blinker a brand. Marketers can’t risk their marketing underperforming because of something that can be rectified easily.

Wearable devices offer marketers unparalleled access to the consumer but brands must remain focused on the task in hand; always delivering relevant and targeted messages. The importance of creating targeted, relevant and engaging advertising is particularly prevalent at the moment as the IAB recently announced that 15% of consumers have switched on ad blocking software. These technologies are putting the onus on marketers to raise their game. The principles of advertising don’t change on wearables, but marketers must use the new information they have carefully and effectively to continually build and improve customer relationships.

Rakhee Jogia is director of display at Rakuten Marketing.


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