It is becoming increasingly clear that the next great frontier in digital technology is right in front of your face. Or, I suppose it is your face... or your wrist. Or maybe some other part of your body that we may not even want to consider just yet.
We are on the brink of the wearable computing revolution. Smartphones have already got us (well, about half of us right now) used to making sure we have a connected and powerful digital device with us everywhere we go. Several of us are fairly consistently plugged in through our ears, with headphones and Bluetooth headsets, as well. That the big technology and device companies are creating new interactive accessories for us to put on and take with us comes as no surprise.
We already have Google Glass appearing on the streets, providing users with a virtual overlay for the real world. Samsung has the Galaxy Gear watch, which is a bit more subtle. It looks somewhat like a regular watch, but offers a rich set of functions when linked to your smart phone. Apple seems to be holding back a bit with a wearable thing, but we can't imagine they will stay on the sidelines too long. Some tea-leaf readers figure the hiring of the CEO of Burberry to run the retail shops portends a greater move toward stylish digital accessories.
While there is always a chance that the wearable future will not take off, we must be willing to look at any new thing with an interested eye. Marketers and advertisers are on a neverending mission to cut through the noise, deliver a message and become more a part of a consumer's life. Might wearable computing provide some measure of both?
What We Get
A great way to consider the value of any new technology to marketing is to simply ask two questions (in order): "What do I get from this new thing?" and "Does this help me achieve my goals?"
This keeps us from getting too carried away with technology. We must remember that our goals (or our client's goals) always come before the excitement around any new gadget. So, what do we get with wearable computing, from the advertiser's point of view?
There are really three big buckets of newness. The first is that the device is definitely going to be a part of a person's daily life. Since these are things that are meant to be put on, you can be sure they will be there for most of the day, especially in the case of watches. That means they will be there and available at just the moment your consumer may want or need you. If you sell soup, you have a chance to be there at lunch time.
The second is an integration with a person's place in the world. Geotargeting, either from the desktop or phone, is certainly nothing new. This is really just a more complete extension of the idea. There are still those who leave their phones in backpacks or cars. Some people may not have their phone when they are playing sports like golf, or going for a run. A watch or a pair of glasses will probably always be there.
The third is an increased awareness of what you are doing. Google got a patent a few weeks back for a mechanism that would capture if someone gazed at a particular thing for a length of time (wearing Google Glass of course). The immediate conclusion is that this could be used to set up a new advertising model: pay-per-glance. Potentially, you could place an ad in the real world somewhere--say a billboard or in a magazine--but not pay unless (or pay more if) you knew that someone spent a few seconds actually looking at that ad.
How it Helps
Let's assume that the growth of wearable computing is going to be a bit slower than the growth of other personal technology, like iPods and cell phones. Those two gadgets really exploded and went mainstream after a very short time with the early adopters. Many pundits see much slower adoption of items like Google Glass because, well, Google Glass is weird. Even die-hard techie nerds are a bit unsure if they want to walk around with those things on their head.
What is clear is that many people will have something on them that is connected. You may discover that your particular target market really likes wearable computing and adopts it much faster than the rest of the population. If you market sports gear, you should definitely be ready for wearable computing. And by "be ready," I mean start thinking about how to address a consumer who is not only connected, but has integrated digital technology into the way they actually see the world.
Let's get back to the core question: "How does this help me achieve my goals?"
Whatever it is that you market or advertise, you always have one goal: to show that you are relevant to a person's life, at the right time, with the right message. Wearable computing should give you more moments when people are shopping or engaged in an activity that is meaningful for your brand.
We will be overwhelmed by the data that is going to come out of wearable computing. The good news is that we can be sure that someone will try to organize this data for us and present us with those new moments where we can provide a message that hopefully matters.
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Gary Stein is SVP, strategy and planning in iCrossing's San Francisco office. He has been working in marketing for more than a decade. Gary lives in San Francisco with his family. Follow him on Twitter: @garyst3in. The opinions expressed in Gary's columns are his alone.