The rise of wearable filtering technology, and what brands can do about it

A photograph of a person's wrist wearing a black Altruis filtering bracelet.

Photograph by Adobe

The next generation of wearable technology will give consumers an unprecedented ability to filter out digital experiences that aren’t of value to them, according to a report by Adobe which launched last week.

Adobe’s new report, ‘The Future of Experience: The rules of engagement for brands, technology and people’ explores the impact that emerging technologies like virtual reality, artificial intelligence and wearables will have on customer experiences, and the interaction between customers and brands.

It posits that in the near future, wearables will empower consumers to take back control in their lives by filtering out less meaningful brand experiences, allowing them to ‘switch off’ by ‘switching on’.

This will present a challenge to brands and businesses to provide consumers with experiences that add real meaning and value to their lives, or risk losing access to consumers altogether.

Ad blockers: The original digital filter

The idea of consumers filtering out negative brand experiences isn’t a new one. The rise of ad blocking technology has allowed consumers to do exactly that, much to the dismay of publishers and marketers alike who relied on the revenue from ads that are now being filtered out wholesale by vast numbers of users.

Many have railed against the idea that consumers should be allowed to block ads at all while still enjoying free content online. But others have recognised the move for what it is: a way for consumers to take action against ads which are poorly designed, invasive and sometimes even dangerous. In short, ads which provide them with a poor online experience.

As Jason Kint, CEO of trade association Digital Content Next, wrote in ClickZ Intelligence’s Zoom In report on ad blocking:

“The industry has spent billions of dollars in technology to track and target consumers in an automated manner with little to no attention to the value for the consumer. Regardless of how much value that actually delivers, it’s clearly causing other issues with privacy, security and performance.”

Adobe’s ‘Future of Experience’ report predicts that this type of action – an active disengagement from negative brand experiences – will become more widespread with the rise of wearable technology. It writes:

“There’s an interesting conversation that’s starting to gain traction on the fringes of this narrative; using technology as a way to disconnect and foster a moment of privacy.

“There is a desire to turn down the volume. And paradoxically, it is actually the switching ‘on’ of the emerging technologies that helps us in reducing the noise. The notion that new technologies will allow consumers to create their own private digital world, where they control the brands that do and don’t enter into a dialogue with them based on the quality of the experience offered.”

A graphic from the Adobe Future of Experience report titled "Connecting to others and to yourself". It has a picture of two plugs either side of a globe and the words "52%" next to it. The text below reads, "[52%] say good digital experience empowers people to use technology to not only connect to the world, but disconnect from it too."Image: Adobe Future of Experience report

The report goes on to examine the case study of Vinaya, a London-based wearable technology lab, which launched their Altruis line of wearable jewellery in 2015. The Altruis jewellery line is designed to let wearers stay connected, but not distracted, by filtering incoming calls, messages and notifications via the Altruis app.

Users can program the app with selected emails, phone numbers and “secret words” (a kind of predetermined code given to those who need to reach you) and then untether themselves from their phone, confident that their ring, necklace or bracelet will let them know when an important message comes through.

A screenshot of the Altruis app in the iOS app store

Already, wearable technologies are being developed whose purpose is to act as an additional filter between users and the digital world. At a time when concerns about digital security and privacy are higher than ever, they place control into the hands of users over who is allowed to demand their time and attention at any given moment.

According to Kate Unsworth, the CEO and co-founder of Vinaya, giving people tools that enable them to filter out irrelevant information is the quickest way to make someone feel in control of the data they are sharing with brands and businesses. She said:

“What that means is that if we build our product in such a way that it puts the power into the users’ hands as to how their data can be shared, then unless that brand is providing real tangible and visible value to the consumer, they can revoke their access.”

What can brands do about it?

We’ve seen the extent to which brands and publishers are still grappling with how to address the challenge presented by ad blockers, trying out a variety of solutions which range from banning users of ad blockers from viewing content, to negotiating with adblock providers to have their ads whitelisted. With the next wave of digital filtering technologies incoming, brands will need to find a strategy to ensure that their message makes it through the filters or risk losing access to consumers altogether.

Much like ad blocking, it seems likely that the widespread use of wearable filtering technology will shine a harsh light on marketing techniques which turn users away from a brand, forcing brands to confront uncomfortable truths about practices which provide a detrimental user experience.

A screenshot of a Swiffer advert which has appeared over the top of The Active Times. It gives the whole page a dirt-spattered look, with a window in the middle promoting various Swiffer starter kits. At the very top right corner of the page, the word "close" is barely visible.It seems likely that the advent of wearable filtering technologies will put intrusive marketing tactics in the spotlight in the same way that ad blocking has done for advertising

With online advertising, users put up with annoying, intrusive, insecure ads until they didn’t have to any more. All of a sudden, the advertising and publishing industries were faced with the repercussions of poor advertising practices in the form of real damage to the bottom line. And once users are disengaged from advertising, it becomes a lot more difficult to re-engage them. As Mike O’Brien wrote previously for ClickZ about ignorance in ad blocking,

“By not exploring which of these [alienating] behaviors they’re engaging in, brands risk turning more and more users off, driving them toward ad blockers. And once someone has an ad blocker, they aren’t going to switch it on and off, depending on which site they’re visiting.”

It doesn’t mean that users don’t want to be marketed to, in the same way that using an ad blocker doesn’t necessarily mean a user wants to eliminate all ads. At the ‘Future of Experience’ report launch, Dr. Chris Brown, lead researcher on the report, said that we can regard ad blockers as a dangerous construct, or as a filtering mechanism. People who use ad blockers are effectively saying, “Unless you offer me something of value, I don’t want you in my life.”

user experienceImage: Adobe Future of Experience report

He pointed out that consumers are often happy to share their data and even be exploited, as long as they feel that they are getting something of equal value in return. “You can’t generate an experience which requires a user to invest a lot into it if they aren’t getting anything of meaning back.”

The challenge for brands will be to provide a service, or experience, in their marketing which is valuable enough that users won’t opt to ‘switch off’ from the brand using their newfound filtering capabilities.

Based on advice given by John Watton, Marketing Director at Adobe, in the ‘Future of Experience’ report, here are three actionable tips for creating a meaningful marketing experience that users will want to engage with:

1. Don’t try to force yourself into the customer journey. Forcing brand messages on users is the fastest way to get them to switch off – in the same way that intrusive and annoying advertising is the fastest way to make users install an ad blocker. Approach users respectfully, on their own terms; test what they respond well to, and always be open to trying a new tactic.

2. Make sure there is a value exchange. As Dr. Brown said, users will be happy to engage with marketing as long as they feel they’re getting something worthwhile in return. Think in terms of what your users will be getting out of the experience, and not just what you can get from them.

3. Be transparent. “It’s all about the value exchange and the transparency around that,” Watton writes in the report. “Give an individual a valuable experience where they understand what is being taken and given back, exceed their expectations and be consistent, and the issues around privacy will go away. Again, this is about always using knowledge and data in a transparent and respectful way.”

If you want to know more about the current landscape of ad blocking, the challenges it presents and the strategies that publishers and marketers have employed, download our free Zoom In report, ‘Ad blocking: The lay of the land‘.

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