Will the Apple Watch Kill the Notification Game?

Ever since the first prototypes of wearables surfaced, marketers began to realize that they have to improve their notification strategy in order to win in this extremely personal space. Notifications are a crucial part of today’s mobile ecosystem — one might say they will be the driver of wearable devices’ user engagement. Now that Apple entered the market with the launch of the Apple Watch, how will this change — or will it?

Marketers leverage push notification to send personalized messages to individuals based on their distinct behavior; these range from an alert about a nearby offer to a reminder from an app on your phone, or simply a desperate cry to come back and finish one of these games your friends insisted you’d get hooked on but that you never really liked.

The other great marketing hope of connected consumers is location-based targeting, powered by micro location detectors (beacons) that can send geo-targeted signals to connected devices and trigger notifications based on your physical location (such as “Stop looking in the window — come in and get 5% off” or competitive conquesting tactics like “Tired of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee? Come to Starbucks instead”). On smartphones, receiving multiple messages like these has been at more of a distance (in a pocket, holster, or handbag), and more of a nuisance than invasive. However, wearables present a much closer and more personal invasion of your time and space, and could quickly become a curse rather than a convenience for consumers.

That means marketers will have to find better ways to engage with their consumers in local environments and offer real value in exchange for the permission to be on their body. With wearables, brands must now create a safe balance between helpful “conversation” and invasive maneuvers that annoy the user.

With this in mind, marketers have started to focus more heavily on their notification strategy, its execution, and actual goals. It makes sense, since most wearables have small screens and don’t allow for full brand experiences; therefore, textual notifications are the perfect way to bring relevant content to the potential consumers on those devices. Then came the Apple Watch.

Some marketers were secretly hoping that they could leverage the tried and tested concepts of push notifications on the Apple Watch just as they did on mobile devices. But as Apple demonstrated during the launch event, this is not enough. Apple being Apple wanted to change the smart watch space: rather than make its Watch an extension of your phone (like most other smart watches), Apple went one step further and created a whole new segment of devices. Instead of using push messages, Apple is asking brands to develop full-blown experiences inside a 38mm screen. Some of the sample apps that they demoed, like Pinterest, American Airlines, and Starwood Hotels, show fully customized and excellent brand experiences. Here’s where the wearables game will change, as demonstrated by Apple.

I believe that in order to get a space on your consumers’ wrist and keep their attention there, brands will have to provide an engaging and valuable experience, something that the user can use on the watch alone — no need to pull out the phone. If consumers can get complete, practical, and richer experiences on the Apple Watch that go beyond intrusive push notifications and beacon alerts, those mobile/wearable engagements will truly make an impact — on consumers, on brands, and the way we interact with devices.

What remains to be seen, since we’re early into the Apple Watch’s life, is the engagement from the publishers and app developers. Large parts of today’s mobile ecosystem are driven by ad revenue and app revenue. Given the small real estate and limited abilities, it remains to be seen how this model can apply to this new canvas. I am sure we will see some interesting interstitials down the road, but nothing that will integrate in a native way. Let’s hope Apple is working on an amazing “iAd” implementation for the iWatch.

Brands can’t stick to the old mobile approach of “just make it smaller” if they want to win on Apple Watch. They need to determine what the value is that they bring to the user’s wrist, why they should have permission to be there, and figure out — and deliver — what the users truly want (and might not yet realize).

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