Creative Thinking

5 New Marketing Trends Brought to Us Via Wearables

By Taylor Holland on December 30, 2015

This is both a fantastic and challenging time to be a brand marketer.

Thanks to rapid developments in technology, there are more opportunities than ever to engage and delight customers. Successful branding is no longer about who has the biggest advertising budget; now it's about who has the most creative ideas. And that's exciting territory for marketing teams.

On the other hand, the rate of open innovation makes it difficult for brands to keep up. Just as marketers were beginning to wrap their heads around 1:1 email marketing and effective social media tactics, smartphones got smart enough to outpace personal computers. Now, while many companies are still getting up to speed on mobile optimization and location-based marketing, wearable technology has opened up a whole new world of possibilities—from biometric sensors, to virtual reality, to haptic technology and other 4D experiences.

What do these developments mean for marketers? Are these trends here to stay? And how can brands leverage these solutions to create immersive experiences and meaningful stories?

couple running

The Wearable Market

Consumer wearables didn't exactly get off to a strong start. While basic wearables such as fitness bands have been a big hit, smart wearables haven't lived up to expectations.

Sales of Apple's much-anticipated smartwatch plunged quickly after the first week, and the original version of Google Glass wasn't on the market long before the company took it off sale and went back to the drawing board. (Google Glass 2, however, is coming soon.)

Google GlassBut as smartwatches become more affordable, and product innovation becomes more sophisticated (i.e., offering robust third-party apps and not requiring users to also have smartphones in tow), the downward trend is back on the upswing.

In September, the International Data Corporation (IDC) projected wearable device shipments will reach 76.1 million units by the end of 2015, up 163.6 percent from the 28.9 million units shipped in 2014. And by 2019, worldwide shipments are expected to reach 173.4 million units.

Moral of the story for marketers: Wearables aren't a trend that should be ignored. Much like mobile, this technology is here to stay—and to transform digital marketing as we know it.

5 Cutting-Edge Marketing Trends Using Wearable Technology

Marketers have long been excited about wearable technology's potential for connecting brands with their audiences. These devices can help gather robust customer data—including location, behavior and activity levels—which can be used to deliver personalized marketing messages.

But forward-thinking brands are looking beyond data gathering and coupon tactics to create marketing campaigns that leverage the unique functionality of wearable devices. While some are finding creative ways to use existing technology, others are driving product innovation to design their own wearable experiences.

Below are five tech-driven marketing trends and examples of creative marketing campaigns using each:

1. Data-Based Storytelling (Nike)

In a recent post—"Why Don't Brands Use Big Data in Inspirational Storytelling?"—I explained how company-owned data can be used to craft meaningful and compelling stories about brands and their customers.

Nike has accomplished this 100,000-fold with its "Our Year" campaign. Starting in 2014, the sports apparel company began gathering data from customers who train using Nike Fuelbands or apps like Nike+ Running. At the end of the year, the company rewarded its 100,000 most active users with customized animated films that showcased their athletic exploits in 2014 and encouraged them to "outdo you" in 2015.

Nike Our Year Video

Not only is this great data—which Nike used to create a stat-filled "Our Year" video—but these users shared their personalized videos with their networks and then competed to be one of the top 100,000 in 2015. That's a campaign with staying power.

2. Enhanced Customer Experience (British Airways)

Remember playing with mood rings as a kid? Most of us knew these toys were only measuring our body temperature, not our state of mind. But they were still a fun conversation-starter.

Now, British Airways has created its own version of mood rings, called "Happiness Blankets," and they actually work. Using headbands with neuro-sensor technology, these wearable devices read brainwaves and transmit data via Bluetooth to blankets enhanced with fiber optics. When passengers feel calm, their blankets light up blue. When they're stressed, the blankets turn red.

The company uses these blankets on select flights to determine how passengers are feeling throughout the journey, which entertainment or meals make them happier, how comfortable they are while sleeping, how they feel during takeoff, and when they finally relax and enjoy the ride.

This data helps the company improve—and better sell—the customer experience.

3. Disposable Wearables (Nivea)

Nivea has proven that wearables don't have to be expensive or sophisticated to drive customer engagement. To promote its children's sunblock, the skin care company created print ads that include tear-out wristbands with GPS chips. While at the beach, parents can simply place the band on a child's wrist, download the Nivea app, sync the two devices, and set an acceptable distance for the child to wander. If he or she gets out of range, the parent immediately gets a mobile alert with a visual image of the child's location.

For parents, nothing could be more important than their children's safety. If promising additional security in public locations won't get customers to download and engage with an app, I don't know what will.

4. Haptic Technology (Durex)

Haptics—meaning technology that communicates with a user via sense or touch—have become a staple for video game manufacturers, enabling players to not just see and hear the action, but also feel it. Now marketers are also cashing in on this 4D experience. Stoli vodka and Showtime, for example, have launched creative campaigns that incorporate touch into their content marketing.

On the more risque end of the spectrum, condom manufacturer Durex has created a way for long-distance lovers to reach out and "touch" each other. For the sake of journalistic propriety, I won't get into the details, but this video explains it all.

5. Virtual Reality (Virgin Atlantic)

Augmented and virtual reality is no longer reserved for science fiction movies and military training. Now B2C and B2B companies are using it to let potential customers "experience" their products and services before buying.

Virgin Atlantic, for example, has teamed up with Microsoft, to create "Ida"—the Interactive Digital Adventure app. By connecting a third-party virtual reality headset with any device running Windows 10, Virgin Atlantic sales reps can walk business travelers through the entire luxury travel experience. The virtual tour starts with check-in, moves users through the Clubhouse and onto the plane, takes them through the bar, and ends with them waking up in their seats, feeling refreshed and ready for descent.

These campaigns are just a few ways companies are already leveraging the immersive nature of wearable technology to engage and wow customers. As more manufacturers and innovators get into the market in the coming years, we'll undoubtedly see even more possibilities for game-changing brand experiences. So, while it's not a must-have channel for marketers just yet, it's certainly something to start thinking about.

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Taylor Holland

Taylor Mallory Holland is a freelance writer, editor, and content marketer specializing in technology, healthcare, and business leadership. As a content strategist, Holland contributes thought leadership content for some of the world's top brands, including Samsung, IBM, BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, and UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. She has been a contributor for The Content Standard since 2014.