Left to right: Steve Tam of Indiegogo (moderator), Sean Moffitt of Wikibrands, Shawn Chance of Bionym, Dré Labre of Rethink Canada, Andrew Faulkner of Personal Neuro Devices.
Left to right: Steve Tam of Indiegogo (moderator), Sean Moffitt of Wikibrands, Shawn Chance of Bionym, Dré Labre of Rethink Canada, Andrew Faulkner of Personal Neuro Devices.

Published: October 22nd, 2014

Smart watches, smart glasses, armbands, wristbands – at this point, there are wearable devices of all makes and types for tech-conscious consumers.

But even though some of them are using their wearable devices to track everything from their heart rates to the number of steps they take each day, businesses seem pretty happy with relegating wearables to the realms of sports and entertainment – and they may be missing out on a big opportunity.

That’s according to a panel of speakers at WEST, or the Wearable Entertainment and Sports Conference, held in Toronto on Thursday. During the panel discussion, marketers and wearable device makers delved into how marketers and advertisers can tap into this technology to reach their audiences.

For Sean Moffitt, the managing director of Wikibrands, a consumer engagement consulting company, the power of wearables lies in their ability to deeply engage with the wearer.

“I don’t know a marketer who doesn’t want a pervasive audience. It’s tough as nails to get the attention of anybody,” he said, adding people with wearables tend to actively use them. “And if you can get into that environment, you’ve got at least a semi-captive audience.”

Wearables also have the ability to amass huge amounts of data – everything from a user’s heartrate to the number of steps he or she takes everyday. That kind of data can be invaluable for marketers who want to target their messages, said Andrew Faulkner, co-founder at Personal Neuro Devices, an Ottawa-based startup that has built a headband tracking brain waves and helping users meditate.

“If you see that a person’s in a state of high attention [through collecting neurodata], but doesn’t have something they’re orienting their attention to, then that might be a good opportunity to show an ad and have that ad have an impact, rather than just firing tons of ads at a person,” he said, adding marketers could even use wearables in focus groups to figure out whether people really enjoy their products – or if they’re just saying what marketers want to hear.

Wearables are also extremely personalized according to the people wearing them, making it possible for companies to tailor custom experiences for users, said Shawn Chance, vice-president of marketing at Bionym.

“A future with personalized experiences is inevitable, especially with [the Internet of Things] becoming clearly accepted,” he said, adding Bionym built its wristband, the Nymi, to help users identify themselves to other devices based on their biometric data. “That’s a really powerful thing.”

And then of course, there’s the novelty factor. While wearables are becoming cheaper and more commonplace, seeing them in an advertising campaign is still relatively new, and that’s a great way to build up some hype around a brand.

Still, despite all of the advantages of using wearables in marketing campaigns, it can be hard to know where to get started.

Perhaps the most obvious way of using wearables is to take advantage of the fact people are almost always wearing them. That makes it really easy to reach them and to remind them of a message – for example, sending a quick notification or reminder about a promotion. But that’s also one of the easiest ways to alienate people, said Dré Labre, creative director at Rethink Canada.

“I think brands sharing messages on wearables sending messages is a slippery slope. Do you want something nudging you all the time telling you to buy my [expletive]? I don’t know if that’s really the right place to go,” he said. “We have to be respectful in what we choose to think about, and what we want to do that in that space.”

There’s also a huge need to protect consumer privacy and data, something that all panellists agreed on – and marketers need to recognize they’re responsible to safeguard their customers’ information, which is going to be a lot of extra work and could mean creating a new role for a privacy executive within an organization.

Still, despite all of the challeges, there’s definitely an opportunity for marketers to get involved with wearables, and to do it right, Moffitt said. They just need to be willing to take that chance.

“Marketers, we tend to pretend to ourselves, [but] we’re not the most progressive group out there,” Moffitt said in an interview after his panel discussion.

While it might seem as though wearables should be left to bigger brands to handle, there are definitely still opportunities out there for small businesses that want to get involved. For example, if a pet shop wanted to outfit 10 of its best customers with wearables, allowing them to track their walks with their dogs, they would probably build a lot of buzz, and they’d encourage people to think they were progressive, Moffitt said. That’s one of the benefits of being early in embracing the technology.

“It may be a raw, raw thing, but if you’re first in line doing this, you’re going to get a disproportionate share of attention,” he said. “Being first really counts.”

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