Wearables Are a Game-Changer in Market Research

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From Fitbits to the Apple Watch to eyeglasses to clothes and even smart jewelry, smart wearable devices are poised to transform the way research is done, giving retailers and brands access to point-in-time consumer data that they’d otherwise be unable to collect (at least without error and intrusion).

This new wave of smart wearable devices is going to allow companies to deliver a previously unseen customer experience.

Here are three ways wearables are transforming market research and what you should keep in mind as this space continues to expand.

1. Jumpstart the journey

The most popular wearables on the market are geared to provide an intense amount of unsolicited quantitative data. Your team can start its research journey much further on in the process, giving you time to focus on the whys behind the behaviors instead of the whats.

For example, smart fitness devices can provide data on daily activities, heart rates, and sleep patterns. Smart watches can report on locational and Web browsing data, and potentially even TV viewing habits.

Collecting this data in a passive manner pays off in a few different ways for both parties.

For the respondent, the experience is seamless and unobtrusive. There are no long surveys to take, no fatigue, and no chance of having a fuzzy memory and incorrectly reporting or misrepresenting their actions.

For the marketer, wearables provide research without “doing” research, which allows you to layer on other enlightening methodologies, including qualitative questions, without it being too much. Beyond that, you can get a total picture of the customer journey that’s clear and concise. You can discover where someone was before and after he or sh visited your store or restaurant, as well as how much time was spent in each place. Perhaps even how his or her heart rate changed as the person moved from location to location.

As you start to incorporate wearables into your program, you may want to think about retooling to decrease the emphasis and spend on gathering hard data and focus more on adding qualitative components to the data you already have in hand. You’ll be able to get to the “why” faster and cheaper.

2. Fitting wearables into your marketing program

If you’re implementing an entirely new strategy based on an entirely new type of data collection tool, practicality must take center stage.

Where do wearables fit into the research portion of your marketing program and how can you get started with them, even if it’s a slow roll? There are probably more answers to this question than you can track on a pedometer.

My advice here is to home in on one or two devices by determining exactly what new knowledge you want to gain from your audience, and then matching it with the wearable that provides the best doorway to that information. If you’re the Big Thirst sports drink company, you may want to focus on the Fitbit because it can tell you how active the users are and what time of the day they exercise the most. If you’re Items Plus retailer, a device with GPS capabilities or that interacts with iBeacons can reveal shopping habits and even allow you to serve up coupons to customers’ wrists in real time.

Consider also the demographic for each device type. The NPD Group reports that 36% of fitness tracker owners are 35-54 years old, the slight majority are women and 41% earn more than $ 100,000 a year. In contrast, 69% of smartwatch owners are 18-34 years old, 71% are men and 48% have incomes below $ 45,000 a year.

Naturally, the privacy concerns surrounding this type of passive data collection are immense, but many consumers are growing more comfortable with the idea of granting access to some of their data in exchange for a benefit. In this case, the obvious is a free wearable device.

As with other consumer research, a best-practice to allay concerns is to emphasize in the agreement that the data is not personally identifiable, will be used for research only and won’t be provided to third parties.

3. The ABCs of getting to the why

Once you’ve mastered a system to effectively gather the obvious data-points about consumers’ actions, think about how to augment that information to get to the underlying reasons why they do what they do.

You can then combine what you know about the customer with what you know about the journey, and feed that back into your marketing program to move confidently on certain service tweaks, ad campaigns, merchandising decisions, product launches, and promotions.

Say you’re a local coffee shop that learns through wearable data that your targets get less sleep on Sunday nights due to workweek anxiety, you could capitalize on that by offering a Monday morning special of a discounted espresso and pastry bundle. Or maybe you’re a mattress store that knows people sleep poorly in January; you can plan targeted ads and sales around that time.

One of the simplest ways to add a qualitative initiative to a wearables marketing program is to ask the consumer pertinent questions at the end of each day or week, depending on your timeframe. These questions could be asked through any form of SMS, text, or email, per the participant’s preference.

Another option is to request stimuli that provide a deeper look into consumers’ experiences. This could take the form of anything from a video diary upload to photos posted to an online bulletin board. The optimal approach is to query participants in real time, as that will provide you with top-of-mind feedback. As a researcher, you just have to let the audience and objectives dictate whether real time is necessary and can be done practically and without being a pest. If not, then end-of-day or intermittent Q&As are the way to go.

A Word of Caution

With Apple Watch leading the way as a “hero” device, wearables will see enormous growth this year and have a profound impact on the way marketers conduct research. That said, don’t expect them to replace the methodologies in practice today and cure all of your research ills. It should instead be looked at as a means to enhance existing tools and gather much more information about your consumers than you can now.

Also, the odds of misreading data from wearables are high, which is why it’s wise to layer the output on top of other data and evaluate it over time. Looking at things such as heart rate and making the leap that participants felt a certain way about something requires expert analysis and an abundance of data-points. Did their heart rate spike when they entered your tire store because of your array of shiny rims or because they were elated to find you had a powerful air conditioner on a scorching day?

You’ll only know by asking why.

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How Apple Watch and Other Wearables Are Transforming Marketing

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Gone are the Mad Men days when we’d throw out messages and hope they’d stick, never knowing what worked and why.

Data-driven marketing has led to smart, effective experiences, and consumers now seamlessly follow brands from screen to screen. The customer journey is tracked, logged, and retargeted. This 2-D world has sufficed… until now.

Humans want to move. We want to leave our phones in our pockets and purses, and wearables like the Apple Watch will let us.

Apple is marketing its Watch as a time saver. The Watch’s whole purpose is to give you the choice: pull out your phone or continue doing what you’re doing. The more we leave our phones put away, the more we will come to rely on our wearables.

This shift provides a huge opportunity for brands to be wayfinders. For example, Disney early on made the leap to a wearable, Disney MagicBands.

As soon as millions of people have slipped on the Apple Watch, the charge has been set. What will our brands do for us now?

Collecting Data

Data is our first opportunity with wearables. They give us a new source of data that is alive in the world. When data points from wearables are combined with other data sets, the possibilities for creative marketing are endless.

You might be asking yourself, “What is this data exactly?”

Let’s consider smartwatches and fitness trackers. Both are crammed with sensors that monitor different aspects of your health and wellness.

Here’s a brief overview of the sensors today, the data they track, and possible use cases for marketers.

  • Accelerometers provide several types of data but are most commonly used to count steps. By measuring orientation and acceleration force, they can determine whether the device is horizontal or vertical, and whether it’s moving. Data science allows us to further mark types of movement. For instance, sleep apps translate our movements via the accelerometer to track our sleep.
    Use case: Brands looking to motivate and reward their healthiest and most active consumers should take advantage of human data. Based on activity data, brands can celebrate fitness achievements with all their consumers. So when a user reaches her 10,000th step, send her a “Congrats!” and maybe knock a few bucks off the health bars she loves.
  • GPS is not a huge differentiator yet, since the smartphone that pairs with a wearable is most likely in the same location and also has GPS. A lot of wearables have this feature for a user in a hands-free environment.
    Use case: Wayfinding in new environments is one way a brand can lend a hand. Say your user is at a summer music festival, and his phone is in his backpack. He can use a smartwatch to navigate to a secret party, a new pop-up store, etc.
  • Optical heart-rate monitors measure heart rate using light. An LED shines through the skin, and an optical sensor measures the light that bounces back. Because blood absorbs more light, changes in light intensity can be translated into heart rate. (This process is called photoplethysmography.)
    Use case: We all know our heart rate goes up during heavy exercise. This is the primary reason for the heart rate sensors in wearables. Using wearable data, brands can reward users for their most intense workouts.
  • Galvanic skin response sensors measure electrical connectivity of the skin. Your skin is a better conductor of electricity when you are experiencing a strong emotion and sweating.
    Use case: How can we prove one deodorant beats out another? How about a data-driven sweat test?
  • UV sensors warn you to get out of the sun before it starts to be harmful.
    Use case: How else can you use the intel that people are enjoying a sunny afternoon? Maybe ask them to share photos of their sunny day on social media with your hashtag. Or send them tips on urban gardening, the best nearby parks, day trips, or other personalized content.

Delving Into the Data

Data science allows us to derive richer insights from this data. Smart trend analysis lets us group the data and users. The data can be aggregated and segmented to improve the effectiveness and customization of marketing efforts.

Marketers can also be smart about how wearable data is used to power existing applications. Why can’t Spotify offer up your favorite playlist when you’ve been sitting stationary at your desk for 10 minutes? And what if you knew that nearly half of your users rode public transportation to work? What would that grouping mean to you? What would it mean to your outdoor advertising budget?

A whole new revolution of marketing and computing has begun that will free up consumers and empower marketers.

“Whether it’s the new phone, the wearable, or the connected car, mobility and connectivity are redefining how people interact with the world around them,” says Gareth Davies, CEO of Adbrain. “The common currency here is the digitalization of just about everything around us, creating unparalleled data exhaust fumes begging to be mined for commercial and consumer benefit. It’s no surprise that we’re seeing tech, media, and automotive giants make serious investments to further increase their access to people across multiple touchpoints.”

What About Privacy?

The data from wearable and activity-tracking platforms is very personal, so careful planning around privacy and anonymity is of the utmost importance.

Data gathered and provided should be funneled through an opt-in model, so users have control over what types of data are shared. Brands and platforms that use this data should follow industry standard best-practices regarding encryption and data security.

When considering an IT security strategy, we recommend that physical and logical access to systems be separated when possible. Personally identifiable information should always be stored separately from activity data to avoid breaches of complete datasets.

Opting In When It Suits Them

In a recent survey of retail shoppers, roughly 70% expressed willingness to provide data in exchange for rewards or incentives.

In other words, customers are looking for a reason to strap on their wearables and get moving.

Brands can provide this incentive and motivate a customer’s healthy lifestyle. There were concerns when mobile banking first came around, but it’s now commonplace to snap pictures of your checks and upload them. If the experience adds value to people’s lives and/or improves convenience, they opt in.

* * *

We’re entering the next phase of digital marketing. The potential for creativity is incredible. And measurement has never been smarter or easier to access.

The question is which brands will make the leap? What brands will ease us through decision making? Which brands will guide us around a city? Which will motivate our well-being?

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