Wearable Technology Lets Us Track Consumers' Activity as Never Before

Google Glass, FuelBand and iPhone Are Leading the Way to a New Frontier

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You might know how much an impression's worth for your brand. Perhaps you can estimate the value of a click, or social actions such as buzz, likes and shares. But what if you could measure a customer's level of physical activity? What about posture, sleep habits, or even virility?

That data's going to become increasingly available to marketers and advertisers as we head into the age of the cyborg.

Once a hallmark of science fiction, the human enhanced with mechanical superpowers is quickly becoming mainstream with the advent of wearable technology. Among the milestones arising over the past decade was Apple's success with slimming down the iPod and equipping it with enough storage to hold thousands of songs, which turned it into a popular workout accessory. A slew of add-ons sprung up to allow runners to wear the iPod as an armband. Then in May 2006, Nike released Nike+, in collaboration with Apple, a wireless chip embeddable in select shoe models. In a breakthrough melding of fashion and technology, the chip synced with the iPod, and later the iPhone, to track fitness activity and sync music to workouts. In 2012 Nike released the FuelBand, transitioning its technology from a chip hidden inside a shoe to a bracelet that became its own fashion statement.

The FuelBand has sparked a rush to battle, as businesses fight for their share of people's bodies. Jawbone's UP and Fitbit's forthcoming Flex are among the competitors. Beyond fitness, countless other products have been designed to improve one's health, such as LUMOback's wearable posture sensor and accompanying mobile application. Fitbit competes with Lark, Wakemate and other wearable devices tracking sleep habits. The Pebble smart watch is the most successful Kickstarter project ever, with $10.3 million funded by 69,000 backers. A week rarely goes by without rumors of smart-watch developments from Apple, Microsoft, Samsung and others.

Then there's Google Glass, the hands-free, voice-controlled computer worn as an eyepiece. Wearing a computer on your face invites comparisons to Robocop, the Terminator, or Battlestar Galactica's Cylons of science fiction. Sure enough, Glass already has competitors, such as the Smart Glasses M100 from Vuzix, a company specializing in video eyewear.

While buzz around Google Glass is rampant, it's hardly a given that the product will be a massive hit. Despite Nike's success, the high likelihood of failure for most products means that there will be very few makers of wearable technology that aren't hardware manufacturers. One of the unlikely pioneers in this field is Durex Australia, which announced a "Durexperiment" called Fundawear -- men's and women's undergarments that connect to a mobile app which one's partner can control to deliver a kind of pleasure that the FuelBand cannot.

Few brands are likely to take the body technology that far. Many will focus on software that connects to wearable devices. SmartWater may not become a hardware manufacturer, but it's hardly a stretch to envision it creating an app for FuelBand or Fitbit fans to track yoga activity.

The far bigger opportunity for marketers will be in the data generated by these new devices. Just as an actuary looks at a 45-year-old Chicago male who is 5'10" and 210 pounds with a desk job and a sedentary lifestyle and figure out that his life insurance premiums need to go up, a marketer could look at the data from this man's wearable devices, notice that he doesn't stray too far from his couch, and promote specials on the brand's potato chips just before the Bears game each Sunday.

Each of the wearable devices becomes a new source of data. People initially won't be inclined to share, although consumers tend to be willing to share quite a bit if they receive something of value in return.

It's time to start paying attention to each new wearable device that's released, is the subject of a rumor or is getting traction on a crowdfunding site. When such products arise, get ahead of the game. Ask yourself, "What data could it offer? Would it make sense for my products, services, and brands? What would I get out of it? What would I offer the device's users in exchange?"

David Berkowitz is Vice President, Emerging Media, 360i.
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