Steve Blakeman
Feb 13, 2014

The age of smart data is upon us

To divine the trends that will make the most impact in 2014 and beyond, look no further than the unprecedented collection of personal data by connected devices.

Steve Blakeman
Steve Blakeman

The general consensus of opinion on the outlook for 2014 is best described as cautiously optimistic. Media spending estimates vary significantly, depending on who is answering the question, but most predictions are around the 5 to 6 per cent mark. Spends will be inevitably buoyed by some major events in 2014, such as the Winter Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, but the ongoing recovery in Europe is likely to have a more pronounced effect on global marketing budgets.

In terms of trends, there will obviously be a maturing of some of the ones we have witnessed over the past few years. Mobile will continue to grow rapidly, programmatic buying will establish itself further, e-marketing (and increasingly m-marketing) will become a stronger focus and the evolution of content marketing will accelerate.

Emerging trends for the forthcoming year can be summed up by what the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas had to offer just last month. Connected clothes, connected cars, connected cookers. Essentially the ‘internet of things’. This is about the enablement of physical objects to be connected to one another or to the web to provide information or utility about the object or the environment (that’s Cisco’s explanation not mine). Or rather the ‘internet of things’ it should be reclassified as the ‘internet of everything’? From what you drive to what you wear.

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And it is the addition of sensors in our clothes that will witness the next quantum leap in our industry. Wearable tech has been big business for the past few years with a raft of pedometers / accelerometers such as the Nike+ Fuelband and Jawbone Up (to name just two). But this wrist based technology could soon be made obsolete by the introduction of connected clothing. Companies such as SmartLife are already manufacturing intelligent garments such as jerseys/shirts but will soon be progressing to other apparel such as headbands, shorts and even socks. The main difference is that these garments can also measure vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, perspiration, etc) as well as track via GPS.

Andy Baker, the CEO for SmartLife, explained the technology’s potential this way: “For the first time your clothing will know what you are doing and where you are doing it. Consequently retailers can track you from store, into daily life and then tailor offers to suit you. For example, if you have been cycling 20 times in the last 3 months, the retailer knows to make you offers on cycle wear or related products. Retaining the customer becomes easier as you know their personal habits and key information. This allows the key marketing messages to be changed from acquiring and to retaining, which has much lower price points throughout media.”

Smart garments are set to revolutionize the sports industry. Just imagine the ability to track player statistics in real time and how that can be of critical importance to a coach in the game itself and tracked over a period of time. In addition, what about the interest that type of data would generate to a statistics obsessed fan base? And that is pretty much the same whether we are talking soccer or cycling, baseball or bowls (ok, maybe not bowls).

Then add into the mix the recreational sports crowd who are fascinated to see how they can improve upon their personal best, beat their buddies or brag about their latest achievement by sharing the details on Facebook.  

Beyond the sports industry, the same wearable technology can also be used in the medical industry. The applications within hospitals and care homes are easy to figure out. But on a broader scale, the same garments can be potentially used by the pharmaceutical giants. Clothing that reminds the wearer when to take their medication based upon a combination of readings for instance? Or even something as basic as a ‘smart’ Band Aid that relays information on possible infection? Sound a little too much like science fiction? Not when you consider that the mighty Google have just released details of a contact lens that can monitor glucose levels so that diabetics can be reminded when to take their meds. 

And the knock on effect of all that connectivity will be the infinite amount of data that can be collected about consumers’ lifestyles and habits. And what we do with it, naturally. So if the last few years were all about ‘big data’ then the next few years will be more concerned with ‘smart data’. Most major marketers are now experiencing this dilemma. In the past we didn’t have sufficient data. Now, arguably, we have too much. We are drowning in it, trying to figure out what elements are useful and insightful. Making sense of this ocean of data will require the skills of a new breed of multi-skilled analysts. From ethnographers to qualitative researchers, we need people who can not only aggregate the information we have but also crucially try to make sense of it. Then the real skill is to find the stories that exist within the data and apply that thinking to ensure that we are connecting people to brands in an engaging manner. 

Steve Blakeman is OMD's Asia-Pacific CEO


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