Racheal Lee
Jan 21, 2014

Wearable tech: A chance for brands to exercise sport mindedness

As Asia’s societies become more health conscious and affluent, consumers look for technologies to help them stay healthy and exercise more, or at least remind them to. Do these devices solve real problems, or are they pure marketing gimmicks?

Wearable tech: A chance for brands to exercise sport mindedness

Wearable technologies seem to have evolved into Asia’s latest fashion accessory. New gadgets integrate with clothing and bodies to feed back data about how we eat, sleep and exhaust ourselves. There’s so many ways to parse and quantify daily life and new technology develops so fast that the launch of “Google contact lenses” can’t be too far away. Oh wait, this just in.

Product developers and brands have both caught on to the trend. Wearables from manufacturers that also sell mainstream digital devices and services have generally gained positive reception. Consumers have shown propensity to trust brand extensions such as Nike FuelBand, Apple’s yet-to-launch iWatch, Samsun'sg Galaxy Gear Smart Watch or the Sony SmartWatch. Highly visible reviews and the success of previous products give these brands the publicity they need to market wearable tech as something more than just a gimmick.

These gadgets have become part of people’s lives; simple and unobtrusive design makes them easy and fashionable for daily wear, allowing constant and discrete tracking of everyday activity. But beyond that, for example, Nike has found it can reach younger and active market groups, without old media, via its Nike+ Running sensor and Nike FuelBand.

Its activity gadgets help the athletic brand gather tremendous data about consumers (via complementary mobile applications), where it can use the data to engage with millions globally. News reports suggest that Nike has since cut its spending on TV and print by 40 per cent in three years, as the devices allow the company to engage with consumers directly.

Ben Poole, head of interaction, Asia Pacific, at MEC noted that the most obvious potential for brands to bypass traditional media to reach an engaged audience is with sport and healthcare brands.

“The investment shift from paid to owned media is happening in certain categories and certain countries, but it is yet seismic in this region,” he said. “It is hard to measure but I would say it is single percentage points.”

Nike, for example, has been linking its gadgets to its core product offering and ethos. It then amplifies the products seamlessly through communications and events, such as Run London.

While brands can make a go at doing without old media, JWT Asia Pacific’s director of digital Josie Brown warned that the use of these gadgets doesn’t replace the broader need for branding or the need to connect with consumers through a wide variety of mediums.

“Creative expressions of the Nike brand through content films, events and in-store promotion still play a crucial role for commercial growth once consumers go out to consider upgrading their sports wardrobe,” she said.

The free Nike+ Running mobile app is also open to users training without the Nike+ sensor. The company can then use that data to reach out to users through its own online shop available on its mobile app to convert plain users into buyers.

Brown said retailer and branded apps are often the easiest way to drive mobile purchases because companies can better personalise and simplify the shopping experience.

Apart from for-profit gadgets, there are also a number of free mobile applications that track exercise performance and steps taken, such as Noom Coach, Abs workout and RunKeeper. Budget users can opt for these mobile apps, which offer similar functions for amateur athletes to quantify their training and marathon running. The basics include tracking speed and calories burned.

These mobile applications also offer a platform to engage with consumers. Brand messages can accompany push notifications sent to remind or encourage users to work out. These providers could give personalised content, such as individual exercise plans, to create better user experiences. And those features also offer branding or advertising possibilities.

Poole added there would be further potential for firms to market to a sports app’s database of users but that might not be a ‘full branded’ integration as it could too adversely effect the user experience.

Brown also suggested that it is a great opportunity for brands to partner with successful apps as the daily audience engagement numbers for many have grown to rival other paid media channels. However, creative ideas remain important as they motivate people to spend time with a brand.

“The best results for brands come when ideas are brought to life in a way that effectively uses the media vehicle,” she said. “Currently, there is no standard way for creative and media agencies to collaborate with individual app makers but these new collaborations are inevitable in the same way we are seeing brands integrate within games.”

For apps with a loyal audience, such as RunKeeper, partnerships with the right brand can offer a relevant proposition to users, which can create a win–win-win scenario, she added.

So the era of wearable technology is nearing a tipping point. There is more to it than just cool gadgets for their own sake. And how companies take advantage of the trend and turn marketing potential into communication gold is still a work in progress. But expect the floodgates to open shortly. Wearable tech is in the running to be the next media channel.

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