Wearables, Marketing & the Customer Experience


Wearables, Marketing & the Customer Experience

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  December 11, 2014

Despite the emergence of popular brands into the wearable tech market – Fitbit, Apple Watch, Google (News - Alert) Glass, and others – I suspect when most average people hear the term, their minds inherently conjure images of blinking t-shirts. You have to admit, you thought they were cool when you first saw the colorful graphic equalizers dancing to music on the front of a Fruit of the Loom top.

But that was about the extent of it; they provided a few moments of entertainment, until they were behind me. But, several times upon seeing such attire, I wondered how long it would take for someone to create something more useful – or personalizable – that would not only appeal to a greater audience, but could also penetrate the business market as well. After all, they are merely mobile forms of digital signage.

Canadian firm MeU has something in the works, a wearable, programmable LED display that comprises 256 LEDs, a microcontroller, and a BLE radio. A smartphone app allows users to choose from existing display content or create their own.

Initially, the MeU team is focusing on biking, urban informatics (using data to create more efficiently functioning cities), marketing, and fashion – the latter two are certainly the most obvious and broadest use cases. But, conceptually, such a connected display could be used in countless vertical markets. In fact, CEO and founder Robert Tu intimates as much, noting that the open source technology on which MeU is built will allow developers to create any applications they can imagine.

Currently, the display units are one centimeter thick at its thickest point, but as technology advances – especially battery technology – that dimension will decrease and the displays will be able to be sewn into fabric without any impact on wearability or design.

It creates an interesting marketing and advertising dynamic for the sports and entertainment world, for instance, where sponsorships already are a factor. Eventually, apparel real estate can be segmented by duration or time of day. Could it eventually reach the point of freelance marketing, where consumers are paid to promote products on their shirts – as opposed to paying for a logo shirt or hat?

Or, leveraging voice recognition, imagine ordering a beverage from a poolside waitress while on vacation, this interface woven into the shirt not only places the order at the bar, but calculates the cost, displays it on the shirt, and allows you to wave your wristband to charge the beverage to your room. And, if you need a signature, we are right back to the voice recognition.

We’re a long way from that – it’s not even waterproof yet (though HzO might be able to help with that), but MeU is headed in the right direction.

As Paula Bernier (News - Alert), CUSTOMER magazine’s executive editor, reported in the November issue, the digital signage market is worth between $4 billion and $5 billion globally, and $1.6 billion and $1.8 billion in the U.S. And analysts expect the digital signage space in North America and Western Europe – which currently ship in the low tens of millions of units per year – to double annually in each of the next three years.

In addition to sports, digital signage can play an important role in visual ID and conversion in such environments as banks and retail stores, as just two examples. In a banking environment, digital signage can be used to deliver customized messages to visitors nearby, triggered by the bank app on those users’ mobile phones, she noted, explaining that this can enable a bank to drive a research point, such as how to enable bank customers to enhance their credit scores, and then offer the option to download a video that those individuals can view right then or on the bus ride home.

Bernier also reported last month that Samsung (News - Alert) is among the companies that sees CRM and smartwatches intersecting to allow people like financial advisors and people in the medical profession to receive stock market alerts or patient updates, for example, so they can stay informed of situations in real time and thus be more available and responsive to their clients. These are the kind of things you could use a smartphone for, Samsung noted, but for which response time is critical, so leveraging smartwatches makes perfect sense.

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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