Wearables May Not Be The Marketer's Next Playground

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Everyone is going to have the iWatch from Apple, right?

Well, we don’t even know if it’s going to be called an iWatch. As usual with Apple, we don’t even know if it really exists (even though news outlets are claiming that it has been delayed until 2015). Still, it’s hard to argue that wearables won’t be the next big thing in personal, mobile and connected technology. Why should we be fumbling through our pockets and purses for a smartphone, when the technology is nearly advanced enough that we can have it on our wrists, around our necks… or even something like Google Glass?

It is exciting, isn’t it?

If you played around with Samsung Gear or tinkered around with Google Glass, you quickly realize that every type of relevant engagement using wearing technology is completely app based. It’s rarely about going to a Web browser and it’s not conducive to spending time trying to discover content. It’s much more directed by utility (a topic discussed in depth in my second business book, CTRL ALT Delete). The act of flicking through your Facebook feed or clicking around on Buzzfeed are not contextually the same as how we have been behaving with the Internet (on computers and mobile devices). In fact, the wearable experience is nothing like a Web experience. Perhaps the only commonality is the fact that both a smartphone and a wearable are connected to the Internet.

The developers know this, but have brands thought about this?

Developers for wearables are doing everything in their power to take advantage of what the possibilities will be. This is beyond the simple screen and into things like sensors, motion, voice activation and more. They are pushing this technology to do some pretty incredible things, but there’s not a lot of real estate for advertising. In fact, it’s hard to imagine how even having a blip of sponsored space would make sense, and not create more interruption. So what’s a brand to do? The simple answer is that the smart brands will have to build their own apps and experiences for these devices or deal with whatever Web browser-like experience they will have (and the limitations that come with it).

The answer is clear: Build relevance now.

We have two scenarios that are about to collide:

  1. The one screen world (another concept from CTRL ALT Delete): the only screen that matters is the screen that is in front of me, in a world where screens are everywhere, connected and cheap.
  2. Many more screens and many more devices. It’s not just wearables. What’s going to make these wearables most interesting is how they interact with things like our smartphones and tablets (until the wearables wind up replacing them) and other connected devices (think about your soon-to-be connected appliances, etc…).

Brands are going to be clamoring for a whole lot more than advertising space in world where everything that plugs into a wall (or has batteries) is also connected. If you prance out into the future and just imagine how this connectivity is going to connect with content, one has to wonder how advertising supported media will work? There are professional marketers (much smarter than me) probably toying with these models right now. And – whatever they come up with – won’t have the same impression against audience model. Brands that build relevance now (on smartphones, on websites, etc…) and become part of their consumers daily, weekly and monthly desires may be the only ones who will have a fighting chance.

It’s a tall order.

Marketers (and, in particular, advertising agencies) have been quick to talk up and build out wearables and connected devices divisions to explore what the opportunity for brands will be (lots of wearables labs being talked about in the media). By my estimation, there will be plenty of big opportunities. But – also by my estimation – the opportunities are going to be new. They’re not going to look like current marketing and advertising models. And, if all goes well (meaning we don’t botch it up by trying to cram ads everywhere), what we will (hopefully) see is brands creating brand new ways to connect that are – at their core – brand new business models. So, instead of lamenting the end of ads when it comes to wearables, now might be a great time to imagine what new businesses and adventures a brand can create for a very different kind of mobile, connected technology.

Your customer of the future will thank you for it.