Wearable users are optimists: Engage them with ideas of hope and change

Wearables are in, as anyone with half an eye on trendy gadgets can attest. 39.5 million adults are now using, either fitness trackers or smartwatches.  Wearables are more than a new toy.  They represent a new way to communicate, to interact with information and a chance at improving complicated relationships with technology. The question at stake is whether or not wearables will be able to live up to their expectations and excitement?

Excitement for the possibility of a simpler life helps sell technology, and brands that connect themselves to this excitement through their marketing while delivering on the customer experience promise are successful.  This idea is, perhaps, one of the most important legacies of Apple’s marketing strategy, although Apple certainly wasn’t the first to connect their product to optimism.  New technology can make things better, safer and calmer with their sleek devices whispering, trust us. And as every politician running beneath the banner of change knows, optimism inspires action.

New modes of communication are exciting because they are a response to old failures. Consider answering machines.  Before answering machines, a successful phone call required a lot of luck. The recipient had to be both physically present and willing to answer.  Answering machines allowed users to both know who was calling and why, and then respond at their leisure. However, instead of being a solution, it became a problem in itself, users had too many voicemails, and the issue of not replying, replying too late or entirely missed calls became stressful. Answering machines became invasive, a chore rather than a convenience.  What was meant to simplify instead caused stress and anxiety.

Why do new technologies transition from exciting to stressful?  What changes? It’s hard to say exactly, although studies have been attempted.  Some attribute this anxiety is caused by change, or to a feeling of powerlessness, or to an excess of information. My opinion is that it happens when a technology switches from a potential – a symbol of hope – to a reality.  Technology can’t solve all of our problems, but with every advancement in technology we imagine  that it can.  And when it doesn’t solve these problems, or when it presents new ones and the change doesn’t come, we feel cheated.  We resolve not to be taken in again and we stop hoping.  Research firm Gartner aptly calls this cycle the Hope Cycle.

Wearables are the latest technology to start on this cycle. They promise to be simpler.  They promise to help us find a technology-life balance, one that involves not periods of digital abstinence but smoother digital integration.  We want technology to be less intrusive, we want the divide between virtual and tangible worlds to be hidden.  We want technology to keep its campaign promise of simplifying rather than complicating our lives.  It seems like a match in the making.

Imagine the typical wearable users. While there is no clear average yet, the data does show trends. A large part of the market, as expected, is young, which means they are also likely to be actively engaged on several social platforms and spending lots of time with mobile devices.  Often, they use wearable devices for health and fitness related reasons. To this end, older generations are also engaging with wearables as they become increasingly concerned with health.

Early users are excited about how wearable technology can improve their lives. How can marketers help smartwatch wearable users maintain this excitement while also using the technology to increase engagement with brands? Improper engagement or over-engagement can quickly push wearables into the negative side of the Hope Cycle, but not engaging at all means a lost opportunity.   To avoid this, remember a few key things when marketing to smartwatch users.

  • Teach them tricks. Users are learning how to use wearables so invest in onboarding communications.
  • Keep it short and simple. Wearable users want quick information. Small screens and plain text messages mean that any communication needs to be to the point.
  • Be personal. Think about the goals – especially health goals – the users have and see how your brand can help achieve them.
  • Avoid unnecessary communications. There are times for prolonged engagement with brands, but wearable users want in-the-moment utility.
  • Be polished. Brands who are inconsistent or provide negative experiences will remind users of past disillusionment with technology.
  • Share their excitement. Providing the user more reasons to be excited about their device will lead to continued engagement.

A few brands have already begun doing this right.  Luftthansa, for example, uses smartwatches to notify their customers on what matters most: essential travel updates such as boarding times and gate numbers.  Mercedes uses the app DriveStyle to cause the wearable to buzz when a driver is approaching bad traffic and Starbucks notifies customers when they wake up to stop in for a coffee  to help them out of bed.   In other words, these brands are trying to provide utility, to make the wearable user feel that their device is helping them use technology to find relevant information quickly, sometimes without knowing the information was needed.

Done well, wearables can help brands create tremendous customer experiences and improve customer relationships.