Wouldn’t it be great for consumers if there was an automatic way to switch them to the best gas or electricity tariff or to monitor their own health so doctors spend less time treating them?
Brands helping people measure different aspects of their lives, such as how much they eat or what their ‘social graph’ is like on Twitter and Facebook, is a trend that has been dubbed the ‘quantified self’ and is growing in popularity, according to research seen by Marketing Week.
Future Foundation, which has surveyed 2,000 people on the subject, says around 80 per cent would be interested in a service that automatically switches their energy supplier to give them the most suitable tariff, for example.
Future Foundation editorial director James Murphy says: “The inventiveness of new products is leading consumers into different ways of behaving and different ways of buying. There is also an appetite that individuals have for data control in their own lives.
“It is going to become quite abnormal not to take steps to measure how you are living. It is going to be a form of social capital, and something that people who live well do.”
Energy smart meters are already becoming more common in homes. According to plans drawn up by the Department for Energy and Climate Change, energy suppliers will replace over 53 million gas and electricity meters in 30 million homes and businesses between 2014 and 2019.
Unlike some other lifestyle areas, most people are interested in measuring how much energy they use. This shows little variation across different age and income groups, or between the two sexes. Murphy suggests that the recession has increased consumers’ sensitivity to the price of services, accelerating this trend.
But measuring other aspects of their lives is currently of greater interest to certain groups than to others. For example, 71 per cent of 16- to 24-year-olds would like to have an app that learns what TV shows they like and automatically puts together a TV schedule. But this appeals less to older consumers.
Young people are also enthusiastic about the idea of being able to measure the impact of their presence on social media. Over half of the respondents aged 16 to 34 who use social media are interested in services that can show how many people read or share content they post online.
This technology is already available, with Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn all allowing people to see how many times others have reposted or commented on their content. Meanwhile, URL shortening services such as Bitly can also show how many times a shortened URL link has been clicked.
Interest is also far from universal in apps that can measure other kinds of consumption. For example, one-third of women would like a service that could measure how many calories they are consuming and the nutritional value of the food they eat. Men, on the other hand, are less interested in such a service, with less than a quarter expressing an interest in it.
Younger people are also more likely to be interested in this. Over 40 per cent of 16- to 34-year-olds say an automatic calorie counter would appeal to them, compared with less than 25 per cent of over-45s.
When it comes to health-related measurement apps, better educated and wealthier people are more likely to be users at present, according to the Future Foundation’s research. Murphy says this follows the more general trend of high uptake of digital technologies among those people with the greatest access to internet services.
“There is an internet sophistication effect there to some extent. There will be a greater appetite for any innovation in these fields from those groups, if you look at the take-up of apps generally. What we would say is that it is indeed interesting if there are a lot of under-24s motivated by the trend. It could contain a forecast for us about how the appetite will spread.”
The quantified self movement is, however, making progress in the areas of health and fitness. Many gym operators now use portable monitors and recording systems linked to members’ accounts to provide data on performance, such as heart rate, distances run and weights lifted.
Health insurers have also tapped into this trend, with Pru Health linking up with Virgin Active to reward policy holders for “doing healthy things”. The insurer monitors how often someone goes to the gym and the more sessions they attend the more points they earn, which can be used against the purchase of Eurostar tickets or Mark Warner holidays.
The trend for gathering data has recently branched into simpler consumer fitness applications, such as the Nike+ running app for smartphones, which records a person’s runs using the accelerometer and GPS system in the phone.
They have also extended into the fitness industry through a variety of additional sports. Swimtag, a system sold to health clubs, lets members record details of every swim using wristbands that transmit data to sensors in the pool (see The Frontline, below).
In the healthcare industry, data collected by patients themselves is now transforming the planning of health policy. Tools such as Google Health let consumers keep records that have begun to be recognised as medical documents. Indeed, Murphy believes the trend will eventually mean users take more responsibility for monitoring their own health.
“Healthcare budgets are virtually 10 per cent of gross domestic product around western Europe. Against the background of the sheer costs of taking care of people who don’t look after themselves properly, you have new systems, techniques, products and technologies that allow individuals to monitor and get intelligence about how well they are eating and the quality of the exercise they are taking.
“A highly plausible consequence of this is that governments and public authorities start to say: ‘You have all this information now – you can’t say you’re not informed.’ The responsibility for looking after yourself has to devolve to you, and less so to the state. There will be pressure from external sources for us to live that way.”
But while the growing trend of consumers being in charge of their own data will give them more autonomy and better information to make decisions about the services or products they use, it also presents an important debate about who owns the data.
Consumers increasingly want complete control over their own information, but companies providing tracking tools also know it is commercially valuable to business customers, as a way of targeting their marketing to individuals and identifying market trends.
Murphy believes that even ambiguity over data ownership won’t hold back the rapid change of consumer behaviour towards self-measurement. “It is genuinely radical, and it is a very significant and generalised lifestyle change. On the public policy level, we are going to be, frankly, obliged to take a more metricated interest in how we are living, and at the same time there is going to be a sense of accomplishment for consumers.”
We ask marketers whether our ‘trends’ research matches their experience on the ground
222 Sports (maker of Swimtag)
I find the ‘quantified self’ idea really interesting. If you know your performance in any area, you can set a marker and say to yourself that you want to save so much money on your household bills by the end of the month, or you want to improve your fitness. We can provide a method of benchmarking and setting that goal.
Over the past few years, we have seen many tools like energy meters for homes come out. People now use them and see the value in doing so.
We developed Swimtag for pool operators. The idea was that we would make a system where we could install it for an operator and they would provide it as a service for their swimmers. You wear a wristband while you are in the pool. After your swim, you hand your wristband back in, the data is downloaded, processed and put on our website so you can see all the stats from your swim – including the distance covered and how many calories you burned.
We have recreational swimmers who come in and swim 10 lengths, and use the data in the same way as more serious swimmers who will do 200 lengths. You can choose to share it on Facebook, or you can keep it to yourself and receive an email as soon as your data is ready.
We get emails from people who swim regularly at a pool that doesn’t have the funding to buy the equipment, and they ask us if they can buy Swimtag separately. At the moment they can’t, but in the near future we hope that they can.
MoodPanda (mood tracking app)
The big tracking apps are generally fitness apps. The main commercial use of the quantified self movement is in people tracking how far they are running and things like that. Mood tracking is a fairly niche market in comparison to running.
MoodPanda’s main age group is 16- to 35-year-olds. They use it to record their mood, obviously, but they also use it to record things like how many push-ups they have done for their fitness regime. The main function now is for getting help from social networks. If someone posts that their mood score is at 3 out of 10, then they will get a lot of people giving virtual hugs and commenting on how they are feeling.
We are getting more users every month, and we have about 10 other app companies and developers that are pulling out our data, creating plugins for websites or writing their own apps. Some companies are using it for internal purposes, tracking how their employees are feeling.
The users are mostly general consumers and 90 per cent are using it just to track how their day goes. But we occasionally get people using it for medical reasons, if they have been recommended to use it by a doctor because they are going through a particularly difficult time in their lives.
Doctors sometimes recommend people keep a mood diary and people then go on Google and find MoodPanda. You can print out your mood diary – it gives you a graph and shows good days and bad days, then you can take it to a doctor. We don’t pretend to be experts or give them a diagnosis, but we give them a tool for tracking.
Stylitics (online style tracker)
We started because as consumers we found ourselves saying we wanted more information around the decisions we were making, especially around clothing. I wanted to know that I have 10 shirts from Ted Baker, five shirts from Banana Republic and in what sizes.
We looked at the atmosphere of calorie counter sites, budgeting website Mint.com and other sites where consumers are now quantifying their own behaviour in data, and there is definitely a trend in that. They want more information and they want their data when they want it.
From a data and analytics standpoint, there is tonnes of data out there. In one outfit, you have hundreds of data points, whether it is very top-level – just the brand and colour – down to the size, the style, whether you bought it online or offline and various other facts about fabrics and trends. People are making style decisions like this every day, either consciously or subconsciously.
We have a lot of users internationally and from all different backgrounds and walks of life. The more active users tend to be more fashion-forward. About 75 per cent of our users are female and just under 80 per cent are between the ages of 18 and 34. What we have built to this point is definitely targeted towards special interests. We did that purposefully because we wanted to see if people do this at a very basic level.
We believe that users are entitled to their own data. If you are a consumer and want to access your data, you can use it to make better decisions and better understand your relationships with brands and various clothing outlets. We think that will also pay dividends back to the retailers and back to the brands.