Tech company + consumer brand = the perfect wearable tech fit

At the time of writing there was no confirmation on the rumours that Nike is retreating from creating its FuelBand hardware as it tables a collaboration with Apple to co-create wearables. But if true, it makes perfect sense as the partnership plays to both companies’ strengths – and it will only be tie-ups like these that move the wearables sector from awkward geekery into the mass market.

Lara O'Reilly

The wearables market is still small – predicted by Juniper Research to reach 130 million shipments by 2018 (Apple sold 43.7 million iPhones in the last quarter alone) – and recent research from Endeavour Partners found that one third of US consumers who have purchased a wearable product stopped using it within six months.

The clear issue with the wearable tech sector as it currently stands is that almost all the devices available have been created solely by tech companies; a world that is so comfortable with the idea of consuming, wearing and even eating tech on a constant basis that it becomes blinkered into forgetting what consumers actually want – just look at the reports about attacks on Google Glass wearers in San Francisco.

On the other side of the spectrum, as Nike’s vice president of digital sport Steven Olander told Fast Company earlier this month, its issue with FuelBand was that it never intended to become a technology company. 

He added: “We weren’t so much excited about the thing as what the thing enabled, which is motivating people because they have a way to measure how active they are – we have a saying that you can’t improve what you can’t measure.”

Both technology companies and more general brands need to extend themselves way out of their comfort zones when they consider entering the wearable technology market. Partnership provides the perfect fit.

As Olander alluded, wearables shouldn’t be about the device. Wearables should be about empowering consumers to control their lives better.

Wearables also shouldn’t just be reduced to fitness tracking. Companies like Reckitt Benckiser should be able to benefit from not having to sell people Nurofen – by using biosensors and environmental indicators to detect when a user is about to get a migraine. Or Nespresso could tell consumers the optimum time they should drink their morning coffee based on their Google calendar and sleep patterns.

That’s not to say marketers should be rushing to make a Nurofen or a Nespresso necklace, but rather that brands should be looking to order from tech companies in an a la carte fashion with the end outcome in mind – putting their accounts out to pitch in the same way they work with an agency.

Sometimes that could result in hardware dedicated to that brand, or sometimes that brand could add to the functionality on an already-existing product. This isn’t about brands like Ray-Ban partnering with Google Glass to make devices more attractive, this is about brands using wearables to solve a consumer problem or to help enhance their customers’ lives.

Marketers understand their customers. Tech companies understand their products. Combined they can build the future for wearable tech.

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