Wearables: New Mobile Marketing Research Device?

Wearable devices are the latest technology craze. Perhaps AppleWatch is the most popular example, but wearable devices usually have a smart sensor and connect to the internet. Under this definition, wearables come in many flavors. Your GoPro video recorder is a wearable. So is your FitBit fitness tracker, and your Google Glass “smart glasses.” They are even being worn by “normal people” in greater and greater numbers: the global market for wearable devices is expected to jump from an estimate of 325 million in 2016 to over 830 million in 2020. That could mean a market size of $34 billion by 2020. (Yes, that’s billion with a “B.”)

Could wearables be part of the Mobile First research environment of the future? I know what you are thinking: It is hard enough to do surveys on my phone, don’t ask me to take them on my watch! And you are correct. While the screen on a wearable might not be appropriate for surveys, the smart sensor could let us tie biometric data to our survey data.

Consider this: During the January 14, 2018, playoff game between the Vikings and the Saints, the heart-pounding finish was so exhilarating that fans’ AppleWatches were detecting a spike in their heart rates and sent them a heart attack warning! Now, what if you could take biometric measurements from respondents while they were using a new product, watching new advertising, watching a movie, or engaging with new internet content. And what if you could tie that to quantitative data collected in a survey?

While that may sound farfetched, it is not that far off. According to Mark Michelson of the Mobile Marketing Research Association: “MIT Media Lab spinoff company mPath has developed a wristwatch-like wearable that measures changes in skin conductance tied to stress, frustration, disinterest, or boredom. Combined with other data, the device is meant to help companies with “emotyping,” the process of “understand(ing) customers’ emotional needs or wants” during market research and product development,” according to CEO Elliot Hedman. This process combines the stress sensors with eye-tracking glasses or GoPro cameras, to identify where a person looked at the exact moment of an emotional spike or dip. Personal interviews are also conducted with all participants, who are shown the data and asked what they think they felt. This entire process creates a more in-depth, precise emotional profile of consumers than traditional market research, which primarily involves interviews and occasionally video analysis, according to Hedman. “All these things combined together in emotyping tell us a deep story about the participant,” he says.”

Consider some of the potential research applications:

  • Employees biometrics could be tracked as part of productivity enhancement programs and tied to engagement survey results.
  • Populations who struggle to articulate emotions (e.g., children) could be measured biometrically with more accuracy than is possible with question and answer formats.
  • We could evaluate the biometrics of consumers in sensitive situations, which might not be possible using traditional methods due to privacy concerns.

Sound a little too Big Brother for you? Well, it looks like you will not have to worry that much. Wearables have not achieved the forecasted goals for the category. In fact, TechCrunch reports: “The firm [eMarketer] estimates that 39.5 million U.S. adults will use a wearable device with internet connectivity at least once per month. However, this is much less than the 63.7 million eMarketer predicted back in October 2015. Use of wearable devices will only reach 15.8 percent of the population, and is only expected to grow to 21.1 percent by 2020.” Moreover, of course, those early adopters skew much younger and more male than the general population.

So, it may not be in the next few years, but wearable technology does present some interesting new possibilities for marketing research. It is up to us to figure out how – and when – to tap into the advantages.