Will 2015 will be the year of the wearable? If you believe the hype, it will be. Market-leading technology companies have released, or are set to release, “modern watches” that will finally push wearable tech beyond a fitness accessory and into mainstream consciousness. And while it isn’t clear yet what apps will drive consumer interest, smart marketers and brands are chattering about the potential of a new, always-on, advertising and communication channel to reach their customers.

TapSense, a leading advertising market exchange, is already touting a programmatic ad platform to take advantage of quickly evolving consumer behaviors.

Why all the excitement? A few reasons…

  1. Hyper-targeting: GPS sensors in upcoming products will allow pinpoint, location-based targeting. Additional sensors built into the next-gen wearable devices will provide access to the wearer’s environment including conditions such as temperature and proximity to other users through apps.
  2. Replacing banner ads: Given the small screen size of any wearable device, banner ads will allow new, more engaging ways to attract the attention of users. API and developer toolkits will provide advertisers and developers a new set of tools including watch faces, glances and full-screen takeovers.
  3. Out-of-the-pocket: Unlike phones, the new watches will never be hidden from the user. Many expect this to make in-store and local targeting more effective than it has historically been observed with mobile phones.
  4. Haptic technology: New devices will test the limits of tactile-based user interactions. Vibration-creating technologies will either drive users crazy or create a whole new way to get their attention. If app makers and consumers find a happy medium with this technology, it will redefine how we interact with screen-based devices.
  5. Integration: Whether it’s Microsoft*, Apple or Android (BlackBerry* is using Android to extend the reach of BlackBerry Messenger App to wearables), new devices are shaping up to extend the power and potential of users’ mobile phones and tablets. Device manufacturers are hoping integration will transform and extend under-performing apps that could benefit from the lower-barrier-to-use nature of wearables.

What’s the rub?

Many phone users already block our devices from alerting us through vibrations, and there is no reason to believe users will be happier to feel their wrists shaking than their pockets. Hyper-targeting has not been as successful as marketers hoped, and many potential ground-breaking apps like mobile-facilitated payments have failed to achieve widespread use.

The real differentiator here seems to be the out-of-the-pocket factor. Is a consumer reaching into their back pocket really that much of a barrier? Maybe. Amazon revolutionized online commerce with one-click purchasing, and it takes a lot less effort to click twice than it does to reach into a pocket, enter a four-digit passcode and pull out a phone.

If you are a brand, what should you be thinking about as you design advertising and apps to take advantage of the new watches?

  1. Be early to market: While the base of users will be small initially, so will the number of brands taking advantage of wearable platforms. Early adoption not only makes your brand look smarter and more innovative, it also lowers your learning curve for taking advantage of the platform as it grows in popularity.
  2. Keep it simple and focused: Remember, a watch screen is a small screen. Identify a small set of user requirements that are uniquely addressed by a wearable app.
  3. Remember the user: Wearables are an extension of an existing mobile operating system experience. Anything that feels like an interruption of that experience will fail. Make sure your advertising or app development is appropriately fluid, responsive and reflective of what users expect.
  4. Out-of-pocket means more casual opportunity to engage: Wearable specific apps represent a promising market for the attention deficient consumers and an opportunity to push sales triggers that drive consumer behavior and deliver brand value.
  5. Focus on Interaction: Relationship with wearable interfaces will allow brands to touch the user back and get personal via haptic features built into these devices, making the interruption a true “poke” back to grab your attention. Don’t use this feature frivolously, but make sure you take advantage of its potential. 

Wearable devices will continue to evolve – they already have since the exciting announcements of CES 2014. Watches will offer an increasing array of features, and they will become integrated with other technologies. How quickly consumers adopt the new technology is up for debate, but this will ultimately be answered by the market. Smart brands are preparing now – with early engagement, there is a tremendous advantage to being a first-mover. 

*APCO client
David Sanchez
David Sánchez

David Sánchez is an art director in APCO Worldwide's global creative practice based in Washington. Read More