The Impact of Wearables and Smart Sport Technologies on Brand Experiences

Can you imagine a world without your mobile devices? As “adults,” our use of technology differs wildly from our kids. Just watch them, look at the apps they use , the amount of time they spend on Instagram, Snapchat, ASKfm and KiK. Now, think about how mobile devices have changed your life. The amount of products disintermediated by companies that couldn’t be imagined as competitors years ago, is increasing at an exponential rate.  Examples:

  • Waze - Did Escort or Passport see this app as a threat to the radar detector market?; Did Rand McNally see it, MapQuest, Google Maps or others as a threat?; AAA – remember the “trip tick?”
  • Apple - Clearly, Kodak and Fuji didn’t understand the implications of the iPhone.
  • Facebook - Over 2B people no longer need a photo album; Do you need to make a phone call or can you just Message someone? We’ve fundamentally changed how we interact and how we keep up with generations of contacts – think about the implications for a minute.
  • Fitbit (Disclaimer: ICF Olson developed Fitbit and GoPro’s positioning and messaging for their market introductions) - Do you remember the “old fashioned” pedometers? Did Omron anticipate the shifts in the market? Let’s make this timely, has Fitbit taken Apple seriously with their Health app?

The reality is wearables and smart technologies are doing the same to the sports enthusiasts category. In part, it’s the desire to be part of a community and the competitive side of each of us that’s driving adoption. Fitbit has over 20 million users of their Feed within their app and over 25 million active users. Fitbit users have joined groups over 4.7 million times, including fitness topics:  running, strength training, swimming, etc. 1 Canalys and The Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry estimates that Apple sold 8 million Apple Watches in the 4th quarter of 2017 alone2. Nike has Nike+ NRC, NTC and SNKRS. The Strava community logged 5.2 billion miles in 20173 and Wilson has developed connected footballs and basketballs with their X technology measuring items such as velocity, arc, spin rate and whether a thrown ball was caught or dropped. Innovative products such as Strike, the first smart baseball, Zepp, the device you insert into the handle of a baseball bat that tracks swing motion, velocity, etc. and Adidas, miCoach, the soccer ball that has integrated sensors that help improve control and accuracy with speed, strike, and trajectory feedback instantaneously.

Let’s move on to fashion design and the smart technologies. Smart garments have sensors that tell you when they should turn on warmers or cooling as they sense your body temperature changing, inflate when they sense an impact and message you when they need to be repaired or replaced among their many features. Regardless of the conditions, smart technologies embedded within fabrics represent a point of inflection in expectations for apparel.

If you look at the wearables category over the next four years, IDC forecasts it will reach 222.3m units with trackers representing 39.8% of shipments in 2017. The data collected by these wearables and smart technologies provides insights that inform, entertain, engage and support improvement and outcomes. Customers look at sports brands through a lens of engagement like never before - wearables and smart sport technologies should be woven into their broader customer experience strategies recognizing:

  • Individuals desire to compete and compare, which drives engagement, just look at our culture today…
  • Outcomes impact true adoption and stickiness
  • Experience quality defines brand perception
  • Trends aren’t necessarily a brands friend – define and lead, don’t always follow
  • Solutions constantly need to be re-imagined

1. Individuals desire to compete and compare, which drives engagement

Products and services that include integration through APIs and IFTTT, provide multi-sensory experiences that transcend the basic elements of an individual product, satisfying the inherent desire to compare or compete. The running shorts and capris from Lumo that measure cadence pelvic rotation, stride length and more; the sports bra by OMSignal that records distances run, breathing rates, heart rate, etc. with connectivity to many of the popular fitness platforms including their own product; the socks by Sensoria Fitness that track run details such as style, distance, pace, etc. These represent clothing, hardware, software and mobile integration, while apps such as MapMyRun and Runtastic represent foundational apps within the category.

2. Outcomes impact true adoption and stickiness

The challenge in delivering impactful experiences is that the product, service and overarching, collective experience have to deliver valuable outcomes. By outcomes, it’s the delivery of improved awareness, thresholds and challenges based on personal data, it’s the trend line vs. where you were in the past – the motivator to remain committed and the desire to maintain your data. Starting over is painful. Losing your competitors, your benchmarks isn’t worth the change. Product such as Strava have excelled at delivering value to the consumer, while many early products have failed to meet the basic threshold of delivering compelling outcomes and as a result, they’ve failed to either gain or sustain adoption. It’s a bit like being the last one to turn off the lights at MySpace.

3. Experience quality defines brand perception

When companies develop experiences in the wearables and smart sport technologies categories, first and foremost they have to avoid the “we have X, let’s use it” mentality or the “we can build it”, despite stepping far afield from the core product offerings. A recent example includes Intel who developed Basis Peak, which was ultimately recalled, while companies that specialize in designing these types of solutions have existed for years. Yes, there’s those opportunities that exist that afford a company the opportunity to extend its offerings and capabilities, but there’s also risks that sometimes aren’t in the best interest of the consumer or the company. A bad interface, poor data integration, poor product quality, or a lack of customer support (by the way – this is among the biggest issues), can quickly become a brush fire that’s out of control. Customers’ expectations are high, so plan accordingly.

4. Trends aren’t necessarily a brands friend – define and lead, don’t always follow

When companies take the position of “pioneering,” without serious market research and insights or an understanding of what the consumer is willing to allow the brand to become within their lives – it can be a long road to career purgatory. Focus on why your products are desired, why you have a “fan base” and what your customers want, not the gadgetry. A recent example of a brand that shouldn’t have followed the trend is Levi’s with their Commuter X Jacquard designed in concert with Google. 

5. Solutions constantly need to be re-imagined.

]Once you’ve taken the leap, there’s no going back – that is unless you fail miserably, but that’s another story in itself. Experience design and consumer expectations are changing an incredible rate. Do you remember Flash®, Silverlight® and what about Flex? That seems like forever ago, but it hasn’t been that long since those were the tools that delivered the best experiences we could provide as a brand. Delivering wearable and smart sport technologies require a fundamental shift in how we think about R&D, product development and the entire supply chain, let alone the messaging and brand development requirements.

Be prepared, be data driven, listen to the insights you can gain through engagement and most of all, recognize the fact that your products can transcend the basic experience.

To learn more, feel free to contact the author - Bob Morris, Group SVP, Integration, ICF Olson, bob.morris@icfolson.com

 

Sources:

Fitbit Community Grows to More Than 25 Million Active Users in 2017 - 1.8.18 

2Watch Industry Statistics: Swiss Watch Exports

3Globally cyclists clocked up 4.5 BILLION miles and Regent's Park is the UK's most popular bike route: GPS training app reveals how much exercise the world did in 2017