What’s wearable technology got to do with publishing?

As the public increasingly consumes publisher content on devices such as mobiles, tablets and laptops, publishers are working hard to develop and optimise their digital strategies. However, many are ignoring wearable technology as a.) the take up is still low and b.) the screens are so small they have little space for content and so are not instantly appealing.

Indeed it’s true that the penetration of wearable devices is still quite small at 7.9% of the UK population but, according to CCS Insight, the number of wearable devices is set to more than triple in the next three years to over 33m. While that will include people owning multiple devices, this demonstrates a fast growth in the scale of the opportunity that wearables will offer. Add to that the fact that the people buying wearables are typically young and wealthy with a high disposable income – a much sought after but hard to reach audience – and suddenly this kind of technology becomes more attractive to publishers.

And on the point about the size of screen, it’s not so much about how big it is – but how and where you use it! Wearable technology is unlikely to be used much for the consumption of long form communications. However, used well, there is a role that wearable technology can play for forward-looking publishers wanting to deepen relationships and engagement with consumers as long as supply the right content in the right context – in a welcome and non-intrusive, manner.

It’s like joining the dots as it’s a way to connect with people when they’re not on their phone, at work or at home – potentially when they are in-between locations. With most wearable devices working in tandem with smartphones, they should form part of a multiplatform strategy to create a seamless and more meaningful relationship. As publishers increasingly understand the importance of making themselves indispensable to their readers/subscribers, the ubiquity that wearables provides becomes more essential.

The first thing publishers need to do is build a picture of how early adopters are using their wearable devices for different elements of their life. Drilling into this insight is key to then thinking creatively about where devices fit into the content and marketing mix and will inform their wearable strategy. Below are the main uses which consumers have for wearable technology, and some of the ways in which publishers can leverage these to enhance customer experience:

Notifications/communications – as well as the obvious (checking the time and making calls!), they are used for many direct notifications including emails, texts and calendar reminders. For publishers, this element of wearable usage lends itself particularly to serving up breaking news in bite-sized pieces. The FT is amongst the first to invest in launching a wearables app, fastFT, which is a 24-hour news service delivered by the Samsung Gear S device.

This kind of application is a great way to keep readers up to date with the news that’s important to them – enabling them to be the ‘first to know’ about the big stories of the day. The experience could also be enhanced by linking into some of the personal monitoring activity that wearables excel at. So for instance, you could recognise when someone wakes up and serve them an alert about the news that happened while they were asleep.

While this is relevant for any publisher covering news, it is particularly pertinent for financial and sports publishers where timely alerts around market changes, match or race reports will provide significant added value.

Personal activity – fitness and personal activity tracking are one of the biggest areas of use, from running and cycling apps to tracking sleep patterns and step counting. Publishers can tap into the realtime insight this provides around what a consumer is doing and respond appropriately. For instance, after someone has finished a workout they can be served an appropriate meal plan or suggestions for stretching exercises. These could either be straightforward content from the publisher or could be sponsored content from health and fitness related advertisers which would sell at a premium as a result of the high level of targeting this would provide.

However, the other important element of personal tracking that publishers should pick up on is what NOT to do. For instance, if someone is out running or driving their car, don’t send them news alerts or irrelevant ads that will simply distract or annoy.

Advice – Giving advice is an area where publishers already excel. Indeed, apart from news, that’s potentially the single biggest reason why subscribers turn to the magazines and newspapers they enjoy. Wearables can be an extension to this for publishers as, rather than existing in isolation; they work with smart phones that in turn hook them up to cloud services. For example, fitness trackers link to apps which link to other apps for suggestions on exercise routines, which link to apps that track diet etc. As these apps are often created around communities receptive to information and advice on their chosen passions, they can create opportunities for publishers – either to share content via app partners, or to develop apps themselves.

In addition, as the likes of Siri, Amazon and Google’s AI assistants have widened the circle of use of voice interaction, consumers’ attitudes to engaging with devices and services in this way have become much more positive. And as these AI assistants have evolved, they are also
allowing developers to start producing a wide range of services for, or integrated with, smart devices.

There is now potential for innovative publishers to create their own AI assistants to provide specialist advice to their audiences at the very moment they need it in alternative formats while they’re on the move.

Geolocation – we are increasingly dependent on GPS to get around. Wearable devices enable us to plot our location and use this to find something specific such as the nearest petrol station or the quickest way home. This element of wearable technology is perhaps one of the most interesting and provides a number of exciting options by combining their whereabouts with data known about the wearer.

For example, if someone is a regular 10k runner and a running publication recognises that they are abroad they can select and serve them suggested running routes in that location from their archives. Clearly there are also great opportunities for any publisher providing travel guides to be majorly helpful to their readers by providing links to the most recent advice or top tips such as the 10 best things to visit in the area. This can also be done in conjunction with brands to add more commercial value. For instance, the Guardian could work with a gin brand like Gordon’s to create city break bar guides. In conjunction, as someone walks past a bar that is known to serve Gordon’s they can be sent a Gordon’s voucher redeemable at that bar.

Geolocation can also link publications to retail opportunities, such as serving links to recipes or product reviews when people are shopping, to help solidify customer buying decisions. At a time when advertisers are finding it harder to make traditional advertising work, partnering together with this kind of activity is a powerful way for publishers to boost ROI.

Control – in its simplest form, this means the ability to turn up the volume on your iphone from your Apple Watch, but increasingly to connect with the Internet of Things, such as managing home energy consumption by turning home heating on/off. This is probably the least developed area for publishers and media companies. The question is, do they have content, data, assets that could potentially be used, maybe in partnerships or licensing? Plus do they have it organised so this can be done efficiently?

The thread that runs through all of these opportunities is the same – Data. Wearables provide publishers with the means to collect invaluable data to provide an enhanced view of their readers – what people do, where they do it, how often they do it – and how they interact with other devices (e.g. using their Apple Watch while in front of the TV). Not only that but, by offering value added services, they can ask consumers for other personal data as a value exchange for tailored offers, information and interactions.

It’s clever and acceptable use of this data that will be key to the success of implementing a wearable technology strategy. Given the ‘intimate’ nature of wearable devices, the more personalised and tailored the content that is served, the more welcome it will be, the greater the perceived value for the consumer and ultimately, the more likely it is to build longer, deeper and richer engagement with publishers of their choice.

By Russell Pierpoint, Managing Director of multi-channel publishing specialist Evolved Media Solutions