Comment: Social media and wearable tech

You are an active user of social media, but you shun wearable technology and related websites: they’re something you’re not drawn to or simply don’t buy into, at least not yet.  Yes, wearable payment devices are useful and fitness trackers keep you motivated, but some are just not aesthetically pleasing to you - and won’t they soon be passé?

Yet you then read that a former partner of a multinational investment bank is leading a multimillion dollar investment in a wearable tech company, and that a large US clothing accessories brand has just announced that it will acquire another wearable technology company for $250m. So maybe you think again and decide wearable tech is where the smart money is heading.

Cemented by their common visual and creative bonds, nowhere is there arguably greater potential for wearable tech than in the marriage between those two trillion dollar industries: social media and fashion. Never static, the twin overlords of brand and image change with the seasons and need constant updating.

Of course, big brands already use social media as a cost-effective method of targeting customers.  London Fashion Week 2015 was dominated by payment rings, camera jackets, livestreams and sunglasses that could be customised online. Linking their online products directly to the store, tweets, blogs, vlogs, apps and some of the most well-known social media platforms are being employed by big brands and canny fashionistas.

The best-known fusion of fashion and tech comes in the shape of smartwatches: the hottest wearable of 2015. By 2020, a myriad of new devices will be competing for attention. As part of this evolution, social media will evolve too, becoming even more easily and instantly accessible – and even more unavoidable.

There are of course well-voiced concerns about privacy in this very public display. In the workplace, employers face challenges when allowing staff to don their wearable tech, creating both legal obligations and practical considerations.

Meanwhile, for users, individuals, brands and brand ambassadors alike, it will become increasingly important to behave correctly, and manage their “personal brand” and “social capital”, or put simply, online reputation, appropriately.

Wearable technology is becoming a powerful platform for customer engagement and, enhanced by its data-gathering capacity, it can be a highly appealing tool for advertisers.  The use of proximity marketing by brand managers is clearly on the up: more and more we are seeing the localised, targeted distribution of advertising content associated with particular products or retailers.

As a result, brands can connect more immediately with their customers via social media: when entering a shop, they can receive a relevant promotion or advertisement directly to their watch, while those who have recently exercised might receive an ad for fitness wear or designer trainers.  

As visualisation becomes central to wearable tech’s future, social media has responded accordingly. Audio matters as well, as voice-based wearables seem set to drive social media into a more conversational path, with the right voices being chosen carefully for their added brand appeal.  

Think how much value is added to a brand by a voiceover from a well-known comedian with a distinctive voice or an appearance by a glamourous Hollywood star, while Christmas advertising has its own dynamic: the impact of popstars singing department store jingles or Christmas ads register loudly at the tills. The tone and tenor of wearable tech celebrity endorsement could be finely attuned for each product.

To remain relevant, many brands will, and have, updated their social media approach, particularly luxury brands that have, until very recently, used mostly static advertising. For many haute couture brands this represents an interesting challenge that may yet produce a suitably glamorous, upmarket response.   

For example, one particularly innovative high-fashion online retailer has recently launched an app, offering a ‘shoppable live feed’ of items trending worldwide. The app also provides image recognition: simply upload a photo of something you spot on the high street, and clever technology will try and match it to one of over 300 lines carried by the retailer.

Wearable tech is still in its infancy; as in any new area, some products have flopped. Then again, such failures are a common feature in any embryonic market.  In fashion, however, as in tech, it can be a very short road from niche to mainstream: today’s novelty can soon become tomorrow’s must-have accessory.  This includes of course giving appropriate consideration to the legal issues at stake with data protection and privacy, not to mention consumer rights, being at the forefront.

For those who question its growth potential, just remember how few people used tablets only a few years ago. Bearing this is mind, every brand manager needs to consider carefully whether it has a place in their market, how it is best developed, and exactly where and how social media may have a pivotal role.

The combination of wearable tech and social media might not suit every product, every retailer, and every brand, but if the cap fits…