How marketers need to adapt to new customer behaviours with the Apple Watch


Having been the “invisible” exhibitor at Mobile World Congress against which other manufacturers’ smartwatch announcements were judged, Apple finally spilled the beans on its own wearable, the Apple Watch, at a special event on March 9. Six months after its initial announcement, the fruity firm finally revealed important details such as when the watch will be available to buy and how much it will cost. It is fair to say that it is expected to be yet another smash hit, with analysts’ 2015 sales forecasts ranging from 8 million all the way up to more than 40 million.

Concerns have been raised that the pricing of the various Apple Watch models may be off-putting to many consumers, and that Apple has not yet presented a sufficiently strong use case to make it a compelling proposition for those who don’t already wear a watch. Yet it seems that Apple could well hold the fate of the entire smartwatch segment in its hand. Consumers attracted to smartwatches but put off by the price of Apple’s product could flock to alternatives, creating a buoyant market – but failure to capture the imagination could consign the smartwatch forever to the footnotes of mobile technology history.

What does all this mean for brands and marketers, however? Apple CEO Tim Cook stood on stage at the launch event and pronounced the Apple Watch “the most personal device we’ve ever created; it is not just with you but on you”. Cook was referring primarily to the increased demand for customisation that comes with a device that lives on the wrist rather than in a pocket – watches are, after all, more personal devices than phones, as much about fashion as function. But the idea of the personal device – of the intimacy of the smartwatch – is something that marketers, too, cannot afford to ignore.

Just as people use smartphones and tablets differently to desktops and laptops, a new set of behaviours will emerge as consumers come to terms with the new visual real estate. Brands will need to adapt their creative and communications strategies in response to the unique challenges and opportunities created by the different ways in which consumers will use and interact with this new kind of device. The smartwatch is not “just another screen”, and should not be treated as such.

First of all, this will mean reimagining content. Recycling and repurposing the same approaches and the same content that worked on the smartphone will likely prove a fool’s errand. A screen less than two inches across is just not a big enough window for content consumption or in-depth engagement with people or brands. Instead, we can expect smartwatches to emerge as primarily at-a-glance, call-to-action devices that nudge the user to another device if they need to watch, read, write, or listen to something. As well as recognising the demands of the smaller screen, marketers will need to consider how best to adapt their content to make the most of features – such as Apple’s “Force Touch” interaction – that have been introduced with the smartwatch.

A second consideration will be the frequency with which brands reach out to consumers on smartwatches. As Cook observed, watches are more personal devices than phones, users’ interactions with them made more intimate by their being fixed to their wrists. It will be tempting to tap in to the notification-led smartwatch paradigm, but brands should exercise restraint to avoid irritating customers.

One of the selling points of a smartwatch is the ability to see at a glance whether a notification needs action, speeding up the process of triaging messages by removing the need to fish a phone out of your pocket or bag. But nobody wants to be subjected to the “notification hell” of checking their wrist every couple of minutes to dismiss a promotional email. Perhaps counter-intuitively, getting this right will depend on brands fine-tuning their smartphone CRM strategies to ensure they are using the best information about customer behaviour across devices.

That is not to say that smartwatches shouldn’t be seen as a potential platform for advertising and promotions. After all, as the old adage goes, “where there are eyeballs, there will be adverts”. And there certainly will be eyeballs – people check their watches numerous times in a typical day. But each of those checks is a glance of probably less than a second – to have real impact, messages, content, adverts, and promotions will need to be timely, contextually relevant and action- or utility-focused.

That means providing information at the right time and place, and giving the user a reason to do something with that information. There are plenty of things that brands and retailers could do to achieve this. A coffee chain could, for instance, use location data and beacon technology to ping consumers with location-specific and time-sensitive offers: “Free muffin with your latte for the next hour!” Or a fashion retailer could notify a customer that items on their wish list are now reduced, or back in stock. Customers could be notified when their loyalty point balances reach a certain level, or when they have earned a particular reward.

Ultimately, 2015 is likely to be a year of experimentation, with brands and retailers testing the water with new ideas and refining their approaches as they learn more about how consumers use smartwatches. Those with the confidence and imagination to move first will be putting themselves in the best possible position to take advantage as and when checking your emails on your wrist becomes just as much second nature as checking your phone has become.


For more information on events like Mobile World Congress, visit Marketing Events.

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