Brands have long obsessed over the notion of ‘creating a moment.’ However vaguely defined the concept is, it essentially involves creating memorable events, occasions, and interactions for the customer - for simply exchanging goods or services is no longer enough in a hyper-competitive digital-first economy. User experience and customer engagement are the holy grail, and both can be achieved either in-store or digitally.
So, onto this backdrop of near-desperate corporate engagement, enter wearables. Wearables have a future in fitness, in healthcare, in sports, and in the luxury market - it’s just unclear at this point which industry will embrace the tech most effectively.
One thing is for certain, though, and it’s that major brands are beginning to find ways to incorporate wearables into their wider engagement strategies, with varying degrees of success. A warm piece by Cliff Kuang, writing in Wired, explores the quite innovative use of a connected wristband at Disney’s Disney World, Orlando. The 92-year-old company has managed to marry the impressive capabilities of wearables in a staggeringly connected resort with the sense of magic and wonder synonymous with its brand.
The aptly named MagicBand is sent to customers well in advance of their visit, and is used to access rides, order (and pay for) food, check into the hotel, access the park-bound shuttle, and quite a lot more - essentially, the band is all you need, paperwork is made redundant. Arriving in a personalized box with the enticing message: ‘I’m yours, try me on,’ the band appeals to childlike wonder, and when you enter the park, a host will know your name after it’s been sent through to their adapted smartphones, and your food will find you courtesy of a tracker. These are the ‘moments’ that brand engagement strategies strive for. In many ways, Disney World is a perfect petri dish for wearable technology; it deals in magic for the children, and the conveniences afforded by the band all serve to make the holiday that bit less stressful for the adults.
Kuang’s piece notes how quickly the bands become invisible or, rather, how quickly users will accept issues of privacy and data collection once the benefits of the technology become clear. Disney now has information on their customers to the minute, from location and ride preference to buying habits. A resounding success.
On the other end of the spectrum is McDonald’s. If Disney sells wonder, the fast food giant sells fun, most explicitly in the enduringly popular Happy Meal, a source of incredible sponsorship revenue. In the wake of damaging revelations about the nutritional content of a McDonald’s meal in the 1990s, the company has had to work tirelessly to realign its image. McDonald’s has offered more ostensibly healthy menu options, including fruit in the Happy Meal and, quite incredibly, sponsored major sporting events. It’s a realignment similar to that of Coca Cola - a clearly indulgent product
McDonald’s, like many companies, suffers from the problem of transience. Customers arrive, they leave, and, save for a full stomach, there’s very little takeaway from the whole experience. And so the ill-fated McDonald’s Step-It was born - a pedometer that looks like something from an am dram adaptation of Back to the Future 2. While encouraging children to be more active is a noble genesis, the band was withdrawn almost immediately after reports of skin irritation. The new Happy Meal toy is a cup. The wearable itself isn’t necessarily the problem, it’s the withdrawal of what was a fairly big campaign because the company was too eager to time a wearable toy with the Olympics it sponsors, which ended in a dull disaster.
Expect to see myriad corporate iteration of wearable technology in the coming years. They’ll vary in quality, from Disney’s stroke of genius to McDonald’s misjudged pedometer - the technology is, for want of a better phrase, in its infancy. The successful offerings will be as revolutionary as Disney’s, the unsuccessful as underwhelming as McDonald’s’. Brands will realize, though, that if they don’t consider a wearable as part of their strategy, they forego the opportunity to collect previously hidden data and dramatically increase customer engagement.