How should marketers address wearable concerns?

Wearables are creating new opportunities for marketers, and a number of compelling use cases mean that wearables could be the most disruptive technology developments since the smartphone.

But serious concerns have already emerged.

The Washington Post’s Ariana Eunjung Cha addressed a number of them in a detailed piece published this past weekend. Many of the concerns revolve around privacy. For instance, an issue that affected Fitbit users in 2011 involved sexual activity detected by the fitness tracker being shared publicly by default. There are also cases of data from wearable devices being used in lawsuits.

Other substantial concerns revolve around how the data obtained through wearable devices is used, and how it could impact individuals. Cha points to Des Spence, a medical doctor who believes “unnecessary monitoring is creating in­cred­ible anxiety among today’s ‘unhealthily health-obsessed’ trackers.”

Needless to say, society will need to figure out its complicated relationship with wearables, but how should marketers be responding to concerns at this early juncture?

Already, major brands ranging from Under Armour to American Express are investing in the nascent wearables space, so the stakes are real. Wearables have the potential to help companies create powerful new customer experiences, gather data that can be used to improve products and services, and align their brands with increasingly health-conscious consumers.

But realizing this potential will require much broader adoption of wearable technologies and one of the biggest risks for marketers is that the concerns over privacy and how data is used will impede this adoption. Case in point: a study conducted by mobile app developer Apadmi found that nearly half of those surveyed expressed concerns over wearable privacy, raising the possibility that wearables could hit a roadblock in the near future.

To keep this from happening, marketers shouldn’t bury their heads in the sand. Many have done that with online ads and it isn’t working.

Instead, marketers should consider taking the following steps as they develop wearable initiatives:

  • Create clear privacy policies. Avoid the fine print. Make it clear to consumers what data is being collected and how it’s being used.
  • Don’t mess up, and don’t violate trust. Mistakes will happen, but too many will become problematic because of the sensitivity of the data collectd. And marketers that intentionally violate the trust of consumers can expect to pay a hefty price.
  • Focus on value. Data is great, but data alone is often of limited value. If consumers are to allow marketers into their lives through wearables, marketers are realistically going to have to prove that they’re providing ample value in return.

Obviously, marketers will have to adapt as the wearables market develops and the consumer relationship with wearable devices comes into better focus. This will be challenging for marketers who want to adopt fast and avoid missing out, but given the intimate nature of the relationship between individuals and wearable devices, marketers can’t treat these devices as just another platform or channel.

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