Wearables market is missing the mark with aging consumers

Productivity records and activity trackers are descendants of habit trackers and to-do lists. People have long been fascinated by the most minute details of their lives and have been keeping track of what has been going on in their bodies and minds even before the advent of the Digital Age.

Most notably, Benjamin Franklin was an early self-tracker. Born into a poor family and only receiving two years of formal schooling, the key to his life’s success was his drive to constantly improve himself – which led him to become a successful printer, scientist, musician, and author. In 1726, at the early age of 20, he committed himself to become a better person in which he chose thirteen virtues he wanted to focus on and drew a chart to record his daily performance. Only back then, record-keeping was time consuming, requiring a commitment that only a very few had the patience to muster.

goal trackerToday, many consumer devices are well equipped with the latest advancements in computing and electronic technologies, sensors becoming so small they can be found the size of a human hair. As such our ‘power bricks’ are increasingly shrinking, morphing into wearable alternatives – with the likes of Apple Watch, Fitbit, Pebble, Nike FuelBand, to name a few. When combined with centuries of obsession to monitor our personal metrics, these wearable devices can now offer us the opportunity to collect detailed data like never before, to help us make better choices about our health, life and behaviour.

Without a doubt, wearables will become increasingly more omnipresent and portable with many investors and trend specialists anticipating adoption levels to skyrocket, but so far, its reception can be only described as lukewarm.

fitbit ad

Frankly, this comes as no surprise to me. I believe the current state of marketing wearable devices is flawed. It seems a standard theory to ensure for any new tech success lies with the early adopters – a small percentage of usually young people in the overall market who will buy into anything new. Many marketers want these people to be their first customers thus, wearables are often marketed as ‘cool’ products to resonate with them. So by positioning for the young, abled, chic and geek Millennial, wearables are seen as proxies for today’s success and being ‘in the know’.
Wearable gadgets

The marketing premise of any new tech product, especially when industries regard to be so disruptive and revolutionary, is to establish its USP. Yet, many marketers have aggressively focused on an aspired lifestyle of their young target consumer, instead. Many brands are increasingly more interested in helping the affluent young and tech-savvy shape their abs, run the 5K, and count crunches. Drawn by in-built mechanisms that carry elements of gamification to coax them to keep returning, designed to keep them interested and send notifications to their devices if they have ignored them for too long, these people want to project onto others a superficial image by associating themselves with a certain type of lifestyle.

So, while many marketers try to persuade us, Millennials, to wear activity trackers on our wrists, log our productivity through apps and give permission on our devices to track what we do, the rest of the population is wondering “Why would I wear a computer on my body?.”

Product Diffusion Curve
Product Diffusion Curve

Wearables have not reached mainstream and it’s all down to its product marketing: Gen-X consumers cannot see why they should own one, Baby Boomers are not considering them. When these demographic groups are combined, they make up the largest segment of the world’s population and consumer group in today’s global marketplace. If brands can figure out how to tip just 1 percent of this consumer group into buying wearables, the upside is huge. So far, even the big brands have yet to discover it.

It is a pity really because the people who would have most to gain from wearables are actually the Gen-X and Baby Boomer consumer. Yet marketers have chosen to ignore these consumers in favour for the more ‘attractive’ user profile – assuming that these ‘late majority and laggards’ are irrelevant to the early success of a high-tech invention. So, how should marketers convince these people of the value of wearables to develop this device with mass appeal? Here are my suggestions:

Long forgotten, it is time to think about the Gen-X and Baby Boomers cohort as early adopters. 

Prince Charles trying on Google Glass in Winnipeg, Canada, in May 2014. Original photo featured in The New York Times article , December 2014.
Prince Charles trying on Google Glass in Winnipeg, Canada, in May 2014. Original photo featured in The New York Times article , December 2014.

Marketers can perceive this cohort to be disengaged with technology. This common misunderstanding is often identified as a barrier to purchase. Just because this generation didn’t grow up with technology and such devices aren’t second nature to them, they won’t or can’t adapt. In reality, the opposite is true. Studies from previous successful consumer tech launches have shown that once these older consumers have adopted, they will constantly look for the latest and greatest devices and are willing to pay for them.

For wearables to hit critical mass adoption, marketers have to start admitting now that their advertisement shown is not directed to these people. The product’s current value proposition is not connecting with the Gen-X and Baby Boomers life-stage values, rather it is reinforcing the criticism of the values practiced by the younger generation.

Marketers must acknowledge this cohort as extremely important to their success and that the world of the aging has dramatically evolved – weak, helpless and dependent, they are no longer. In present day, they have greater purchasing power, are both financially and socially independent and are most willing to live as much as they can because life gets shorter every day. They take pride in being active, to be able to make their own decisions about their lives and not miss the chance to actively participate in the present. And when marketers understand, the benefits of ‘why wearables?’ will become clearer to this cohort.

Dedicate as much if not more investments and time from product promotion to educating usage.

Barclays programme offering digital knowledge, solutions, alternatives and support to help older customers get online.
Barclays Digital Eagles programme offers digital knowledge, solutions, alternatives and support to help older customers get online.

Venture firms are pouring millions if not billion of dollars into wearable technology, but not many are investing in training programmes. Wearable devices can offer a vital lifeline to Gen-X and Baby Boomers, opening up a whole new world and have the potential to play a huge part in their later lives – if only they knew how to use them. Combined with the lack of understanding and confidence of how they ‘work’, this contributes to a feeling of vulnerability and anxiety with respect to the internet.

Marketers must play a role in helping to demystify their concerns and practical help will be key to removing any barriers to usage. Awareness-raising efforts highlighting specific benefits of wearables to older people and featuring similar circumstances that are familiar to them will resonate well. Accessibility to training to learn at their own pace can also serve as an informal support network in their community to those who are disabled or housebound. Last but not least, it is extremely important for marketers to consciously think about uses and benefits that they hadn’t previously considered. By focusing on specific trigger points and circumstances – whether wearables help to remind them to take medication, monitor their sleep patterns, or anticipate changes to their health to seek treatment and prevention are some suggestions on how wearables can help us make healthier lifestyle choices – active promotion of these relevant benefits will ensure older people will be more likely to be receptive.


wearables for all ages

Wearables may be considered the most natural of technologies to thrive on the power of people, having the most intimate connections and interface most closely with a person. No other technology has as much potential to monitor our well-being, anticipate our needs and assist us in our everyday tasks, regardless of where we are or what we are doing.

Wearable technology could one day be truly life-changing but at the moment it’s languishing somewhere between function and fashion and is falling short of its potential. The day our fathers, mothers, grandparents, women, children, the vulnerable, the needy all see the functional benefits, is the day wearables become en mass.

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