A body of Information: Wearable Technology

Last week we introduced our “connected data” series by talking about Chris Dancy, the self-proclaimed most connected human on Earth . Chris utilizes up to 700 sensors, devices, applications, and services to track, analyse, and optimize as many areas of his life as he can. This level of quantification has enabled him to see the connections of otherwise invisible data, resulting in dramatic upgrades to his health, productivity, and quality of life. Chris’s story lead us to ask if we can start to revaluate the way we collect data through research and in doing so gain new insight and understanding of consumers. This week I want to continue that discussion by focusing on wearable technology and the role it plays in our “connected data” series.

But first, what are wearables?

“Wearables are small electronic devices, often consisting of one or more sensors having computational capability…that are embedded into items that attach to the body (Hadi Salah, 2004).” With the rise in popularity of fitness bands, such the Fit Bit; wearables have become synonymous with watches or health tracking more generally, however they can resemble eyeglasses, clothing, contact lenses, shoes or even jewellery. I want to take a look at a few examples of these wearable technologies before focusing on how we as researchers need to look at ways to incorporate these technologies and their associated data to leverage greater insights to our clients and brands.

Wearables Skin

A new wearable skin patch from L’Oreal which monitors how much UV you’re getting. “My UV Patch”, unveiled at CES earlier this year, is being marketed as the first-ever stretchable skin sensor designed to monitor UV exposure.

Wearable Clothing

Companies like AiQ Clothing, Hexoskin and OMsignal are already paving the way with biometric garments that measure body vitals. Not to be out done, some of the world’s largest brands are developing wearable clothing products to compete. Samsung’s latest foray into connected devices has seen them develop “the Welt”. A healthcare gadget disguised as a leather belt, one that tracks a person’s waist size and eating habits. It also detects how many steps people take each day and how long they spend sitting down.

Wearable Jewellery

Finally, one of the growing trends in wearable technology is jewellery. We’re increasingly starting to see wearable jewellery such rings, bracelets and necklaces with the ability to monitor your body temperature, sleep, menstrual cycle or even notify friends in the case of an emergency. “Wearables” has been a buzz word for a number of years now; however we’re starting to see companies cut through the hyperbole around the technology and deliver wearables in different shapes and sizes, across the body.  Wearables and the customer experience gained by using them are bringing brands closer to their customers. Using L’Oreal and their “UV Patch” as an example; this wearable technology provides consumers with vital health data related to their exposure to UV rays, but at the same time engages that consumer with the L’Oreal brand, creating a more holistic, 360 degree customer experience.

But, why is this important to us as researchers?

Sir Martin Sorrell (CEO, WPP) recently wrote that “the researchers’ toolkit has expanded beyond the survey” and that market research or customer insight should now be described as “data investment management” (Digital, Data and Globalisation, Sir Martin Sorrell)

Now, I know a lot of people in research and I can’t imagine they’d all be pleased by the idea of now being described as data investment managers. But, the truth is that as researchers we deal in data (be it qualitative feedback or actual quantitative data). Data is our product and the quality of that data is our reputation. This hasn’t changed and isn’t changing anytime soon. However, the means in which we can now collect, gather and interpret data is dramatically changing. Smart technology and the adoption of “digital” channels into industry operating models means that as researchers we have a potential wealth of “real-time”, “in-the-moment” data at our fingertips. Wearables are part of that change and we need to look at ways to incorporate them into both our research design but also our relationship with our clients. To paraphrase Sir Martin Sorrell, we need to add wearable technology to the researchers’ toolkit.

As a researcher myself, I see this as an exciting opportunity. Potential partnership opportunities with data owners, aggregators, software suppliers and wearable technology developers are starting to present themselves and with it access to “big data” sources and a deeper understanding of brand consumers. As we add these possibilities to our toolkit, we need to become curators of a wider source of data sets to be able to answer the greater questions. As an industry, researchers have forever pushed the values of mixed methodology approaches; crudely speaking combining the “why” learnt in qualitative research with the “what” from quantitative research. I’d argue that “connected data” is taking the paradigm one step further and allowing us to connect both the implicit and explicit responses of respondents, giving us a greater understanding of their attitudes, beliefs and responses.

However, for wearables to succeed as a tool for research, “they don’t just need to deliver the right information—they need to deliver the right insight, and help transform that insight into action” (The Wearable Future, Customer Intelligence Series, PWC). As with all new technologies, developments and approaches across any industry we need to learn how to incorporate them into what we do. I recently attended the IIEX conference (Insight Innovation Exchange Europe) where the opening speech was delivered by Vijay Raj from Unilever on the topic of “Technology in Insight”. He mentioned the Unilever “Shark Tank” programme which engaged with over 600 research start-ups in 2015, piloting with 150 of them. One line from his speech in particular stood out for me, which was that “pilots are like oxygen to ideas”.  Over the coming months, Decision Architects will look at opportunities to pilot the use of wearable technology into our research approaches. Through trials we hope to breathe life into the idea that wearables are now part of the researchers’ toolkit and are able to deliver the right insight and help transform insights into action.

Our “connected data” series will continue in the coming weeks, as we discuss some of the biggest learning’s from this year’s IIEX conference.