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Marketers are pleased to meet the completely connected consumer

By Chelsea McCullough / May 2, 2014

Marketers are pleased to meet the completely connected consumer

For as long as people have been buying and selling goods, marketers have faced one central challenge: how to connect what people want with what people have. And so began the marketing age. Across these many decades of commerce, marketers have become increasingly sophisticated at understanding how to remain relevant to their audiences through modern technology. With smartphones, tablets and the recent advent of wearables, today’s tech gives marketers more items in their arsenal than ever before.

Data: a marketer’s best friend

The rapid adoption of mobile devices—especially phones—has had a substantial impact on this data-driven era. With 90% of Americans owning cell phones (almost 60% of which are smartphones), we have become a mobile society that is consuming ever-mounting quantities of bandwidth. In 2013, mobile data almost doubled globally, largely due to the fact that our devices are always with us, even when we’re just lounging around the house. More than 88% of Americans use mobile devices while watching TV and projections show that tablets will outsell desktops by 2014.

This boom in mobility and consumer information is huge for retailers and service providers alike. By implementing the right data-tracking methods, marketers will be able to pinpoint demographic trends with the accuracy and precision of a surgeon. Everyone from mega companies like Wal-Mart to mom-and-pop boutiques will benefit from this influx of insights and find new ways to reach their current and future customer base.

Mobile infotainment

Mobile marketing is about more than tiny banner ads and annoying pop-up notifications. Devices like smartphones and tablets give companies the opportunity to engage their audience with interactions not possible on a TV screen or magazine ad. For example, Target has started partnering with its vendors to create their own product-specific games that delight customers, collect data and surreptitiously sell merchandise.

Their first title, Snack Bowl, was a Super Bowl inspired smartphone game that challenged users to tosse snacks to guests at their virtual party. What did Target get in return for their entertaining and free app? 90 million media impressions. The success of Snack Bowl was enough to fuel Target’s second game, Pop it!

Pop it! is a challenging yet simplistic test of your ability to differentiate between Purina Beggin’ Party Poppers and other objects dogs like to gnaw on. The real key to this mobile strategy is the virtual couponing. As users improve their score, they receive Target-specific deals that can be used at or any of their 1,725 stores across the globe. The strategy has been so successful, Target intends to release four more titles by the end of 2014.

This tech-enabled reality allows consumers to move beyond a one-direction flow of information and towards a two-way dialogue where relevant information is anticipated and seamlessly delivered, but smartphones and tablets are just the beginning. There are a bevy of technologies that are conspiring to make personalized data collection automatic, and more importantly, expected.

Phones, tablets and beyond

Smartphones ushered in the widespread adoption of mobile devices, and now, it seems as if wearables (watches, glasses, rings, etc) will ensure everyone in the world is connected to the Web in one way or another. These devices are extensions of ourselves, capturing information on our location, likes, dislikes and even biologic patterns and functions. Not to mention, they give us the luxury of hands-free convenience. The potential opportunities are almost unlimited.

So how do traditional marketing experts learn how to effectively wield these new tools? Conferences and workshops. From May 4 – 7, The iMedia Agency Summit will pair marketing talent with techies in Austin, Texas to inspire, inform and introduce a new era of customer-centic communication. As the iMedia Agency Summit website promises, “agency elite will come together to address the new challenges related to formulating innovative campaigns with the benefit of ever-mounting insights into consumer wants, needs, and behaviors.”

The four-day conference gives attendees the opportunity to learn from experts (such as keynote speaker, Aaron Fetters, Director of the Insights & Analytics Solutions Center for the Kellogg Company) and directly interact with the latest technology in this category. To facilitate this hands-on approach, Texans for Economic Progress will present a Wearables Pavilion, showcasing emerging tech companies from around the state. The entrepreneurs will interact directly with conference participants to teach them all about wearables and how they can help shape consumer activity. Three of the companies included in the Pavillion highlight the incredible opportunity for marketers:

Sebbo, the world’s first open source programmable RGB LED wristband running on rechargeable batteries, promises to give bike riders, night runners and light painters a unique element to their evening activities. The Sebbo comes pre-programmed with various easy-to-navigate settings, allowing users to customize colors and patterns in order to make their Sebbo truly unique. Sebbo is open source, inspiring a community where owners can exchange code snippets and provide support for novice programmers looking to make their own patterns.

Everywhere Energy is one of the ambitious products currently making its way out of the University of Texas Longhorn Startup Lab. The device uses “a commercially available material” to collect kinetic energy through a shoe insert that can later be used to charge a cell phone. The company hopes to build something discreet that can be used by people wearing various footwear options, including people in third world countries where sandals are the norm. Everywhere Energy recently won the UT Longhorn pitch competition at SXSW 2014, earning them a membership to the Austin Technology Incubator.

Atlas Wearables also encourages individuals to get active with their fitness tracker that identifies a user’s exercises, keeps track of their reps and sets, calculates calories burned and evaluates their form. The on-wrist display provides live feedback on the type, speed and quality of a user’s exercises as they are working out. Although the Atlas band comes preloaded with a wide selection of popular exercises, the device is compatible with a multitude of fitness apps, allowing it to learn new workouts and store hard-earned data on the user’s phone.

Where will wearables take us

It’s clear to see that retailers, marketers and entrepreneurs are all racing to develop and integrate these new technologies into their businesses, but first, we must ensure that our broadband-based networks can support the services, devices and speeds that consumers need and want. It’s important to have modern rules in place that empower this generation of innovators, investors and entrepreneurs. To fully encourage “the next big thing,” we need to knock down barriers like outdated regulations or taxation policies that would hamstring innovation.

Wearables represent a new category that is quickly gaining steam and certainly attracting a lot of attention. As with most innovations, it’s always a good idea to keep a close eye on issues relating to data privacy and consumer protection, as well as those policy areas that have a direct impact on the proliferation of high-speed Internet.

Even though the overlap between marketing, tech, mobile and wearables is in beginning stages, the benefits of this technology when integrated with targeted apps, specific CRM systems, mobile wallets and reward platforms are seriously substantial. As intrusive as advertising can be, we’re still excited to see what this new era of the connected consumer has in store.

Chelsea McCullough serves as Executive Director of Texans for Economic Progress, a statewide coalition that advocates greater access to tech education, entrepreneurship and infrastructure.