Can an Apple watch read your mind?

Story highlights

  • Efforts to achieve marketing growth are fueled by the science of consumer behavior and behavioral economics
  • Wearables allow consumers to learn about themselves through the data and identify pathways to self-improvement
  • Concerns about privacy were matched by positive responses to personalized offers

Chris Brauer is Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London. He writes for CNN's Thinking Business on a research collaboration with Mindshare. The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)If you buy this generation of Apple watch, you are making a statement about your willingness to shape the future. You might not be convinced of the functionality or the capabilities which the watch offers -- yet you understand that the future is about wearables.

The shift is both a technological trajectory from desktops to laptops to mobile/tablets to wearables and a shift from connected devices to a connected world driven by the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technologies. These shifts have profound impacts on consumer behavior and behavioral economics.
Consumer decisions in these models are deemed irrational, driven by emotion, and easily influenced. Tactics formed from social psychology like priming activate subconscious emotional associations consumers have with products. Olfactory marketing (using appealing scents to create a positive branding) rapidly targets our primitive brain centers of emotion and memory to shorten the time you think you are waiting in line or to encourage buying behaviors.

Facereading decisions

Neuromarketing accesses our psychophysiological emotional indicators like biometrics or facereading seeking our implicit associations. Any or all of these techniques, when well executed, can have a significant impact on the growth and reach of brands. All are impacted by the emergence of wearable technologies augmenting human experience and decision-making.
Our research at the Institute of Management Studies (IMS) at Goldsmiths, University of London with global media agency Mindshare: SHIFT 2015 looked at consumer engagement with wearables and defining what 'need states' wearables technology can fulfill.

Why consumers make certain choices

Need states are context-dependent triggers that lead to the choice of a particular brand. Crucially need states are not interested in 'why' a consumer makes a particular choice but instead questions like 'when', 'where', or 'how' that relate to behavior, context, and emotion instead of attitude or rational choice.
To identify these need states we worked intensely with 14 UK consumers experimenting with and simulating the potential future intersections of wearable technologies and brands ranging from smart watches, fashion, fitness and lifestyle bands, wearable cameras, and mood tracking. We interviewed technical subject-matter-experts in data, privacy, advertising, and futurism. And we conducted a quantitative survey of UK consumers. The findings illustrate six key need states fulfilled by wearables -- flow, reflection, affinity, performance, value exchange, and self-expression.

Opportunities for consumers to learn through data

There is tremendous fatigue with the frictions introduced into social life by the current generation of mobile technologies. Technologies and brands that enhance flow will succeed.
Reflection draws upon the heritage of wearables in the quantified self movement and identifies opportunities for consumers to learn about themselves through the data and identify pathways to self-improvement. This is not always desirable.
There is nothing more important to people than their self-image and we will turn off anything that damages our self-esteem. It is crucial that these reflections run in the background, not holding up a cracked mirror for reflection but instead nudging us by for example suggesting feel-good films when we get home from work correlated to our anxious mood tracking on a wearable. Affinity can be either very intimate like sending a hug through a hug shirt or squeezing a partner's wrist virtually when you get notice that they are having a tough day from their wearable emotional index. Or distant but connected experiences like all the shirts in the stadium glowing red in collective euphoria as the ball hits the back of the net. These little or grand gestures can help people keep their mind open and to resist what Freud called the "narcissism of small differences". Performance opens up opportunities for banks to 'coach' consumers in the financial management of cashless payments or building retailers supporting DIY tasks through a heads-up display. Branded utility like this puts content instead of advertising at the heart of marketing and consumer engagement.

What's the value of the data

The need state of Value Exchange perhaps most compellingly frames the complexity of the issues of human psychology linked with wearable sensors. Consider the question -- would you share your sleep data with a retailer? In our experiments participants continually questioned and negotiated the value of their data. Concerns about privacy were matched by positive responses to personalized offers. One example is offering sleep patterns to a beauty products vendor so they can map your sleep to the perfect skin moisturizer for your patterns. Self Expression need state is about understanding the paradox of the means. Sometimes the means are a means to an end and sometimes the means is the end. Which explains why people are buying this generation of Apple Watch and not waiting for the next generation of watch, like I am.
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