Pharma Hotlist: Wearables

In an ongoing series, Q&A sessions with experts from CMI/Compas explore what pharma needs to know about the latest trends in engagement. 

Wearable technology encompasses everything from smart watches and Google Glasses, to activity and fitness trackers, even to things like insoles in your shoes that vibrate to help a visually impaired person know when to change direction.  All wearable devices transmit and track data that is collected and transformed into aggregate data. The consumer can then utilize that data to help make smarter decisions and healthier lifestyle choices. Theresa Heintz, Sr. Associate, Strategic Marketing & Corporate Communications, CMI/Compas, sat down with colleagues Nikki Faretra, Senior Media Planner, Communications Media, Inc., Brett Marvel, Associate Director, Media, Communications Media, Inc., and Alya Sherman, SVP, Alliance Management, Compas Inc., to discuss wearables and learn what the pharma industry should know about this space.

TH: Are there any immediate opportunities for pharma to use wearable devices?

BM: Pharma companies will start to tap into or possibly even purchase the aggregated data coming out of these devices so they can see trends over time. I also think wearables have huge paid ad space potential.  Although I haven’t seen any specific advertising opportunities yet, I think pharma will start looking at this avenue as a way to penetrate the market.

TH: How will pharma companies use this aggregated wearable device data in the present, near, and far future?

BM: As wearable technology drives us closer to a “quantified self” (self-knowledge through numbers), the opportunity to leverage that seamless data to create healthier lifestyles and products will inevitably follow. The wearable tech category will empower patients to become more responsible. And whether we’re managing that data, it’s being interpreted by doctors to provide better care, or being purchased by big pharma to provide better therapies, wearable tech will eventually drive better decision making in healthcare. Why aren’t people sleeping at certain times when they should be? What’s happening to consumers after going for 10-mile runs? I can see pharma using this big data to eventually create partnerships and advertising campaigns based on specific times of the year related to lifestyle choices such as when people are more likely to gain weight, lose sleep, or do more exercise.

TH: In the near future, do you see pharma and tech companies partnering to create a wearable device?

AS: Absolutely! But, at what I call, a pharma-pace.  It will take one mover to dip their toe into the wearable space and then others will follow slowly.  In my opinion, the reason that pharma will jump into wearables centers on the patient.  They will be patient-focused to address the adherence and compliance challenges our industry faces.

TH: What is your favorite wearable device for the opportunity it can bring to our clients?

NF: I think a great example for pharma is any device that is worn in the eye, like a contact lens, that helps monitor glaucoma and is then monitored by a smartphone.  This device collects data from the optic nerve and can help prevent someone from going blind.  With this data, a patient would know when to go see their doctor, and even know exactly what conversation to have based on the information gathered on this wearable.  Doctors and pharma companies can then use this information to ensure these patients are receiving the treatment that they need before their condition becomes untreatable.

TH:  From a consumer perspective, what trends do you see in wearable devices?

BM: I think over the next few years, as this category takes form, we’re going to see more consumers adapting to the technologies when devices come out. There are a lot of players in wearable technology currently. I think you’ll also see a lot of consolidation over the next few years, with bigger companies merging with smaller companies. This would provide consumers with more advanced options for wearable tech that best fits their lifestyle.

TH: How are companies trying to bridge the geeky-tech and fashion-forward gap to get more consumers interested in wearing wearable devices?

AS: There are a lot of collaborations happening between tech companies and fashion houses. Fitbit is collaborating with Tory Burch and they created a line of accessories that are very cool. Google is collaborating with Luxottica who works with the likes of Ray-Ban and Oakley. For a while, everything designed was targeted towards males, but now we are seeing the trend move more towards the aesthetic design for a female making it more of a jewelry specific accessory. For example, the MICA smart bracelet by Intel and Opening Ceremony. The question is ‘would you still wear the device if the battery died?’ If you can say yes, then it’s obviously something within your lifestyle or work flow.  Last year Credit Suisse issued a report that estimated the wearable industry could become a $30 billion to $50 billion industry over the next three to five years.  But yet another report, by Beecham Research, warned that in order for wearable tech to become sought-after by consumers, tech firms need to figure out the fashion side of the equation. Even The New York Times speaks about the latest wearables and how fashion and tech collaboration will move this industry into the future.

TH: What’s the competition like in the wearable space?

AS: A lot of startups are entering the wearable space and doing it right because they’re looking to what the likes of Google and Apple are doing. Wearable device companies are utilizing Kickstarter to broaden their awareness and reach. Kickstarter allows real people to vote on what’s cool and what’s not so that when it actually launches into the space it’s what the consumer wants. I also think the techier startup companies are looking outside of technology to see what is going to be wearable and what appeals to women.

TH: Who’s doing wearables right?

AS: Google. Google’s looking to expand and broaden their reach. The collaboration with Luxottica is great because now Google Glass can appeal to a broader, more mass audience. Fitbit is also doing it right considering there’s such a high penetration. Everybody’s familiar with the name and the collaboration with Tory Burch has really exploded the brand.

TH: What is it like wearing Google Glass?

AS: They feel a little unnatural compared to how I’m used to wearing glasses because you’re constantly focused on this little screen. [Referring to the screen in the corner of Google Glass.] There’s definitely a cool factor, a techy-geek factor that’s enjoyable.

TH: What is your favorite personal wearable device?

NF: My favorite wearable is my Garmin Forerunner. It’s awesome because I love to run, and this wearable device helped me keep on top of my training.  When I was training for the Philadelphia marathon, my Garmin Forerunner kept track of my GPS location, pace, distance, speed, splits, and acceleration.  It’s a runner’s dream.  I tracked all that data during my training runs so that I could realize “OK, when I do this, I have a better run” and be better prepared on race day.  I’m able to use that data to help me in my own personal training and have fun.