Caring, Sharing and Wearing: Embracing the iHug Phenomenon

by Jessica Ramesh Tangent Snowball

Pete Miller, Creative Director at Tangent Snowball, chronicles the iHug phenomenon – tech designed to care – and explains what marketers can learn from some recent examples

It’s just two years since the launch of the Nike+ FuelBand bracelet but in that time there’s been a stream of devices designed to help users manage their daily lives. Pete Miller, Creative Director at Tangent Snowball, spoke to delegates at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference earlier this year about the opportunities and implications presented by this new, personalised, utility-focused technology. Who are the major players, and where are the wins to be found?

Sen.se Mother

This award-winning bit of kit from France offers an intimate approach to the internet of things by providing a domestic monitoring hub.

“Mother aggregates all the information in a household and serves it back you in a user-friendly way,” says Miller. “It comes with motion cookies that can be stuck to any surface in your house, from your fridge door to your toothbrush. It monitors motion, temperature and location.”

Downloadable apps enable Mother to interpret the data and present it back to users, who can act on it accordingly: who’s taking their medication? Who’s getting enough exercise? Who’s raiding the fridge?

“What Mother does really well is present that information in a human, personal way,” says Miller. “On an iPad this looks more like a magazine than a typical data dashboard.”

‘Mother knows everything’ is the tagline here and early success suggests users are ready for a new, intimate relationship with their technology.

BleepBleeps

Kickstarter-funded start-up BleepBleeps launched late last year with the aim of making parenting easier. The first product, Sammy Screamer, is a motion-sensitive device that can be attached to anything – from a baby’s buggy to a door, bag or bike. If Sammy moves, a notification is sent to your smartphone. Users can then instruct Sammy to start ‘screaming’ – the device emits a volume-controlled alarm – in a bid to stop whatever’s happening from happening.

Cute and very neatly designed, there’s clearly a market for these products, notes Miller. The project reached more than four times its funding target and BleepBleeps’ have picked up a raft of media coverage this year.

“What’s interesting about BleepBleeps is that they want to own the whole parenting journey,” says Miller. The full range includes Ultra Stan (an ultrasound pregnancy scanner), David Camera (a baby monitor) and the boldly named Master Bates – a male fertility tester.

Vessyl

Beverages are the number one source of calories. “Vessyl”, says Miller, “is a beautiful product packed full of sensors that can identify any liquid poured into it, track your consumption and then feed that information through to your smartphone. An app then helps you set goals and monitor your progress against them, whether you want to lose weight, stay hydrated, regulate caffeine or sleep better. This has an almost Apple-like refinement to it. There’s real attention to detail. The technology is sensitive enough to measure the water that’s added to a drink as ice cubes melt, or to tell different brands of coffee apart.”

T. Jacket

This app-controlled jacket by T.Ware is designed to help children and adults with sensory processing difficulties such as autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s or post-traumatic stress disorder. At moments of high anxiety or stress, those conditions can be exacerbated. The T. Jacket uses a sensor to monitor anxiety levels. When they reach a certain a level, a message is sent to a user’s smartphone and, using air compression, the jacket tightens to ‘hug’ the wearer.

We all have a basic, instinctual response to pressure on the body. The idea, explains Miller, is not to eliminate human contact but to recreate the emotional effect of a hug. The result is a novel and touching – in the most literal sense – integration of the technological, the physical and the emotional. Could it be in fields like this that wearable technology’s real utility lies?

Lessons for marketers

There are, of course, thousands of innovative new products and projects like these landing every month. The lesson for businesses, brands and marketers, says Miller, is twofold.

First, as more devices come online, so more data becomes available – some of it highly personal. The great hope among marketers is that they should be able to analyse that information and act on it. But data needs to be approached responsibly and with respect. Understanding privacy and ownership issues will be paramount as the technology evolves.

Secondly, says Miller, marketers need to be ready for ‘user-generated innovation’ (UGI). “The crowd-funding revolution makes it easier for anyone with a good idea to be able to enter a market,” he says. “Just as we’ve learned to use social media and UGC, so we must be ready to look at UGI. There’s a reason the recent groundswell has been driven primarily by the start-up and crowd-funded community. These organisations are lightweight and agile. For brands to compete, they need to keep pushing to ensure technology is a function that extends beyond the marketing department – looking at how it can improve every interaction with the brand, from the product to customer experience to employees and suppliers. Specifically for product innovation they need to find new ways of working that emulate the start-up culture – small, agile cross-discipline teams with high autonomy.”

So, as technology plays an ever greater role in our daily lives, there’s an opportunity for brands and marketers to provide users with devices that play a clear, utilitarian role and provide both parties with highly personalised services and data. The key will be walking the line between intimacy and intrusion, providing users with services that capture their imagination and which slot into their lives as seamlessly as the first smartphones did.

This article appeared in Figaro Digital issue 22: October 2014

Article by Jon Fortgang