Wearable, shareable and seamless technology

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Mark Bard
Mark Bard

Attending pharmaceutical industry conferences and events is a great way to see what is happening on the front lines of pharma marketing today. However, to see what is happening in the “real world” today and in the near future, visiting technology events outside of the industry is often a must.

After all, the vast majority of digital and technology trends specific to marketing are the result of overall consumer market trends, which are tweaked, modified and customized for the health and pharma market. The perfect example is the smartphone—created by the growing need for access to the Internet, robust e-mail, real-time location-based searches, and of course a detailed map while on the move—all at the touch of a finger.

In a quest to see more of the real-world trends and understand where the consumer market is headed, I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2014 in Las Vegas. While it's very easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of the event (150,000+ attendees), it's also a great way to take in a lot of information in a limited amount of time.

Although it's impossible to cover all the trends discussed at the event, I've tried to show some of the themes that will have an outsized impact on the future of health and pharmaceutical marketing.

Of note, although the event covers all industries, approximately 300 exhibitors showcased products and applications for fitness, wellness and medical treatment—a 30% increase over last year. Digital health is quickly finding a home and relevance, and is no longer an obscure market.

One of the key overall themes of CES was “The Internet of Things”—and the concept we'll be tracking, sharing and analyzing a lot more data in the years ahead. The larger “things” trend is largely being fueled by cheaper memory, cheaper sensors, and the continued innovation specific to the form factors. We'll cover those trends below.

Wearables—OK, it can be argued that “wearables” has quickly become one of the buzzwords we all love to hate because it can mean different things. That said, we will see a rapid proliferation in the range of devices with data capture capabilities as well as internet connectivity in a standalone device or as a paired device.

While the largest number of wearables falls into the categories of watches or bands, the technology easily lends itself to anything you can clip, attach or affix to your body or clothes. Yes, that includes glasses. The impact to health and pharma is that the rapid proliferation of wearables will facilitate seamless data capture in ways that we never imagined.

Embedded Sensors—Not so much a trend as a market reality. The smartphone revolution has fueled innovation on all fronts related to embedded sensors. Third-party devices now have the ability to purchase and integrate low-cost microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), including accelerometers, gyroscopes, and magnetometers. In addition to fueling the market of wearables, the value of cheaper embedded sensors (including breathing, temperature, heart rate, motion) will fuel the fitness tracker segment.

Fitness Trackers—This is a category where intelligent people often disagree. On one hand, there has been an explosion in the number of devices to help you track how much you move (or don't move). On the other hand, the vast majority of these devices have little to no differentiation—most are tracking the same three data points.

While Nike has been successful in building a “walled garden” with their fitness data, the vast majority of fitness trackers will most likely need to participate in open-data sharing to help consumers use and share the data across different platforms. The impact of fitness trackers for pharma is that while these devices may start out with a focus on health and fitness (movement), the underlying implications are significant over time.

Once the pricing of the sensors drops, the market for low-cost (or free) tracking becomes a market reality. Another valid question: what share of doctors will be willing to actually look at the data streams being generated by these trackers? And will they be paid, or will it simply be part of the medical record?

“Mind the Gap”—Similar to the gap that was blown wide open with the first iPhone, the introduction of slightly larger form factors (5- and 6-inch screens) is creating significant opportunities for these devices to move further down the continuum from content consumption to content creation.

Although most hybrid tablet devices simply slap on a keyboard option to an existing tablet (often much lighter than the previous model), the introduction of 11- and 12-inch screens is opening up a new market and the impact in healthcare will be significant in the years to come.

Also, the (re)introduction of Windows platforms as well as robust tools for next-gen iOS and Android applications will have us all rethinking what we can do on a tablet…or whatever we call the new segment of devices.

Given the challenges and limitations of pharmaceutical marketing, it is very easy to focus on what technology is present today and then plan your strategy based on those current market trends. However, as we all know, if you are planning for 2015 based on mainstream 2014, you will always lag the market.

Stepping back to better understand what is happening at the overall industry level and then debating how (or if) the technology will impact the health industry is a vital part of the strategic and brand planning process. No, the vast majority of consumers will not be uploading vital health stats to their doctors in 2015.

That said, an emerging market of consumers will be increasingly familiar with connected devices throughout the day, increasingly comfortable with embedded sensors tracking their location (and health data points), and will increasingly be using different (and more) devices than today.

Are you ready for the coming age of connected consumers, the Internet of Things, phablets, tablet hybrids, and low cost activity and health trackers? Consumers are.

Mark Bard is co-founder of Digital Insights Group.

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