Last week, Basis Science, maker of fitness tracker Basis, announced an $11.75 million round of Series B financing from investors like Intel Capital and Stanford University. The news serves as one more data point for an increasingly obvious trend: the wearable technology market is in the midst of explosive growth, predicted by some to increase tenfold in the next several years. But whether they’re backed by startups, small businesses, or major brands like Samsung, Google, or (potentially) Apple, wearables face a common challenge: They must successfully bridge the disparate worlds of cutting-edge consumer technology and mainstream fashion.
As pointed out in a recent Fast Company article, the advent of wearable computers demands that technology companies “pay as much attention to the ‘wearable’ as [they do] to the ‘computer.’” Simply offering multiple colors, inviting designers to launch events, or putting their products on models may not be enough to make these devices desirable from a fashion standpoint.
Many consumer technology companies have a history of designing stylish products, but earbuds and phones—no matter how beautiful they are—differ significantly from watches and glasses. For instance, phones spend the majority of their time in our pockets or purses, whereas watches and glasses are on display all the time. More importantly, most of us are comfortable with just one phone, while many people own several watches or pairs of glasses, whether for reasons of fashion or function (e.g., digital watches worn while exercising, reading glasses, or sunglasses).
How should brands known more for "computer" than "wearable" handle this challenge? Herein lies an opportunity for co-branding.
Google is already rumored to be working with Warby Parker to design a more fashionable version of Glass. Nike, who makes Fuelband, is already an expert in designing fashionable apparel. But for others, the secret to good looks could lie in teaming up with well-matched partners and creating “ingredients” that work modularly with multiple products.
Basis, for example, could partner with a brand like Nixon, who already makes some watches with a similar aesthetic, to produce a co-branded line of beautiful and hyper-functional watches. Or perhaps another option is Omega, already known for precision and innovative watchmaking—but also for luxury and design. Furthermore, the Basis health tracker components could detach and fit snugly into a full line of watches, similar to the Nike+ Sensor and Nike+ ready shoes (a co-branded offering from Nike and Apple).
Deciding which brand to team up with depends on a host of business and brand considerations and without a doubt, negotiating the specifics of relationships like these can be difficult. Which brand is getting more “credit” for the product? Whose name comes first? If something terrible happens to one brand, how will it impact the other?
Like any partnership, co-branding comes with risks, and can backfire because of mistrust or misaligned goals. Done right, co-branding benefits all parties involved: each brand benefits from the strengths and positive associations of the other, and consumers get a best-of-both-worlds product—in this case, a computer that is not just literally wearable, but desirably so.
Rob Meyerson is Director, Verbal Identity, for Interbrand San Francisco.