We met Jeanniey Mullen at the highly successful and stimulating M1 Mobile-First Summit in New York, where she was a speaker on an expert panel on Wearables and Fashion. Mullen is founder of Yellow Bean, a mobile, digital and content marketing firm. She was well-known in the digital marketing industry as the CMO of Zinio, the digital magazine platform.
Among her credentials in the wearables area is the development of Ringblingz. She and partner, product development expert Bill Phelps, accepted a grant from the R/GA Connected Devices Accelerator (a partnership of digital marketing agency R/GA and seed funding source Techstars).
Their first product, developed in 90 days and displayed in March 2014, is a smart ring, designed as a notification device to be worn by teens. The ring vibrates and displays various colors which inform the wearer of the priority of a person who is trying to contact them.
After stating that the wearables area today is “like the wild, wild west,” Mullen goes on to highlight the primary challenges facing wearables entrepreneurs. Everyone “wants to design beautiful objects but are held back by obstacles.”
Interestingly, the obstacles that Mullen focuses on are directly related to the nature of the wireless medium. They are: 1) battery life, 2) limitations of Bluetooth, and 3) needing to design for at least three primary different OSs, namely iOS, Android and Windows. Regarding OSs, she notes that, in designing Rinblingz, which is a notification device, they found that the notification sandboxes for iOS and Android were quite different from each other, while Windows did not offer a sandbox.
She estimates that 70% of wearables will run into these obstacles. She points to these types of obstacles as the likely primary reasons that Nike retreated from the FuelBand fitness product area.
For the next three years she sees a period of “constant change” in the wearables market, whether for fashion, fitness or overall health.
Mullen advocates a sort of wearables “collective,” a banding together of interested parties to address the primary impediments to product development and growth of the market.
The challenge for any wearable to gain mass adoption is how does it actually integrate into the lifestyle of individuals.
While pointing out the immediate challenges, Mullen has enormous enthusiasm for the longer term potential of wearables. She states that with wearables, “brands can interact with consumers in innumerable ways.” As one example, she mentions that Ringblingz contains a replaceable battery, which the company will replace at no charge to the user and; when it is being replaced, it opens opportunity for joint marketing with brands.
Regarding wearables and fashion, Mullen points out that it is necessary to focus on the specific audience for the product. For a fashion forward female, for example, the product must create a sense of distinctiveness. In contrast, among teens, Mullen finds that style and distinctiveness is not sought after as much as functionality of the product. Moreover, for teens, if the product involves notifications of communications within a group, filtering is critical because of the deluge of social messaging that teens typically receive. The range of wearables market segments, she states, presents issues in SKU management for marketers. These issues affect inventory and hence are margin impacting.
She also points to the power of wearables to create “life-oriented memories,” such as a wearable distributed as part of an event such as a concert, or a visit to a special place, such as a theme park. She emphasizes the power of these items as brand reminders.