The trend for wearable health tech is on the rise and for good reason: consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their lifestyle choices and companies are catering to that.

Gone are the days of having to measure your heartbeat manually — you can just slip on a fitness wearable and have the information relayed and logged seamlessly onto your mobile devices. Many fitness trackers tout even more functions, such as sleep quality tracking, step tracking, estimated caloric output and more.

Understandably, the wearable health tech scene is ripe for the picking and a viable choice for startups.

However, how will you ensure that your product doesn’t just end up becoming a fad? How will you capture the minds of your customers and not have half your products end up in the bin?

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A smart insulin patch. Photo: Zhen Gu via News&Observer

Other than a move into the medical industry, where there is a growing plethora of smart wearables, including smart contact lenses that measure glucose levels from tears and insulin patches that constantly assess and automatically administer insulin for diabetic patients, the other option is to understand what motivates an individual to continue doing something.

Good Intentions, Not-So-Good Outcomes

Nations are usually concerned with the health of its citizens, not least because it ensures better productivity but also because it reduces the strain on the healthcare system.

What’s convenient and motivates a person to exercise? Perhaps a fitness wearable that counts your steps, urging you to hit the required number every morning you roll out of bed. How about we throw it in for free? Why not throw in some vouchers every time you hit a certain number of steps?

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Image: Health Promotion Board

That’s precisely what Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has been doing. Extrinsic motivation. But research shows that it may actually be more deleterious (not to mention money-wasting) to the promotion of health and fitness than not.

Certainly, extrinsic rewards help to keep a person coming back but what happens when the low-hanging fruit dries up? When the distance between milestones get longer and vouchers become increasingly difficult to acquire?

Similarly, a startup that is trying to penetrate the fitness wearable market could easily set up incentive programs with external organisations to offer their users rewards and draw them in.

But this isn’t a long-term solution because your company’s coffers probably aren’t as deep as that of a first world country’s. And even if you had all the investors in the world, you’d still lose a good portion of your customers eventually when they feel the cost isn’t worth the extrinsic benefits.

So what then?

The most ideal method would be to instil, in your customers, the intrinsic motivation to exercise. This is, however, extremely daunting. After all, how would you get someone to genuinely experience exercise as a pleasurable activity?

Self-determination Theory

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The Self-Determination Continuum. Image: Positive Psychology Program

Motivation, as derived by the self-determination theory, is a confluence of the satisfaction of three basic psychological needs: our needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness.

I. Need for autonomy

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Photo: Tyler Nix via Unsplash

People have the need to feel in control of their own behaviour.

This could mean developing a product that allows the user to select and track multiple modes of exercise, as opposed to a generic pedometer disguised as a fancy fitness wearable. Or it could mean a simple change in the way the product prompts the user to exercise – instead of setting the goal for the user, it could request the user to set his own goal. Apps like Endomondo allow their users to create their own challenges, empowering them with choice.

II. Need for competence

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Photo: Victor Freitas via Unsplash

Individuals desire a development or mastery of tasks that they feel are important to them.

10,000 steps a day is okay. But what happens when you realise how easy it is to hit 10,000 steps per day and it’s no longer a challenge? Then 10,000 steps become a banal chore to get over with.

Enhancing this could be as simple as integrating the fitness wearable with an app that provides periodised programs that adjust the goals based on users’ current displayed proficiency (for example, if you did 100 push-ups the previous day, the wearable might prompt you to do 110 the next) and display a weekly progress report to let users know they are improving in whatever goal they had previously set for themselves.

So think smart wearables, rather than simply devices that work in lieu of counting in your head.

III. Need for relatedness

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Photo: Luis Quintero via Unsplash

Individuals have the need to feel a sense of belonging and connectedness with others.

Apps like the Nike+ Run Club, for instance, have tapped into the power of social media to inspire its users to stick to their fitness goals by deriving their motivation from a community of like-minded runners. Tech entrepreneurs thinking of creating a fitness wearable directed at general public consumption might want to consider this, as public pledges are known to increase behavioural consistency.

The Wearable That Brings You Joy

Keeping you on track, celebrating your achievements, keeping you socially engaged, and all without you thinking about it — wearables were created with the idea of being seamlessly integrated into a person’s life and to enhance it. If that’s not happening, don’t be surprised if it ends up collecting dust in the drawer.


Featured Image: Luke Chesser via Unsplash