News & Views

How genomics could revolutionise the quantified self

by Contagious Contributor
Nico Abbruzzese, global director of creative technology company, Maxus, asks as our ability to access and understand the information locked in our DNA improves, what are the implications from both the consumer and marketing perspectives?

We’re now at a pivotal moment that promises (or threatens, depending on your viewpoint) to radically evolve the healthcare paradigm. Driven by the growth of an increasingly self quantified consumer (the boom in wearable health trackers is an important indicator) and a more engaged public, a grassroots movement of “DIY” consumers is powering a much-needed reinvention of the healthcare system. 

So, rather than passively waiting for things to improve, the global maker community is re-wiring the way we look at nutrition, health and what we put in our shopping trolleys. An ever increasing army of everyday product ‘hackers’ is set to threaten the power traditionally wielded by the establishment of health and nutrition giants, paving the way for a better informed and choice-enabled consumer. Several successful products have already resulted from the so-called ‘maker revolution’, including open-source meal replenishment Soylent, Wello – a mobile cover that doubles as a health tracking device, Scanadu and Dario

All of these products and ideas are putting the power and simplicity of health data insights in the hands of general consumers rather than physicians and institutions. 

The arrival in the consumer health space of usable genetic data emerging from the genomics studies conducted by among others is creating a new “information frontier”. Unlocking the meaning of our own DNA creates a data point that can inform our health habits and move our knowledge of ourselves to a whole new level. It also means that nutrition and health brands can learn to talk to your biological requirement set rather than just your ego.

The debate around genetics testing is moving controversially towards a radical change to healthcare that knowledge of genetic material could precipitate – from curative to preventative. But as our ability to access and understand the information locked in genomes improves, what are the implications from the consumer and marketing perspectives? 

Tapping into the quantifiable self trend

We’re seeing wearable technology becoming increasingly accessible, and in societal terms, we’re growing accustomed to having a data-driven perspective on our lives. The next major shift will occur when the data that all these devices generate will impact the daily choices we make. 

The next iteration of wearable technology has the potential to make genomic data fully tangible and interactive by applying it to people’s lifestyles. Imagine a supermarket or restaurant experience where you are guided to the ideal meal (or ingredients) for your biological needs based on your personal calorie consumption for that very day, factoring in the amount of stress, sleep and fatigue you’ve experienced. 

All of a sudden, you become empowered to make decisions that relate to your own specific health needs, shifting your actions from passive to active and informed. Consumers already expect far more from brand messaging than being told what they should buy. As genomics progresses, it will inform far more personalised, targeted and relevant conversations. At Metalworks by Maxus we’re already exploring how the future store could communicate with the consumer knowledgeable of this new data set and we recently presented a future store concept installation at the WPP Retail conference.

Tell a real-time, interactive story

Brands that can figure out how to leverage this shift will succeed by creating content and experiences that speak to people’s real time needs, according to not only their biology, but also to their lifestyle. While the wearables space is currently dominated by fitness devices, the savviest brands will entrench technology like Apple’s iBeacons to deliver real-time, interactive messaging where it has the most impact - right at point of purchase. 

As an example of how effective point-of-sale engagement can be, our BoostBot campaign for Berocca used in-store sampling machines to dispense the Berocca Boost health drink, and encourage people to share their experience on social media. Inviting consumers to engage with a brand at point of purchase was powerful, and resulted in sales of Berocca Boost increasing by 50% at BoostBot locations. Taking that into account, imagine the potential engagement where interacting with consumers in-store can be tailored with precision to their individual needs, in real time, to affect lifestyle decisions.

With genomics now telling us more about ourselves than traditional medicine can do, I’m positive that as a global community we’re already growing more health conscious.

But while having biometric data at our fingertips is both alluring and empowering, we must ask ourselves to what extent we are willing to be responsible for our own health management, however reliable the data on offer is. This will determine the pace and direction of shifts in the healthcare paradigm. And where brands are getting involved with this most intimate of personal data, they will have to tread carefully to navigate important privacy and bioengineering debates. Ultimately, this promises to be the most significant value exchange in marketing to date. 

With knowledge comes great responsibility, and I believe that if we as marketers play our cards right, there’s a better future for the interplay between brands and people’s needs, rather than advertising as we know it.

Image credit: Glyn Nelson