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CVS: The business of being healthy meets the being healthy business

This week CVS Caremark, the second-largest pharmacy chain in the US, announced that it will stop selling tobacco products starting October 1st. This landmark decision makes it the first national pharmacy company to cease tobacco sales; the last major retailer to do so was Target in 1996.

In the short and medium-term this will cost them more than cigarette manufacturers, totalling some $2 billion in tobacco and related sales. In the long-term, it may decrease the number of smokers and help increase e-cigarette sales.

What was the driving force behind this? Why now? The answer to these questions lies in two key developments, one to do with regulations and consumer attitudes and the other about the future of retail space.

On the one hand, there is a growing emphasis on healthy outcomes, managing chronic diseases and controlling healthcare costs in the States. This Assault on Pleasure is strengthening at a time when over half of Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases. Overindulgence of any kind is increasingly frowned upon, with cigarette use being an exemplar. A combination of clear health concerns, social pressures and higher prices due to targeted tax hikes are all major drivers of this decision.

This answers the question of why CVS would come to such as decision, but why now? Herein lies a deeper story. Since the advent of Amazon and the like, brick-and-mortar stores have been continuously challenged to prove the need for their existence in a world demanding ever more flexibility and convenience. Amazon’s new Flow feature in its mobile app lets a consumer place an order by simply pointing your iPhone camera at a product. Meanwhile, CVS has been busy building 800 MinuteClinics within its stores. The online retail giant’s latest innovation is pushing to win the market for everyday items, while CVS is morphing to fit a new slogan: come here to be healthy, not just buy stuff.

As such, the decision to remove tobacco products is in line with consumer attitudes and CVS’s aim to be the go-to retail pharmacy for those who care about being healthy. This is a story of Retail Reloaded meets Assault on Pleasure. And heck, what better way to do so than with the endorsement of the President of the United States?

Will’s tech spot: The latest on Artificial Intelligence

Deep LearningAI

Last year I wrote a piece about Artificial Intelligence (AI). The bottom line way back in April was that it all revolves around language: if our desires for real time translation, automated customer service and a voice recognition are to be finally requited, one simple thing must happen. Machines must learn to comprehend the way we use language.

Things are moving fast

This week we learnt that Google have acquired artificial intelligence company DeepMind, a so-called “deep learning” enterprise in which Facebook were also showing interest. It’s worth noting that IBM have been investigating deep learning for a few years, with their quiz champion AI Watson; Yahoo, too, understood the importance of AI to future internet applications when they acquired photo analysis startup LookFlow.

Can you stab someone with a sponge?

I ask because this simple question is impossibly difficult for machines to answer. A search engine could certainly define a sponge very quickly; Google could even translate this question into any other language, contemporary or extinct. But only a human brain finds itself visualising a soft, slightly damp sponge collapsing against the ribcage of a baffled victim grateful to confirm firsthand the indisputable evidence that you indeed can’t stab someone with a sponge.

Deep learning provides a way for machines to really understand a sponge and so answer this question; and if successfully developed could completely revolutionise the way we access digital content. And now for a question deep learning should be able to answer soon: does information make you intelligent?

Do tomorrow’s fitness habits lie in wearable technology?

Guest blogger Jennifer Hayward of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the umbrella organisation for the governing and representative bodies of sport and recreation in the UK, takes a look at the wearable technologies on show at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and explores what they mean for the future of fitness.

Front and centre at the 2014 CES) last week was the weird, wonderful and often perplexing world of wearable technology, as everything from bionic contact lenses to sweat-monitoring underpants went on show in Las Vegas.

Wearable technology spans things you’ve probably heard of like Google Glass and smart watches, to things you likely haven’t like assistive scarves for the visually impaired. The most intriguing part of all this for those of us interested in the sport and recreation sector is wearable fitness technology – the growing market for gadgets and wearables that allow people to gather and share real-time information about their fitness and activity levels, which marks the evolution of a trend that is set to have a big impact on the way we exercise.

Smartphone apps and websites like Strava which allow us to track runs or bike rides and share the results with friends are already common on social networks.  Whether it’s getting motivation from knowing you ran a kilometre further this week than last, or the impulse to prove to your friends how much better you’re doing with your marathon training than they are – personal performance monitoring is no longer purely the domain of the elite athlete. But the fitness tech industry is going much further than simple mobile apps or GPS watches – some examples:

  • Nike’s FuelBand measures whole-body movement to track how much activity you undertake each day
  • Jawbone’s UP wristband and iOS app system records data about how you sleep, move and eat, sets you goals and sends you interactive celebrations when you achieve them
  • Run-n-Read from Weartrons clips on to your headband or collar and monitors your head movements. It then sends this information to your e-reader, mobile or tablet and syncs the text with your movements to help you read more easily while running on a treadmill
  • Babolat Play is the world’s first tennis racquet that has sensors on the handle to measure a player’s power, technique, swing and ball impact. It comes with an app that allows users to track and adjust their game

In a recent study, the Consumer Electronics Association found that lots of people are interested in using wearable fitness devices for motivation, to monitor their physical activity levels/intensity and to track how they progress towards their fitness goals.

Future Foundation’s Nick Chiarelli, who has been working with the Sport & Recreation Alliance, explains that over coming years, we are likely to see  the evolution of services that use that information to make proactive recommendations to consumers about lifestyle change.

We also expect Big Data to impact the wearable technology world. At the moment, data collected by monitoring devices tends to remain in its own closed information environment. But, imagine the power, when our fitness information is fully linked up with other lifestyle-related data such as our supermarket purchasing habits, commuting patterns, mobile phone usage and so on. When that happens data consultants and corporations will be able to fully understand how fitness fits into the rest of our lives, and incentivise good practice, give nutritional advice, and much, much more.

Adapted from a blog post by the Sport & Recreation Alliance.  For more information, visit http://www.sportandrecreation.org.uk/

The future of emotion?

This month’s guest blogger is Gawain Morrison, co-founder of Sensum, exploring the complex world of emotional analytics, biometrics – and what brands need to know as we enter a new world of engagement at a psychological level.

Sensum is an emotional analytics platform. It helps visualise what is happening at a physiological level when emotions are triggered by watching an ad or a film, listening to music, interacting with a user interface or game, or going on a user journey.

Why is that important?  At a brand level, understanding this allows you to get a greater return on your ad investment, offering the ability to be more creative, more efficient, and more focused with your decision making.

As humans, we’re emotional beings and those emotions make you the person you are. Emotions drive the decisions you make, and the people, brands, and experiences that are dear to you.  Emotions are the glue that wrap your memories up for callback into a very old age.  And understanding these emotions better is key for developing greater relationships with people.

And as we move into the age of wearable tech, smart devices, the internet of things and the Quantified Self  – all terms that basically mean we will seamlessly interact with the world and the devices around us – we had better get that language correct because how our machines read us, and how we interact with them at a physiological and emotional level will determine the future of our society – from business to education, from entertainment to health.

All aspects of how we experience the world will be measured via our bodies [heart rate, sweat response, facial movements, pupil dilation, gesture, voice], and data fed back to you to hyper-personalise your life.

Brands, content creators, interface designers, product designers, creative, planners, distributors, retailers and consumers will all want access to this data.  It might just be for curiosity, or it might be to emotionally understand and engage, but it is unlikely that any area of our lives will not operate in this way.

The brands that succeed now and in the future will be those who embrace this fast-approaching brave new emotional world.

For more information on Sensum and ideas on how it can work for your brand, check out http://www.sensum.co/



New Year’s Resolutions – harder to break in the world of Big Data?

At the beginning of 2014, apps and devices belonging to the broad Quantified Self category are in plentiful supply. Countless services are on hand (and on wrist) to monitor the full spectrum of human experience – from the quality of our sleep and posture to the amount of time our kids spend online.

Whilst the global QS population remains small – in the US and Western Europe, only 10% of nVision Research 2013 respondents claimed to use apps that track health metrics – 2014 may prove something of a watershed year. Not only are mainstream tech brands bringing new and revised monitoring tools to market  (CES 2014 saw Sony, LG and Intel unveil new designs) but latent demand is also proving to be high: a third of young adults in the UK claim they would like to wear web-connected devices in 2014.

QS form factors are also evolving. Wristbands, apps, plug-ins and skin-sensors could soon be joined by headsets in 2014 – with Google Glass offering the prospect of a hands-free device that can display real-time feedback on activity in the user’s field of vision. Meanwhile, services such as Tictrac (following collaborations with Red Bull and Puma in 2013) will teach more and more of us to sync our various data streams to generate big picture insights about our lives – in the words of Tictrac, to “discover what makes you tick”.

As QS activity grows, how might we expect it to impact the future of one of life’s annual traditions, the New Year’s resolution? What future hope can it give to those of us already nursing broken resolutions to go to the gym twice a week, to eat more balanced meals, to stop using the iPad in bed…?

In the future world of ubiquitous-QS, with personalized services daily incentivising us to shed bad habits in favour of leading healthier, more efficient lives, the failed resolution could become symbolic of a bygone, analogue era – a time in which millions lived in the dark, lacking the fun, supportive tools required for successful and sustainable habit-breaking/forming.

To err is human. True enough of the 20th Century. But of the 21st?

For more on the future impact of mass data collection – by companies and consumers alike -  on key consumer trends and marketing, contact us for Big Data : an nVision Special Report.

Image : Strava GPS fitness app for Glass will allow users to visualise progress and challenge friends “all while keeping your hands on the handlebars”

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