Google Aims For More Eyeballs With VSP Deal

Google, the online search superpower, has for years sought to maximize "eyeballs" -- in search marketing, a colloquial term for ad impressions viewed online.

Lately, though, Google's been going after a new kind of eyeballs. The literal kind.

Hot off of its announcement of a future product roadmap for smart contact lenses, Google today announced a partnership with VSP -- the largest optical health insurance provider in the United States -- for Google Glass. The New York Times quoted me saying, "the key business model of the year for wearables is becoming embedded into the health care system." By injecting wearables into health care:

  • The addressable market expands. VSP serves 59 million members with vision care insurance. 
  • Costs go down. VSP will offer subsidized frames and prescription lenses tailored to Google Glass. Some VSP members save additional money on purchases with pre-tax payroll deductions for the money they spend on optical care.
  • Credibility goes up. By coordinating with opticians and opthamologists, Google Glass can be recognized as consistent with healthy optical practices.
  • Channel expands considerably. By offering VSP coverage, Google increases chances that opticians' offices and optical shops across the country will carry Google Glass compatible eyewear -- and perhaps Glass itself. 

All in all, the announcement represents a smart strategic move by Google. Yet let's remember that Google already has a lot of baggage to overcome -- even before Google Glass has been formally released as a product. Social stigma and privacy concerns (for both bystanders and for wearers) bedevil Glass at every turn, creating a suboptimal cultural environment for launch. Google still has a lot of work to do in terms of fashion (which they are working on already), privacy, and social customs to make Glass viable as a consumer product. (Forrester still believes Glass has a huge opportunity as an enterprise device).

For Infrastructure & Operations professionals, our advice is this: Get a seat at the table on all Glass-related issues at your company. If your company offers employees VSP, work with the HR Benefits coordinator to talk about what Google Glass is and how employees might use it. Please check out my two reports -- one on wearables in health and fitness, the other on the overall wearables journey -- for deeper advice on these issues.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.

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