No doubt the Internet of Things has created a lot of buzz. Anytime a field of innovation gets its own quirky-looking acronym (IoT), you know it’s something people are paying attention to.
But so far, most of the talk has been about devices smart enough to keep our homes at the right temperature depending on our whereabouts or activities, or systems that will let us know when we are out of milk, or athletic socks that double as a running coach.
The potential, though, for networked objects goes well beyond home comfort and convenience. The conversation about what the IoT means for marketing is quietly building momentum. Among its 2015 predictions for the marketing field, eMarketer offered No. 4 as, “The Internet of Things Will Become a Thing.”
The possibilities for people who sell products and services are staggering. Sure, as eMarketer points out, there will be a market for all the devices and the gadgets that make the devices work. But the real gold mine will be in the data, the information about consumers’ behavior and desires that connected the devices will gather.
“The opportunity is not about new screens,” the eMarketer prediction says. “It’s about the massive insights to be gleaned. The challenge, as with omnichannel marketing, will be to link the data effectively.”
And, as a matter of fact, coming up with systems to help enterprises link that data is a vast opportunity in itself.
Bill Bain and Dave Brinker, of ScaleOut Software, have been thinking about the marketing potential behind the Internet of Things for some time. Their Bellevue, Wash.-based company helps enterprises manage, store and analyze data. They see the Internet of Things leading to innovations that will make today’s in-store beacon systems look primitive.
Once products are connected, the in-store shopping experience will be able to deliver the sort of personalization that advanced e-tailers are now providing on the Web.
“It’s the ability to give the shopper a much more personalized experience,” says Bain, the company’s CEO, “and to do so when they’re shopping — the ability to to give people an experience that is as close as possible to to having a sales associate shepherding them through the sales process by making relevant suggestions in the moment.”
Sales associates, Bain says, will know your size and preferences. They’ll know what you take into the fitting room, so they can suggest additional items you might want to buy with those items, he says. They’ll know what items you leave in the fitting room and thereby know what you are not interested in.
“When you first think of these things that we’re talking about,” Brinker says, “there can be an immediate creepy reaction. ‘Do I really want a system of some type to understand who I am and what my preferences are?’ When you think about it, you really do what that. That’s exactly what I want.”
And of course, smart retailers understand that their systems must be designed to assuage any fear consumers might have. They know they need to be intentional, not creepy.
Not everyone is quite so sanguine when it comes to the Internet of Things and its potential to upend marketing.
Jeff Dachis, a founder of Razorfish and the Dachis group, says the potential for new models of marketing certainly exist with the evolving Internet of Things, though he is not sure most marketers are ready to take advantage of them.
The key potential is the ability for enterprises to change the way they think about and relate to customers. The current model, says Dachis, now chief evangelist at Sprinklr, is to constantly interrupt potential customers in hopes of attracting their attention and planting the idea of a particular company or product in consumers’ minds.
“They buy media,” he says, “and they try to interrupt us with their message. They try to get as creative as they can with that message, so that when they do interrupt us, we remember the message as a function of pre-purchase information.”
The Internet of Things provides the potential to carry on something more of a conversation with consumers. Think of a world where products themselves are networked. That Coke can you pick up at the store? Coca-Cola, or even some other company, can send you a message that is relevant to you at that moment. A bargain shopper buying for a family, for instance, might see a message that cases of Coke are on sale and that buying in bulk would mean a substantial savings over the single can price.
Advertising Age recently wrote about a time in the future when marketers take full advantage of a more sophisticated Internet of Things. The story said:
“At the crux of IoT discussions for digital media is a rather simple, yet entirely disruptive concept — that individual physical products can become their own media platform for brands. In other words, a connectable product (anything from a bicycle to a soda can that consumers can engage with via their smartphones) can act as its own media channel — operating alongside TV, mobile, magazines and other media channels — and tapping into consumer behavior to create an entirely new form of CRM through physical objects. This concept — products as interactive media — has vast implications for the media landscape.”
That world allows advertisers to move away from pushing information at consumers (Dachis’ constant interruption model) to “a more intelligent pull model,” Advertising Age says.
The idea, Dachis say, is for brands and consumers to become lifelong acquaintances.
“I talk to you every day, or all year long, or all the times you’re going to need me,” he says. “Therefore, I don’t need to interrupt you, ever.”
It’s a wonderful vision, but eMarketer’s report provides reason to believe that it could be a while before it comes to fruition. It cites a May 2014 survey by Edelman Berland for GE in which 44 percent of executives surveyed worldwide said they had never heard of the Internet of Things.
And, as odd as it sounds, Dachis is skeptical as to whether putting customers at the center of their businesses is something most big brands really want to do. He says many large corporations have spent years trying to lower the costs associated with serving customers.
“If you’re Chase Manhattan bank and you’ve been outsourcing your customer service to India for 30 years, you don’t even have a relationship with your customer anymore,” he says. “The idea of the customer as valuable is out the window.”
Instead, he expects the Internet of Things will lead to the “Uberfication” of some services by companies who appreciate that more and more devices and products will have sensors embedded in them.
“The companies that are able to tap into the data and understand how people live their lives and meet them where they live, those are the companies that are going to extract value from the Internet of Things.”
Mike Cassidy is BloomReach’s storyteller. Contact him at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter at @mikecassidy