Good ol’ Aunt Belle. Everybody has one – that relative who knows everything about anything. You need to know what to do to get rid of that cold? Aunt Belle has the remedy. You’re looking for a new dishwasher? Aunt Belle will tell you which brand works best and where you can get it on sale. Planning that next vacation? You got it, Aunt Belle will tell you exactly where you should go – and the restaurants you shouldn’t miss.
The thing is, Aunt Belle knows a lot, but how much does she know about you? Traditional sources of information like family members, friends, magazines and web sites are great for general information and exploring new ideas. But many of the decisions we have to make are quite routine, and they are based upon our existing habits and behaviors. The house is too cold so you need to adjust the thermostat. You need to exercise so you decide to go walking. You run out of laundry detergent, so it’s time to put it on your shopping list and purchase some more. You don’t always need Aunt Belle… or do you?
The Inquisitive Internet of Things (IoT)
By 2020, Intel predicts that 26 smart objects per person will be installed somewhere in the world. Maybe it’s your wearable fitness tracker, or perhaps a diagnostic sensor in your washing machine. It might be a GPS beacon at a retail store or a sensor in a piece of medical equipment. The unique thing about these objects is they will be talking to each other continuously, providing real-time data and communication to do everything from saving lives to making them more convenient. Aunt Belle might be the loudest voice in the room, but there will be countless other conversations going on through these Internet-connected devices. As marketers, it’s a conversation of which you will want to be a part.
You’ve probably already seen the IoT at work when your fitness tracker sends data to a smartphone app, when you use Amazon’s Echo to play music or order goods, and when you use your phone to remotely unlock your car door. But as a marketer, the opportunities to use the Internet of Things is greatly enhanced when you think of the benefits as far greater than simply improving the customer experience. The combination of a delightful experience and the collection of data can create a strong connection between consumer behaviors and the business value chain. For example, a diagnostics sensor in a consumer appliance might allow the consumer to turn the appliance on and off, or to identify issues and automatically create a customer support ticket and schedule a service call. At the same time, the manufacturer is getting valuable data on how (and when) the product is being used as well as proactive information about the potential strengths and weaknesses in its design. Alternatively, a company selling goods might use a sensor on a manual button or within the packaging to allow one-touch or automatic reorders as the consumer’s supply diminishes.
Learning as you go
One of the benefits in taking advantage of the Internet of Things is the ability to understand individual and aggregate user behaviors on a constant basis. Carnival Cruise Lines is one example of a company doing this well. They provide each person on one of their cruise ships with a wearable medallion containing encoded information about the customer’s cruise preferences. Throughout the ship, sensors read this information and provide a personalized experience across multiple points of service. If a customer initially reported they preferred a relaxing vacation and then selected a more active schedule, the marketing experience will adapt to those actual behaviors. This is possible through a constant exchange of digital information based upon real-life decisions and experiences.
How do you implement the benefits of the Internet of Things into your product or service design? First, your planning should incorporate a fundamental question: “How can we make our product or service ‘smart’?” From environmental sensors to packaging and from loyalty rewards to integration of products with social media channels, there are many ways to form richer connections between consumers, products and your company. It’s also important to ensure that the customer experience is enhanced – and even simplified – at the same time that your company derives operational and bottom-line benefit from the data it receives. While the IoT makes listening to the product easier and cultivates new innovations and insights, listening – and responding – to customer needs is still an important priority for effective marketing programs.
Ultimately, the value of connecting to the Internet of Things is this:
The best companies will successfully bridge the gap between what people want and what people really do.
Digital marketing is evolving with tools that let you reach out to people – and leverage intelligence gathering through the product itself – to understand the market in brand new ways.
The inside track on the Internet of Things
So, let’s say you decide to placing sensors at the point of sale to promote a product and offer one-touch purchases through a smartphone. Also, consider the way the IoT will change your operational processes and business-to-business systems. Once you’ve made the customer happy through a quick, personalized experience, it’s time to turn your attention to further maximizing efficiency and profitability. For example, a seamless digital experience can tie sales data into your inventory management and sourcing systems, send metrics and relationship marketing data to marketing automation systems, and push diagnostics to customer service and engineering teams.
In a McKinsey article, this impact on the value chain is well stated: “The product is actually a first-class participant in its own value chain. It’s talking to its creators in engineering and manufacturing. It’s talking to the people who are supposed to service it. It’s talking to its operators. It’s even talking to the sales and marketing department about what the customer is thinking.” The direct flow of quality data from the point of sale or promotion into internal business systems makes today’s marketers vital players in creating value and maximizing return.
The Internet of Things just makes sense
The IoT is ultimately a huge network of sensors, smart objects and connection points that builds a better profile about people and how they behave. This idea of sensing – using data from the environment to make better decisions and judgments – has always been part of a marketer’s professional domain. Whether addressing analog or digital marketing challenges, the goal is to understand what a user wants, what they need (even if they can’t communicate that need), and how to create the most value for both the consumer and the producer. The Internet of Things is a data-rich, technology-based infrastructure to help you achieve those goals with precision, efficiency and creativity.
So, don’t stop listening to Aunt Belle. Her contributions are valuable, and she sure knows how to keep the conversation going at family gatherings. But to really gain insight, learn from the many Aunt Belle’s and Uncle Fred’s and the direct experiences they are having with the things that are meaningful to the direction and success of your company.