Wearable smart technologies, constantly updated household and lifestyle data, and gadgets that help people manage their daily lives are all having a profound effect on how consumers interact not only with devices but also brands and services, according to Ingrid Froelich of SDL Content Management Technologies Division, who here takes a look at the 'Internet of Things' and how it will impact marketers the world over.
The Internet of Things (the 'IoT') is the nickname given to the idea that we can connect just about everything to the internet. New IoT 'smart' technologies include everything from Google Glass and fitness wearables to smart thermostats and pacemakers. There are even examples of smart forks (which alert you if you're eating too fast), cow insemination alerts (for farmers), and plant sensors (to prevent you from unwittingly forgetting to water the tomatoes in your greenhouse).
One area that seems to be making biggest headway at the moment is wearable tech, which includes everything from Nike's hugely successful sensors, apps and GPS watches - to Apple's much-anticipated iWatch. But IoT extends way beyond personal gadgetry, to include awareness of specific contexts - simulations powered by real-time and historic data, process optimization, resource consumption and automated environmental controls.
The value of the IoT lies in the ability of technology to generate better decisions and responses to the world as it is or as it is projected to be. Factors including crowd-funding, cheaper hardware, faster data processing and ubiquitous connectivity are rapidly transforming what was science fiction into science non-fiction. Some IoT developments will save lives, while others are merely gadgetry.
Implications for marketing
Cisco Chief Executive Officer, John Chambers, told the recent AllThingsDD11 conference that, "The Internet of Things ... will be the biggest leverage point for IT in the next 10 years - US$14 trillion in profits from that one concept alone". In fact, one of the most notable outcomes of IoT is that lots of interconnected smart technologies are gathering a tremendous amount of data.
For organisations involved in manufacturing, marketing or using IoT, the biggest challenge will be establishing what to do with all the information they can now gather. New strategies will be required to deal with data analytics. The key aim will be choosing what information to harvest and how to use it to increase operational efficiency, enhance actual product and service offerings, or improve customer targeting and experience.
Ethics and metrics?
However, there are other issues to consider, such as measurement integrity, privacy and selection of measured variables. Also, organisations will need to ensure that the data analysis actually produces valid results. The challenge for marketers is their ability to select data that actually matters and analyse this data with the accuracy and knowledge that has real predictive reliability. Unfortunately, it is well known that data is already vastly abused, and the trust placed in sometimes-dubious sources - because there are "figures" - is sometimes staggeringly misplaced.
As people depend more and more on decision-making that is based on analysis of information gathered by technology, the imperative grows for accurate data analysis as it has a direct bearing on the choices people make based on these 'facts'.
More digital channels
For marketers, the IoT also adds an ever-increasing number of channels with which to interact with customers. With this lies the challenge, as the personal nature of connectedness continues to increase, marketing will be under increasing pressure to provide relevance, that can live up to the customer experience management mandate.
Marketers will need to use customer insight to deliver contextually relevant interaction. We need to avoid creating customer self-consciousness (an "I'm being watched" response) and provide greater customer power through relevant offers and information.
Potentially, the combination of the IoT with social, web and analytics of Big Data will allow the social businesses of the future to gain greater insights into their customers. This trend may positively change the way that businesses create services and products, how they market and sell them and, ultimately, the way they interact with customers. In some respects, all of this still feels a long way off, but this may well be the new face of customer interaction sooner than you think.