What Marketers Need to Know About the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is undeniably a big business. In 2016, the global spending in IoT hit $737 billion, and the number of connected devices is set to rise from 15.4 billion in 2015 to as many as 200 billion by 2020 (VisionCritical).

The technology is being applied across a wide range of industries, from internet-connected cars and personal fitness devices like Fitbit and Apple Watch to IoT devices in hospitals (IoT is set for a $410 billion investment from healthcare by 2022). Some of the cheaper devices can now be rolled out in poorer countries, as shown by the MySignals device for tackling infant mortality from pneumonia. What we see today is just a start.

Internet of Things

image source: investing.com

Data, data, data

One of the huge benefits of the Internet of Things is that it helps to collect data. One of the often cited examples of its future is the connected fridge, which will know when you’re running out of your favourite foods and automatically order them back in for you. Imagine if companies could access this data to see exactly how people are using their products.

Better still, imagine if marketers could run campaigns that tap into this data. For example, imagine a company sending you targeted recipes based on what you have in your fridge. Such recipes would suggest how a company’s products could be best used in a meal and even allow you to order it with same-day delivery from Amazon or other partner retailer.

Storytelling with the Internet of Things

Content marketing is all about telling stories, and the Internet ofThings effectively gives us a new platform with which to do that. The real challenge is identifying how exactly this storytelling will look like, but at its most basic level, we can already start to speculate. For example, imagine if AMC partnered with Apple to create a Walking Dead app that would encourage people to go running while delivering a story line and promoting the upcoming season of the show.

Storytelling doesn’t have to be this literal, though. Sometimes data itself is enough to tell a story. At other times, IoT data can be routed through research and development departments to create new products and services, or to alter the fundamental way that a business works. Sometimes marketing is as simple as creating a killer product and letting your customers do your work for you through word of mouth.

The challenges of New Technology

Marketers are already used to working with third parties, from creative agencies and freelancers to app development services providers and business consultants. It’s likely that they’ll be facing more of the same in the years to come, because IoT development isn’t necessarily a common skillset. If marketers want to create content for IoT devices, including its conceptualisation and implementation, then they’ll need to work with a specialist.

As with any new development, the industry as a whole is still deciding how to deal with IoT technology best. The bad news is that this means there’s no ‘map’ or ‘model’ that outlines the way we should use the Internet of Things for marketing purposes. Because of that, it’s an open field. Anyone can go in and become a viral success or a future best practice example by coming up with the next great use of IoT technology. It could even be you – but only if you’re out there and taking part.

Regulation and Cybersecurity

With the rise of the Internet of Things comes two major topics that we need to address – not just as marketers but as a society. The first is the issue of regulation, which is a hot topic among tech companies and governments alike, but which is often overlooked by marketers. As more and more marketers take advantage of IoT and the data it creates, they’ll increasingly need to deal with data protection laws and new types of legislation which are yet to be created.

Then there’s the increasingly complex world of cybersecurity. After all, storing people’s data with the best intentions is one thing, but actually safeguarding it from attackers is quite another. We only need to look at the recent WannaCry attack on the NHS to see how failures in cybersecurity can have real-world consequences. Now imagine how bad it would have been if the NHS lost sensitive patient data – and what the resulting outcry would have looked like.

Smart Cities

As IoT technology becomes more and more prevalent, we’re likely to see governments and local authorities using smart devices to run their cities. Traffic lights and street cameras will be used to build up an accurate picture of what’s happening across the city, and the data will be analysed by artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms. As a result, we’ll be seeing safer roads and safer cities that are driven by real-time data.

As an extension of that, picture smart billboards and bus stops that advertisers could use to send targeted messages. They could even feature personalized content if people point their phone at it, or free downloads, special offers and apps that are unavailable anywhere else. This is just one use case, but it’s a great example of how IoT devices could become a part of our day-to-day life as marketers, whether we like it or not.

IoT at Events

Event marketing offers huge opportunities for brands and marketers to create real-world experiences for customers, and the Internet of Things offers an interesting new way for them to achieve this. For example, energy drink manufacturers could send internet-connected vending machines to key sporting arenas and allow people to earn free product by checking in and tagging their friends.

Another great example of the power of IoT at real-world events comes via Download Festival in the UK, where visitors were able to add cash to a dog tag that they wore and use that to pay for food, drinks and merchandise across the Festival’s checkout points. The idea was to create a cashless festival, and while there were admittedly some teething problems and issues with the system going down, the actual concept was a solid one – and one you can expect to see more of in the coming years.

Adding Value

Some marketers have started to worry that the widespread industry adoption of the Internet of Things could cause a headache, forcing them to adapt to new models and to discover entirely new methodologies to market their product to their customers. The truth is that the Internet of Things is unlikely to change the fundamental concepts of modern marketing. It will still be all about reaching the right person with the right message in the right place at the right time. It’s just that now you’ll be able to extend that to IoT devices.

It’s vital, then, for marketers to remember the golden rule of content marketing before they jump into the Internet of Things. Nobody likes to be sold to, so if you’re simply using IoT devices to interrupt them with old-school outbound advertising, you’ll quickly be ignored – and presumably banned from interrupting them again. Instead, create services that add value so that people actively seek you out.

Imagine, for example, if Specsavers developed a pair of glasses that could read the newspaper out loud so that you didn’t have to strain your eyes. Now imagine that those glasses uploaded data to the cloud and the company was able to aggregate it all and to crunch the anonymous big data to get a better idea of how people are using their glasses and what’s causing their eyesight to degrade.

The Future of the Internet of Things

No one can predict the future, but that doesn’t stop people from having a go. When it comes to the Internet of Things, most people are quick to talk about consumer electronics and the effects that it will have on our lives, but it’s set to change life for marketers just as much as it will affect us all as individuals.

The fact is that the Internet of Things – and the data it allows us to collect – opens up an interesting opportunity for all businessmen, and not just marketers. Still, those who are on the cutting edge are likely to reap the rewards, especially if they’re able to create content-based marketing campaigns that use IoT in new and exciting ways.

Over to you

Not everyone is sold on the benefits of IoT. There are those who’ll be quick to tell you that it’s just a fad and that it’ll disappear. There are also those who’ll tell you it’s the biggest revolution since the invention of the Internet itself. The truth is likely to be somewhere in the middle.

Anyway, it seems clear that IoT is set to shake up all areas of our life, and not just the way that we carry out our marketing campaigns. The only real question is how much it will change it and what that change will look like. The only way to know the answer for sure is to wait and see.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t give it a good guess. We’ve put together our predictions, and now it’s your turn. How do you think IoT will change modern marketing? And what are your favourite examples of IoT marketing so far? Let us know what you think in comments.