What every marketer and media executives knows, but may not want to hear about marketing to the Internet of Things

When the dust settles from this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, there is no doubt that three letters will stand out in the trade press, in blogs like this, and on social media; namely, the letters I, o and T … now the vernacular for the “Internet of Things.”   

2016 will be the break-out year for IoT, as CES has already demonstrated. And for a trade show whose attendance is dominated by marketing and media executives, IoT presents an intriguing opportunity coupled with a complex challenge not previously faced by this group. That is because the Internet of Things, as a class, is the first consumer-oriented Internet-connected device ecosystem that is not centered around media. In fact, the majority of IoT products showcased at CES have little to do with media at all.

So how does the marketer or media executive tap into this growing array of sensors, utility devices, monitors and Internet-connected gadgets? And how do we do so in a manner that will help motivate uptake at this early time on the consumer adoption curve, in a way that is also attractive to marketers and media companies?

The answer is actually quite simple … one that marketers, media executives and martech service providers all probably know but don’t really want to admit. The answer, my friends, is that we must put customer experience first before we think about monetization.

Now, this answer may seem intuitive, but interestingly enough, that is exactly what we did NOT do over the past five to ten years in the world of IoC … the Internet of Content. Web pages have become more and more cluttered with interruptive advertising, and the shear volume of tags, beacons and server calls began to dramatically slow page load-times roughly at the same time consumers began using mobile devices. The consumer experience suffered, and the result reared its ugly head in 2015 with the dramatic rise in consumer-driven ad blocking. In short, we took a perfectly good advertising medium and made it unattractive to the very audience we are trying to reach.

So here we are in January 2016. IoT is this year’s shiny new object. I’m sure there are hundreds of marketers and media executives toying around with ideas on how to monetize the IoT customer experience. Let me urge you to first put your customer lens on before you begin to go down this path.

  1. Think utility and value exchange.  So far, consumers have demonstrated their affinity with IoT devices that provide utility. Home monitoring and management devices are top sellers, and we’re seeing uptake in the IoT health and fitness category. As a marketer, challenge yourself to identify ways to make these utility devices even more valuable to the consumer. For example, Netatmo announced an outdoor security camera with intelligent detection abilities so buyers can be notified when a person, animal or even a car has entered the camera’s field of vision. If I were marketing traditional home security services, I’d seek to make Netatmo’s Presence security technology available to my customers with the goal of creating a higher-value, stickier customer relationship. The camera certainly increases the utility of my alarm system, particularly when my security company is also keeping its eyes on my house!

  2. Make IoT a data source, not a media outlet. Clever marketers will establish a value-exchange that motivates consumers to share relevant data through their connected devices. For example, Smarter, a UK smart device company, announced their Smarter Fridge Cam and Mat at CES. These two devices help consumers keep track of what they need to keep their kitchens stocked. It doesn’t take much to imagine consumers opting-in for manufacturers coupons smartly delivered for items running low in their refrigerators, particularly when the coupons are delivered to the consumer’s smartphone while shopping. Juxtapose this value-exchange against Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator, which includes a 21.5 inch multimedia screen. The utility of an advertisement or coupon on the refrigerator door seems far less valuable.

  3. Make IoT part of the customer loyalty equation instead of the customer acquisition equation. I have to give Amazon a shout-out for its Amazon Dash scanner and button, released in 2014 and 2015 respectively. There has been much debate about these convenient, but clearly brand-sponsored buttons. But there is no doubt that among Dash’s users, loyalty is up. At CES this year, Whirlpool announced Amazon Dash integration within its Smart Kitchen Suite. In this iteration of Amazon’s Dash service, Whirlpool’s washers and dryers know how many wash cycles you've done since your last order of detergent, and will prompt you to buy more from Amazon when you’re starting to run low. Clearly this convenience takes customer loyalty to a whole new level!

I can’t blame the lifestyle marketer for wanting to deliver timely promotional advertising to the connected fitness device, or the motivated media sales executive who is already cutting deals with food and beverage brands for spots on screen-ensconced refrigerator doors. My belief is that these are both sub-optimal, if not outright annoying experiences that consumers are likely to ignore or even reject.

Instead, as IoT takes off, I advocate we put on a customer-first lens, and do what we can to help IoT device manufacturers deliver more affordable, highly compelling consumer experiences. Marketing partnerships that enhance the value of connected devices create a win-win-win for everyone involved.