Early in the internet era, consumers made a bargain with tech companies that neither fully understood. “Give the tech firms your data,” the agreement went, “and we will provide valuable services, free to you, by monetizing that data.” This agreement worked fine and has largely continued without a noticeable hitch; however, recent breaches and misuse of data in high=profile cases (Cambridge Analytica, anybody?) has called into question this value exchange and whether consumers are getting their money’s — or is it data’s? — worth. As data-capturing increases, so has consumer expectations.
The next major tech disruption — the internet of things — is slated to drive data capturing and usage to new heights. IoT has been called “the next Industrial Revolution” because of its potential to impact not just technology, but also work, transportation, the environment and even the broader economy at large. For the first time in more than a century, a new industry is emerging that will shape a new level of intimacy with customers, while restructuring business models and even national economies on scales that we haven’t seen in generations.
Before we can understand the impacts of data in this environment, it’s important to define what, exactly, IoT really is. In short, IoT combines the online space with the physical world. Consider a smart irrigation system that you can turn on and off remotely from your smartphone. Smart thermostats learn your family’s preferred temperature settings and adjust them at specific times of the day. Samsung’s new smart refrigerator can connect to other smart devices in your home, allowing you to adjust the thermostat or lights — all from its touchscreen.
Not to mention, the dashboard computer on your car is already transmitting tons of data about you to its manufacturer. IoT devices are highly efficient data-gathering machines and they are increasingly ubiquitous in our daily lives. Statista estimates that more than 30 billion IoT devices will be installed worldwide by 2020, a 10 billion increase from 2017. That’s a lot of internet devices online — and a lot of data being transferred over the internet.
Of course, if the internet age has taught us anything, it’s that this data will be used to monetize different products and services and may be used to advertise to us. While data-driven marketing is nothing new, the continued spurt of IoT devices will overhaul how we collect, make sense of and apply large data sets. To reach audiences in more meaningful ways and execute high-impact campaigns, successful brands in this space will be those that create personalized experiences across these IoT channels, while being careful not to offend a consumer’s privacy sensibilities. It’s through these disparate channels that marketers will learn to better understand their consumers’ preferences — likes, dislikes, lifestyles and habits — while creating moments of “serendipitous marketing” that appear seamless to the overall experience. Here’s how marketing departments can adjust their data and digital marketing approaches and make the best use of all this new information.
Capturing and learning from consumer habits
With high-octane, real-time data collection, IoT devices can provide marketers with a live feed of how, where and when consumers interact with their products or services. It’s kind of like the holy grail of marketing intelligence: a round-the-clock focus group, matched with actual buying behaviors, which gives marketers in-depth visibility into how their brand is perceived, where it’s positioned in the competitive landscape and what consumers are buying — all through one unified, consumer-centric data feed.
Take a wearable device like Fitbit, for example. It’s a simple wristband, sure, but the type of information it gathers is staggering. Fitbit monitors real-time activity, dietary and sleeping habits; tracks places frequently traveled to; and provides invaluable insight into the user’s overall health. Plus, it connects to other IoT devices for data sharing — including Peloton’s Cycle Exercise Bike and Amazon’s Echo.
But Fitbit goes beyond that, integrating other applications, like MyFitnessPal, which tracks diet habits, or the Withings digital scale, which tracks body weight and composition. That means Fitbit has data on where you go, what your exertion level is, your biometrics, your location, what you’re eating and the impact that it all has on our weight and body fat count.
Tied together, these technologies offer a more accurate and more dynamic story about the user than we’ve ever seen before. You get an understanding of users’ interests, temperament, what they value in a brand, what they’re looking for, how they prefer to go about buying it. Plus a host of other factors, like where they actually are, their commute path or what causes variations in their routine.
This has significant impacts for brick-and-mortar businesses. A retailer, for instance, might map customer foot traffic by placing sensors on shopping carts and baskets. That way, they can gather data about customer habits, such as areas of the store often or seldom visited.
From there, store owners can reconfigure shelves and aisles, as well as strategically showcase products typically outside customer browsing patterns. Or, an advertising firm might place digital billboards and banners in a retailer which changes messaging strategies based on time of day, foot traffic and the specific buying and using behaviors of the pedestrians walking by.
Applying what were once unobtainable learnings helps marketers develop highly texturized user profiles so they can listen to and address the needs of their customers with the right message, at the right time, on the right platform, with the right product.
Omnichannel: Engaging customers holistically
Omnichannel is one of those exclusive-sounding marketing terms many haven’t heard of. But what it encompasses is of utmost importance and can shape a better experience for your customers.
Omnichannel marketing means creating a seamless experience across different mediums or channels. That means smartphones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart TVs and printers (i.e., mediums), as well as retail, national retail, online and delivery (channels). IoT devices have the potential to revolutionize this practice — by embracing all those customer touchpoints effectively, marketers can furnish a holistic experience for their customers.
It’s important to note, too, that customers shouldn’t experience the medium or channel — they should experience the brand. Consumers, at their core, don’t distinguish between the brand, what it sells and the experience the brand creates for them. To the average consumer, it’s all one integrated experience with the brands they shop from.
Think of it this way: The user might not remember on which device he experienced your brand, only that he remembers experiencing it. To curate this seamless experience successfully, the mission, tone and message need to be understood across departments.
So, does your sales team communicate with your marketing team? Does your e-commerce team collaborate with your social media experts? The experience you create for users should be genuinely consistent across those channels. If you have a siloed marketing department — or even company — your customers will notice.
IoT technology gives marketers far greater visibility into factors hindering or helping a sale, such as weather conditions, customer feedback and product or equipment defects. In addition to the improved visibility, IoT offers the potential for hardware or product data to be seamlessly integrated with the marketing stack, helping to better understand what drives consumers to purchase and use their products. Marketers can then tweak their strategy for each customer interaction and adjust service on the spot. More importantly, it means service providers can deliver technologies that identify each customer as an individual.
But not only does an omni-device strategy enable marketers to create targeted offers and cross-sell, it also allows users to gain insight into a product or service and easily find answers to their questions. IoT empowers consumers to pick what they like and what they want at the drop of a hat, and marketers will be expected to deliver.
Using IoT to provide creative offerings
Listening to your customers and providing quality service go without saying, but are nonetheless important to come back to. Thinking outside the box with IoT can help create a better end-to-end customer experience.
Back to the retail store example: How many times have you had to endure grueling lines at checkout? Wouldn’t it be great if the store sent notifications to alert shoppers of new lanes that’ve just opened up? Or if the store used push notifications to alert staff that lines are getting too long before consumers become aggravated? Or better yet, what if every item you put in your bag was just automatically charged? No checkout, no clerk, no hassle.
Or what if, say, you find a brand-new armoire at a furniture store but don’t want to commit to purchasing it just yet? Pinterest and Tok&Stok, a furniture store based in Brazil, launched a campaign that lets you save products to your Pinterest board right from the store so you can decide whether to buy them later.
Another creative IoT application is geofencing, which uses GPS to create digital “fences” around physical locations. When someone enters that space with their smartphone, an actionable message is sent to their device. Geofences have myriad applications, including product selling, customer poaching, creating safer job sites and reminding employees to clock in or out.
The ultimate goal should always be to understand your customers from all angles — from their tastes and preferences to their shopping style. Are they introverted or extroverted? Do they prefer in-store customer service, doing research online or both? Are they type A planners or last-minute improvisers?
By keeping these ideas in mind, marketers can provide users with an effortless experience, create meaningful relationships with each user and make a lasting impression. This is the promise of IoT –seamless product and acquisition experiences, centered on the user.
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