More collaboration needed to realize Internet of Things’ complete potential
Marketers must be prepared
for expected brand disruption
Global Practice Director, Technology
If we had a dollar for every time a new technology was hailed as a game-changing, life-enhancing, swing-from-the-moon breakthrough, then it’s safe to say we’d be writing this from a luxurious tax haven. The IT industry is incredibly good at hyping itself to the point where terms become commonplace well before any real impact is felt by the masses.
For the past five years the trend getting the most attention has been the Internet of Things. The Internet of Things is a much friendlier way of talking about machine-to-machine (M2M) communications, a paradigm where the car speaks to the garage door and the washing machine has a daily chat with the weather service. At its most simplistic level, the Internet of Things allows sensors within devices to communicate seamlessly with one another without human interaction.
This isn’t a new concept. RFID was hailed as a transformative solution for the logistics and CPG businesses, allowing fast and reliable tracking of goods as they moved from warehouse to store. In many ways that was the starting point for the Internet of Things as described today.
So what is the promise of the Internet of Things? At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, LG Electronics showcased a smarthome concept that brings it to life. Based around an automated device or home hub (in this case a robotic one), the kitchen of the near future links all the devices we have in our home together. And we are using the term “devices” in the widest sense possible—your refrigerator, your coffee pot, your stove, and your washing machine—any electronic device you own can and will be linked to the Internet of Things in time.
The scenario depicted by LG is one of ease, where devices’ ability to automate life’s small decisions makes for a relaxed and healthier individual. You return from your morning run wearing your fitness tracker, which communicates with your hot water system and ensures the shower is ready for you. Now hungry, you move to the kitchen, which tells you what you have available for breakfast and suggests a recipe, steering you towards the healthier choices indicated by your health data. You put that sweaty running gear into the washing machine, and it calculates the best time to run the load based on weather, the right amount of detergent based on water quality, and starts the program while you go about your day. When you come home, it shows you recipes for dinner, and once one is selected, turns on the oven for you and adds the items used to your next shopping list, all while playing your favorite tracks.
The Internet of Things is at a tipping point. We have the infrastructure now, and with 5G on its way, we will have unparalleled amounts of connectivity to make this work. The second piece of the puzzle is the success of vocal computing. Today vocal recognition software is as close to parity with human vocal recognition as it could ever be. That means that we no longer need screens or keyboards to tell our devices what to do. It means that Amazon’s Alexa and Google’s Home, along with the 5 million other home hub robots that will be deployed in the US by 2020 will play a fundamental role in shaping how we live our lives in the future.
However, it won’t happen without a change in attitude. Companies marketing to consumers, whether in the packaged foods or the dishwasher business, are going to have to collaborate. If we look outside the home, the potential for really smart cars, even autonomous cars, shows this reality perfectly. In April, Honda launched its Innovation Group, a new company that aims to seek transformative collaborations. Nick Sugimoto, CEO, Honda Innovations believes that we are in the middle of a technology convergence, saying that “by looking broadly across technology areas and partnering with innovators across the globe, we can create products and services that enhance the lives of our customers.” It is estimated that 82 percent of cars will be connected to, and a part of the Internet of Things by 2021.
Each device—again taking “device” to its broadest meaning—will have to communicate with other devices, regardless of manufacturer or technology. This is where the home hub is so essential, and potentially where Amazon Alexa, with its 10,000+ established skills, and Google Home, with its growing range of capabilities, can steal competitive advantage. Given the need for collaboration at every level, it is perhaps inevitable that the real drivers of the Internet of Things won’t be the hardware manufacturers but the software and services people.
It also means that marketers will have to think differently and collaboratively about how we access their products. If we reach a point where our refrigerator is selecting what brand of beer to buy, how do purveyors of such products ensure that we consumers continue to be engaged enough to defy our devices? When we willingly automate life’s smaller actions and decisions, what will emerging brands have to do to break our default setting? Will marketing messages reach us through new channels—extending the reach of social media right to the dashboards of our cars, for example? Will the content of those messages have to change to ensure we re-engage with decisions that we have now outsourced?
Collaborating with new and different partners is going to be essential. Content—more than ever—will be king. And Google and Amazon just got a whole lot more important for marketing departments across the world.