I presented a session titled “How the IoT Will Fit Into Your Marketing Strategy” (playback free but registration required) this past May at Gartner’s Digital Marketing Conference in San Diego (hey, why not join us in San Diego next year?). As I researched that presentation and confronted the voluminous coverage and often breathless expectations therein — being a natural skeptic — I confronted a basic question: Should marketers give a flip about the IoT? The answer I arrived at: Yes, for several reasons:

  • The IoT represents a massive opportunity. According to Gartner’s research there were already nearly 5 billion IoT endpoints (things) active at the start of 2015. More than 6 billion endpoints will be activated in 2020 alone, bringing the installed base to nearly 21 billion, or more than quadrupling the size of today’s IoT. (Point of clarification: Gartner’s definition of IoT devices excludes smartphones, tablets, and PCs, so the number of connected devices generating sensor data is actually quite a bit greater.)
  • That’s a mammoth consumer opportunity. Many of the early compelling IoT stories that I heard were about business efficiency, such as environmental sensors in containers that assured shippers that cargo did not endure excessive temperature or humidity conditions. However, consumer endpoints already far outstrip the numbers in vertical- and cross-industry segments (in large part due to the subcategory of “Information and Entertainment” that includes smart TVs, digital set top boxes and gaming consoles), and the gap will only increase in the coming years. In particular, connected cars and smart home applications will fuel this growth.

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  • Your digital marketing experience has prepared you for the IoT. The IoT is a natural expansion of digital marketing — born on the Web, fueled by an expanding range of connected devices 🖥 📱 📺 that generate a waxing amount of information on customers’ behaviors and preferences. Facility and skill in transforming these data points into valuable and usable information has become a requisite skill for effective marketers.
  • The IoT enables predictive marketing. Harnessing the signals generated by the myriad IoT devices sensing consumer attitudes and behavior will enable marketers to move beyond response to anticipation. Michelin won’t wait for me to begin shopping for replacement tires for my road bike, my past purchases and my training logs will tell them I’m at risk of suffering a puncture and that now’s the time to alert me that I need new rubber — and maybe a set of their new lightweight latex tubes will improve my performance while I’m at it.

Great. You care. What next? The challenges posed by IoT marketing are as complex as the opportunity is large: finding the signal in a vastly more noisy environment, developing new data-powered businesses, including those based on data brokerage, and striking the right privacy note.

For now, let’s focus on the challenges tied to new IoT-based products, in this case in the realm of security. The lesson is a simple one that ties to the customer journey: usage scenarios for IoT devices are very complex.

Consider this news story, in which Apple’s usual excellent marketing convinced a customer that it was time to finally join the 21st century of home control using Apple’s HomeKit software and compliant products, including Philips Hue lightbulbs, Ecobee thermostats, and an August door lock. Apple’s software adroitly overcame the usual DIY home automation challenges and the customer quickly had his dream home set up, all conveniently controlled with a simple “Hey Siri” by the iPad Pro he placed centrally in his living room.

What could go wrong? Well, convenience trumped security. Because he wanted to be able to trigger actions by speaking to Siri, he opted to allow access to Siri from the iPad’s lockscreen — after all, it’s highly inconvenient to have to walk over to and unlock the iPad every time you want to alter some aspect of your home environment. No problem for changing the lights, playing some music, or turning up the heat…big problem for unlocking the door, which his friendly neighbor discovered he could do simply by requesting Siri’s help.

Apple provided a perfectly reasonable security control for the customer to prevent uncontrolled access to his home: prevent access to Siri on a locked iPad. But the customer experience resulting from this security measure was a poor one, essentially eliminating a desired convenience. Amazon, in contrast, was forced to confront this situation since its Echo device and intelligent agent Alexa does not include any kind of locking or authentication mechanism. Amazon’s solution? Allow Alexa to close the August lock, but prevent Alexa from opening it. That’s a good tradeoff from a security perspective, but still not a great customer experience.

As you build your marketing strategy to exploit the ever-growing universe of IoT devices, these tradeoffs will abound. The answers won’t be easy and sometimes the choice you make will result in a less-than-optimal customer experience, but what matters is that you put the thought in to be able to make the best choice for your brand and your customers.

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