The end of 2015 is drawing near, and we still haven’t seen the flying cars, hoverboards, and self-tying sneakers we were promised in Back to the Future II. However, there are definitely some very cool “future” things underway, not the least of which is a concept known as the Internet of Things. This concept promises an amazing range of possibilities for consumers over the next few years, and equally powerful opportunities for marketers who know how to take advantage of these new technologies.
First, let’s get some terms out the way. The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical objects that are connected electronically via the World Wide Web and that can exchange data with each other.
What that means in practical terms is that an ever-increasing number of devices we use are connected to the Internet in order to provide consumers with increased conveniences. How big is this trend going to be? One group estimates that by 2020, there will be 50 billion portable devices connected to the Internet (if your first thought was “Wow, that’s 7 devices for every person on the planet”, we share your amazement).
Devices that fall under the Internet of Things come in many shapes and sizes:
- Mobile devices—the most traditional type of portable device.
- Wearable tech—be it Google glass, Fitbit, Apple Watch, or other tech devices humans can wear.
- Health tech—pill bottles that remind their owners to take their medicine, and continuous blood glucose monitors that alert a doctor when they detect something is amiss.
- Home tech—programmable thermostats (like Nest), home lighting (Philips Hue), security technologies, and smart outlets that can all be controlled via a mobile device.
- City tech—smart garbage bins that alert City Services when they have to be emptied, and traffic controls that adjust based on the weather conditions.
What does all this mean for the field of marketing? The short version is that an unprecedented amount of data about potential customers can be collected, analyzed, and utilized to provide these customers with better value propositions.
There are some privacy issues, to be sure, but the new generation of technology users has also become increasingly comfortable with sharing their data online. Whether users end up sharing their data voluntarily, or companies have to pay for that access, the bottom line is that marketers will have the opportunity to use this large trove of data to reach audiences like never before.
So, when a person shares her 7-day running streak to Facebook, this data may be available for companies who sell fitness and health equipment to identify this user as an ideal customer who could benefit from their products. Or, when the near-field technology chip in a customer’s smartwatch senses that he is entering a particular store, that store can send a special promotion code with that day’s deals to his smartphone. The opportunities are staggering.
The Internet of Things is still in its nascency. The truth is, we probably can’t even imagine what some of these devices will look like 10 years down the road. The best thing small- and mid-sized businesses can do is to keep informed about the latest developments in this arena and look for affordable opportunities to enter this new marketing space.