CES 2015 has largely disappointed. Some pretty cool gadget and lots of old ideas. Those who said that all cars would drive themselves by 2020, now predict the same for 2030 (moving by decades is always safer, as 2025 might suggest a real plan to make it happen). In the year of Marty Mc Fly, all we got excited about were a selfie drone and a bunch of smart washing machines.
Yet, the enthusiasm for the internet of things and opportunities for marketers remains high, as in some recent interviews published by AdWeek. However, statements about how marketers will take advantage of the internet of things remain vague, such as: “[marketers will have] opportunities to weave narratives that are far more useful for consumers”. But what does that really mean?? My personal view is: some of the hype on the internet of things is justified, and some is smoke and mirrors.
So first of all, let’s look at some of the key news at CES about the internet of things.
- Smart homes: clearly any domestic appliance has potential to be connected, and it will. Even relatively dull devices (e.g. sprinklers) can become much more useful once they are connected and, most importantly, smart.
- Wearables, touchables, and more: wrists took the center stage with watches and fitness trackers. But we also saw some great new ideas, such as chest-worn stickers and smart headphones. New smart devices are not just extensions of smartphones anymore, they provide new native services to benefit users. My personal favorite: your yoga mat could soon suggest how to improve your practice.
- Television: amazing 4K / UHD resolution, super thin and curved, but more importantly always smarter and more connected.
- Automotive: driverless is now a must-have, but Mercedes went way beyond, rethinking the entire user experience.
- Virtual reality: Oculus Rift led the pack with the impressive Crescent Bay, with Samsung Gear and Open Source VR following behind
Clearly, all these trends represent great opportunities for marketers (at some point in the future). Here are some concrete ways in which this could happen.
- Smart devices can collect a wealth of user data and make marketing efforts smarter as well. CRM could be transformed as marketers better understand how consumers engage with their products. Your washing machine might call a repair service even before breaking down, and your yoga mat might suggest you useful YouTube videos on how to perfection your postures. The consumer experience will improve dramatically, and this will provide brands to establish stronger relationships. Simply put, we will love more brands, because they will speak to us in a more personal and useful way.
- Connected TVs will offer more opportunities for marketers to provide seamless multi-screen experiences to users. The amount of simultaneous usage of TV and smartphones or tablets will increase further (especially meshing, i.e. simultaneous consumption of related content on multiple screens). Samsung is following Google’s Chromecast philosophy with Tizen, and smartphones will increase their functionality as remote controls for TVs. In the “anytime, anywhere” paradigm of content consumption, advertisers will need to offer choice and useful content to users (forget forced consumption of TV ads as it still happens today), but the reward will be more engaging experiences across multiple screens.
- Virtual reality could explode very soon, and it will open up new frontiers in gaming and entertainment in general. Storytelling might soon become story-blending, as marketers place their messages within the content that users decide to consume, leveraging immersive VR experiences. Marketing partnership with gaming companies will become widespread (e.g. a friend working at an oil company mentioned to me that they discussed placing their brand of engine oil in car-racing video-games to provide a special boost to cars). To use a hyperbole: we might all go back to how tobacco companies build their brands with Hollywood movies. At the same time, valuable in-gaming advertising spaces will be traded programmatically, and contribute to personalize the experience even further from a user perspective.
- As cars drive themselves, people will discover a new living room, as Mercedes envisioned with his “Luxury in Motion” prototype at CES. Considerable time previously spent driving will be spent connecting and consuming content, and marketers will obviously tap into this new opportunity. Connected cars will also be location-aware and possibly offer opportunities for augmented reality. Imagine waiting at a red traffic light and at the same time being able to virtually enter a nearby shop and explore the shelfs, all without ever leaving the car and just using a window as a touch-screen.
Now, let’s play devil’s advocate and look at some of the reasons why many opportunities for marketers in the internet of things might be more remote than we think.
- The internet of things will need to disrupt industries before it really happens in a big way, and some of these industries will take considerable time to change. For example, many companies in the ‘smart home’ space don’t have much experience developing software and leveraging big data, and it will take time before they turn the possibilities of a connected home to their advantage and really improve the consumer experience. For how anachronistic this might sound, I believe that the pace of technology will slow down, before accelerating again.
- Looking at how connected devices are presented at CES, the internet of things seems to entail a world where consumers are connected with a whole lot of devices and control them through hundreds of apps on our smartphones. This contrasts with the current reality, where the average smartphone user is not even downloading one new app in a given month, and smartphones still have limitations (e.g. battery life). For the internet of things to become reality (beyond just niches), devices will need to be not only connected but also inter-connected, in order to exchange signals and work in logical patterns or sequences (e.g. start brewing my coffee and turn on the water heater as soon as my alarm goes off, and then start a music playlist that well suits my mood and the current weather). Inter-connectivity and exchange of signals (on top of big data) will require partnerships and standard-setting in the industry, and these take time to happen.
- While connected devices look cool in isolation and in a demo environment, I find that many of them are still not practical and provide a clunky user experience. For example, by and large, connected devices require a good internet connection to work properly, or work with bluetooth connectivity which has issues of energy consumption and short range. Coming to energy consumption, I already can’t tolerate recharging my smart watch every day or two, and definitely wouldn’t bother recharging my yoga mat. In other words, many connected devices so far have not been designed with the consumer in mind. Inevitably, adoption will be slow.
While the prospects of the internet of things might be exciting for marketers in the long run, a number of existing challenges make the potential more remote than we would imagine just looking at the new gadgets at CES. While less exciting, I believe that for the next few years smartphones and smart TVs (on top of desktop and tablets) will remain the main platforms to reach and engage audiences at scale.