Illustration by Creative Unit.
What is the internet of things? What are its benefits to humanity, to society and to ever-evolving, ever-appropriated and constantly connected culture?
The internet of things (IoT), at its simplest, is the inter-connection of devices and services that speak to each other fluently, without the need of human intervention, except if required. It is the construct of a device matrix, similar to our neural network that learns and communicates with other parts of the body for a fluid, continuously evolving ecosystem designed for one thing: optimal ease of existence.
Economists and technology evangelists predict that by 2020 the IoT will consist of 50 billion objects. That is seven interconnected objects for every human on earth. Gartner predicts 36 billion of these devices will be connected directly to the internet.
Originally, it was envisioned that the IoT would require connected objects be equipped technologically in a way that would transform daily life. Picture the robots in the Will Smith helmed iRobot – except that the robots would not be humanoids but devices.
The implications include daily living inventory control, content management across devices and transportation efficiency. A vehicle carrying a passenger would have an on-board computer map matched to the passenger’s wearable device and thereby signal key areas of interest, providing suggestions and directions on the dashboard. A home refrigerator would connect to a phone and know when the user is in a supermarket or a grocery, and immediately provide a list of items running low to the owner. Someone who actively shops on a regular basis in a certain store would have their device access the store’s mainframe and know what items of interest are on sale and then communicate to the customer’s likes as soon as they enter, making it easier to finalise a sale.
And we haven’t even got to the potential healthcare and medical benefits yet. Imagine a world where devices would constantly stream DNA, protein or neurological changes to your medical provider, giving real-time indications on disease prevalence, potential infections and possible cures. Patients with asthma who find themselves within a 100 km radius of a dust storm could be notified of a potential risk of attack while their medical provider is sent a message at the same time of the patient’s whereabouts and dangers.
The Internet of Things is coming, and we can either buckle up for the ride or be left at the side of the information jet stream. Because the super highway has just hit the stratosphere.
By far, however, the benefits of the IoT really manifest themselves in large-scale applications, such as urban planning and design as well as transportation. Traffic management will become easier as vehicles – already connected to drivers and passengers – will constantly stream their locations and destinations to a traffic management system, which in turn modifies the signals, road blocks and railway schedules to ensure optimal flow of traffic. Power grids can monitor when consumers are not present within their households, thereby prompting a lowering of the flow of power to their appliances and outlets, and automatically dimming or reducing lighting and air conditioning. Internet and telephony usage can be moderated accordingly and overall carbon footprints based on the above dramatically reduced across the city or area.
Based on everything I have summarised (on a topic far too broad for a simple article), I want to focus on the direct impact this impending system of existence will have on marketing and the advertising industry.
The implications are already exponential even when we simply theorise without looking at practical efforts already in motion. Already having moved from a push marketing to a pull marketing ecosystem, the marketing economy will now have to adapt to a semi-autonomous approach – which I term ‘parallel-marketing’ and which will automatically modify campaigns and targeting based on the daily if not hourly or real-time changes in behaviour or intention of consumers.
Consumers known by their devices to always buy coffee from a favourite cafe at 8:00 a.m. can be sent information on the best time to collect the latest brewed coffee. And if one morning this consumer decides to drive directly to the office, the cafe can be notified about this and launch an automatic delivery of the consumer’s favourite brew to his or her place of work.
Copywriters, content creators, designers and curators – already lacking a nine to five structure, will not only be on-call, they will be switched-on and in work mode 24/7. The magnificently executed Oreo Cookies Tweet reactionary approach during the Super Bowl will no longer be an exception but an expectation. Triggered campaigns on social, email or POS will see more investment than before, harnessing the ‘always-on’ nature of the IoT. BuzzFeed and its ilk have already formed the groundwork and the primitive bases on which such a parallel marketing system will develop. The ability to influence trends will give way to the ability to design around new trends emerging at lightning speed.
Imagine, for example, a music concert with tens of thousands of fans in an arena. Fitted with RFID bands that sync with their mobile phones, brands can monitor the movements of fans in real-time, including their proximity to certain points of sale offering particular items, such as merchandise, food and beverage or tickets for upcoming events, and tailor content and mobile adverts directly to their phones with discounts expiring within minutes. Music labels behind the concert will be able to push free tracks to fans who have a high purchasing history with that label in order to use them as influencers.
Now, let’s look at a more practical, lifestyle enhancement aspect related to this situation: transport and mobility.
Civil authorities can monitor the same RFID activity to predict which exits will generate the most footfall at the end of the concert, and which location the fans originated from in order to operate more public transport directed towards those areas of the city, as well as deploy higher numbers of traffic wardens to guide fans out of the arena at the highest density exits. Health authorities can monitor the electronic health records of fans to predict health scares and issues that may arise, including epileptic attacks, asthma concerns and heat strokes and prepare for action. Marketing of these safety and health precaution measures will add much needed clout and branding to the city government and in return generate revenue from fans who would like to frequent venues which cater to their need for smooth transportation and health concerns.
Perhaps the biggest impact that one can see based on the above in terms of marketing is that of Big Data. Data driven relationships will become marketing currency, providing us the information at our fingertips as it happens. The connectivity at this level will lead to engagement with our customers in a way we could never have imagined social to be. Marketers will no longer need to focus on a sample size to offer campaigns, but tailor them down to each individual without the need to guess.
Imagine a 100% open rate. Imagine the planning meetings. Imagine media buying, of all things, in such an IoT.
Now imagine the returns if us marketers get this right!
Normally, I would say the potential of the IoT is immense, but this is not just potential. It’s a reality that is taking shape right in front of us. Although privacy concerns do raise their heads and new legislation will be sought for this new connected economy, one thing is certain – consumers not connected to the IoT will be in the minority.
The IoT is coming, and we can either buckle up for the ride or be left at the side of the information jet stream. Because the super highway has just hit the stratosphere.
Anthony J. Permal is a marketing specialist based in Dubai. @anthonypermal or @marketingdude