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The Wild West of the Internet of Things

In recent years, the terms “omnichannel,” “cross-channel” and “multichannel” have evolved as hot-button terms for marketers striving to drive connections with the modern consumer. As our framework for channels and devices continues to broaden, so, too, does the strategy and technology stack needed to deliver the right content, in the right place, at the right time. Now, just as marketers are starting to get a handle on the major channels of Web, social and mobile devices—in combination with the traditional realm of catalog, direct mail and in-store—the Internet of Things (IoT) rears its disruptive head. Gartner predicts that there will be 26 smart objects for every human being on the earth by 2020. Soon enough, many of our formerly “dumb” devices will be connected to the Internet, each other and us. As if Big Data wasn’t “big” enough, we are facing a world where data is going to be captured from refrigerators, shoes, and even produce on a grocery shelf. Moreover, the laws that govern information security, collection and management have yet to take shape, turning data into marketing currency and leaving brands to decide whether to play it safe or strike out into new territory. How, then, do marketers deliver impactful messages in this Wild West of connected things?

Creating Order

At the ground level, brands need to decide where to store all of their data. While most large companies manage a mix of on-premise and cloud databases, it’s important for brands to decide what information is stored where. Can less innocuous data be stored in a public cloud while more personal data lives in a private cloud or in the brand’s own data center? Are there instances in which you can mix and match your formula? A flexible approach to data storage is going to be critical as we start to understand what types of stories connected devices will be able to tell, and what those stories reveal that a consumer might consider private information. Consider the popularly referenced IoT scenario in which a refrigerator will soon be able to tell you when you need more milk and potentially order it for you. Have we actually thought through where and how that data should be stored? Consider, for example, if you buy standard whole milk for five years and then change completely to a low-calorie soy or almond milk substitute. What could that data reveal about the likelihood that you are on a diet or have a medical condition that now prevents you from buying regular milk? In certain instances, it may make sense for raw data to exist off premise while ensuring the insights from that data are stored privately to ensure a higher degree of security and customer respect.

Being Worthy of Trust

A recent study from Radius Global Market Research indicated that U.S. consumers do not believe that brands can keep their personal data safe. When asked which industry was doing the best job of keeping their data safe, “no industry” was the most popular response at 29%. This perception is a dangerous one for brands. Even more concerning is the impact on buying behavior, with 69% of respondents noting that a security breach made them less likely to shop with a given company. Maintaining secure customer information needs to be at the forefront of discussions across all departments in a company. While it’s critical for marketers to have access to real-time customer data in order to do their jobs, the marketing/IT conversation needs to continue to evolve to ensure that data is secure and used appropriately.

Delivering Impact

In a 2014 article for Wired, business strategist and global futurist Daniel Burrus noted, “The real value of the Internet of Things is at the intersection of gathering data and leveraging it.” In the years ahead, marketers will need to walk a fine line. This intersection where insights transform into actions has the potential to reveal both creative powerhouses and creepy offenders who take insights too far. Brands need analytical tools in place that can help them draw insights from data. Without these tools and team members, the pool of data collected is meaningless, and in the years ahead will only continue to grow. 

The great American scout and hunter Buffalo Bill once said, “It was because of my great interest in the West, and my belief that its development would be assisted by the interest I could awaken in others, that I decided to bring the West to the East through the medium of the Wild West Show.” There is great interest in the IoT from consumers, manufacturers and marketers alike. The development of this space is in the hands of those who choose to stand center stage and work hard to unify the people, the data and the experiences delivered. Opportunities that stretch beyond smart products into smart services that support them will also continue to grow as this story unfolds. Brands now must ask themselves, What is our medium, and what stories are we going to tell?

Paul Mandeville is chief product officer at Boston-based marketing automation firm QuickPivot Corp. Prior to QuickPivot, he served as chief operating officer of Conversen, a cross-channel marketing technology startup.