Most marketers today are aware of the Internet of Things (IoT) and know that it's important, but many don't fully understand IoT - how it works, its impact on consumers, and how its influence has changed over time - nor how it continues to change on an almost daily basis.
Businesses struggling with the nitty-gritty of the Internet of Things, shrugging their shoulders and pushing it farther down their marketing to-do lists, should consider the following advice.
The Internet of Things: A Two-Sentence Definition
In the most essential terms, the Internet of Things refers to physical (non-computer) objects - from cars to refrigerators and medical devices - connected to the internet. These goods are equipped with electronics and network connectivity hardware that enables them to tap into the internet and communicate with computers and other internet-linked devices.
This is still a relatively new addition to mainstream technology, but the list of IoT devices is rapidly expanding. In fact, the growth of such devices is likely to skyrocket over the next year or so with potentially huge business and marketing implications.
The Evolution of the Internet of Things
The idea of the Internet of Things is older than you might expect. Peter Lewis first coined the term in 1985 when speaking at an FCC-supported wireless session of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. At that time he referred to IoT as "the integration of people, processes, and technology with connectable devices and sensors."
Although Lewis's term didn't take off immediately, the Internet of Things became a more popular concept starting in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Technology innovators envisioned IoT transforming daily life for users, enabling devices to respond instantly and remotely to users' needs and demands. The technologyhas gained more steam over the last few years, particularly with the increased prevalence of wearable technology and smart devices, including the light and door home sensors we're all becoming familiar with.
The Internet of Things has only continued to grow and gain popularity among tech companies and innovators. Gartner recently predicted that internet-connected cars (those "smart cars") will account for a quarter billion of the vehicles on the road by 2020. Overall predictions for the growth of IoT devices in general estimate that the number in use will explode from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 25 billion by 2020. That's some seriously fast growth, even by tech industry standards.
Consumers Are IOT Dependent
I'm betting you've noticed this trend: There's no question that the Internet of Things and increasingly smart devices have made the everyday consumer more dependent on technology.
From fitness wearables that monitor and transmit health stats to mobile device apps and the once-mythical self-driving car, IoT devices are here to stay. In fact, they're already changing daily life for consumers. Since the advent of smartphones nearly everyone carries a miniature computer in his or her pocket - and IoT technology manufacturers are increasingly tapping into this market.
How SMBs Are Incorporating IOT Into Their Business
The question is: With big corporations and manufacturers already tapping into the marketing potential of the Internet of Things, how can local small-to-medium businesses leverage this technology?
While the answer may be complicated, IoT technology is already so prevalent and pervasive that not taking advantage of it means almost certain failure. Fortunately, there are ways small businesses can incorporate IoT technology into their business plans at a relatively low cost.
Valarm, for example, is a small start-up specializing in monitoring systems. Valarm has found several ways to incorporate inexpensive internet-connected sensors into its products. One innovative method was recycling old smartphones, which came with negligible up-front costs, and transforming them into mobile sensors.
Valarm's innovations help companies take advantage of IoT technology on a small, low-cost scale, from microbreweries that need help controlling ventilation to keep CO2 levels down to delivery services in need of tracking devices to verify, in real-time, when products are received or dropped off.
The Internet of Things Means Increased Insights, More Reaching Out and Greater Customer Satisfaction
Clearly, the future of marketing will rely heavily on the Internet of Things and connected devices. In the coming years, it will become increasingly important for marketers to have a keen understanding of how IoT technology works and its implications for reaching consumers.
The Internet of Things will critically influence marketing by:
- Providing increased insights into consumer behavior, including buying patterns and likes and dislikes. Why are consumers buying certain products and not others? The Internet of Things will quickly reveal the answer.
- Offering marketers a deeper and more enhanced understanding of what motivates customers to buy. IoT devices will show where potential customers are in the decision-making process. With such detailed information, marketers will be better equipped to serve customers and close transactions.
- Making the customer experience more personal and enjoyable. For example, marketers will communicate with potential customers via smartphones to provide personalized assistance with product selection.
- Allowing marketers to tap into social media to meet customers where they are, drawing in more business. Marketers will take advantage of trends by creating specific campaigns for social platforms, reaching a far wider demographic.
- Ensuring that SEO-optimized content will reach more customers. Marketers will create content, such as press releases, product promotions, or blogs, and optimize it to target prospective customers. Comfortable with keywords on search engines? Fear not, as keywords will continue to be a fast, cost-effective way for a local business to expand its consumer base. Adding product demo videos and photos will also be tech-savvy ways to draw attention.
- Connecting small business marketing to a wider, internet-based marketing ecosystem. Business ventures and consumers once beyond the reach of a start-up or small business will become more accessible.
The Internet of Things is here to stay. How local SMBs and marketers respond and adapt will make all the difference in their future success and sustainability.