June 14, 2016

The Internet of Things for Marketers: Four Keys

The Internet of Things (IoT) seems like a buzzword, a trend, and sometimes just hype. Well, the phrase is all three of those things. But there are four keys to understanding the Internet of Things for marketers and technologists that illuminate its importance. Understanding these four keys will help with planning and perspective.

First, marketers need to understand that the “the Internet of Things” is poorly named. It’s misleading and oversimplified. As Marc Canter put it, it’s “the culmination of all modern technology that is finally uniting the online technological world and the real world.” Another way to envision it: combining sensors that tell you something about the world with data storage in the cloud … all tied together with software. So if we accept that “IoT” means sensors, data and software, well, then we can live with the poor naming. (It’s worth reading the rest of Canter’s piece in TechCrunch.)

Second, lower-cost prototyping systems can easily be made from boards like the Arduino or Raspberry Pi, saving thousands of dollars (euros, pounds, etc.) and months of time in smart sensor and smart device creation. We recall talking to an M2M-focused friend a few years ago who was stymied in bringing hardware and software developers on board because of the prohibitive cost of custom prototype boards. After our conversation, she piloted a program to use Arduino boards with a simple, custom sub-board to serve their needs inexpensively and quickly. This is exactly what will drive the IoT future: these easy-to-use and inexpensive computing devices — not only innovated on by hobbyists, but used by professional developers to solve their real business and real-world needs. While these boards and platforms are certainly not simple to use, they’re much simpler than hardware prototyping used to be.

Third, we have to rise our heads above the current IoT buzzword/marketing din and keep an eye on the overall trends. Yes, “IoT” is an unfortunate marketing term that we see stuck on all kinds of useless items already.  (See our friend Jim Louderback’s great piece on the “Internet of Crap.”) Interoperability is increasing, although still not ideal. But overall, the technology is evolving quickly, and it’s exciting to watch. We may not know what’s coming, but watching the overall trends is fun.

Fourth, and related to the last one, is the importance of understanding that IoT is more than activity tracking wearables, connected/smart home and connected car solutions. The IoT means business solutions that clarify and illuminate physical and data trends. It means the potential for technology to supplement and enhance our lives and work. And it means we could soon see devices that streamline our day — not constantly require rebooting, reconnecting or updates.

I’ll leave the privacy issues for another day, since they are complex and outside the scope of discussing general IoT perspectives. In the meantime, use these four keys to illuminate your understanding of the Internet of Things for marketers and build your strategies accordingly.

PS: There’s a cool “vision” video and page from Microsoft that you may enjoy perusing if you’re interested in seeing what this even-more-connected future may entail.