The Internet of Things and Implications for Marketing

Jim“The internet of things.” You hear it a lot, I’m sure. Particularly if you are working in digital media, marketing and technology, and you hang with the cool kids, this is a phrase du jour that is uttered… well, every day.

The term has been around for some time, I think coined by some MIT Media Lab-type guy. But its cache has never been greater.

If you are like most people – or at least, like me – you nod knowingly when someone waxes enthusiastically about the power of the Internet of things, and how it is changing the world and will fundamentally alter the known universe. But, secretly, you aren’t sure you know what it means. Or, you think you know what it means, but what you think it means seems rather simple given the irrational exuberance behind the promises made by those enthusing about the internet of things.

If you think that the Internet of things is basically a catchphrase that reflects the growing number of smart, connected objects in our lives, you’re right. But if you think it’s all hype, think again. What the Internet of things represents may be more transformational than the Internet itself. And this is coming from a guy who eschews techno-hyperbole in all its forms, and still writes letters with a fountain pen and seals the envelopes with wax. One of the things it will/is altering is marketing

What the Internet of things is made up of is objects – products – that consist of three elements: they are physical, they are smart, and they are connected. Physical is of course what the word itself means: there is “there” there. It’s tangible. Smart is that these objects are equipped with sensors and monitors and processors and storage and software and the like. Connected is again what it means: these objects are furnished with the means to connect to each other, to the cloud, to a manufacturer’s system.

What the Internet of things portends for manufacturing and services it heralds, too, for marketing.

What does marketing try to yield? Engagement. What is necessary for engagement? Interest, attention and opportunity. Marketing and advertising’s biggest challenge has always been to solve for the ‘X’ of the intersection of those three conditions.

The Internet of things promises (or threatens!) to at first improve identifying the display of this triangulation. This is kind of what current programmatic systems can at times effectively but still weakly offer now. Programmatic’s limitation is that for the time being it is only connected to a small handful of touch points; the desktop, mobile, a tablet, a tiny bit of Broadcast. The Internet of things’ ubiquitous presence beyond the standard spate of media platforms means that it creates the condition for not just identifying the intersection of attention, interest and opportunity, but it can ultimately coordinate their collision.

Marketing in this state becomes more an exercise of what I’ve heard Brian Monahan of Walmart.com call “growth-hacking” instead of just well-placed and well-executed – albeit still important – exercise in rhetorical engagement of brand-orienting persuasion.

Branding is no longer a lecture, a speech, or a story (if it even has been the last number of years); it is not even an experience with the brand’s product itself. It becomes a whole almost biological ecosystem – in some cases, relying on actual biology – of inputs and outputs that are insinuated into our flow experience. Advertising is no longer just an object rendered as either an enhancement or an obstacle to that flow experience.

Smart fridge. Jawbone Up. Nike Fitbit. Apple Health. Nest. Ziplist. Facebook. Amazon. Cable box. Fresh Direct.

All these points of contact/sources of data can coordinate to introduce you to new brands, reaffirm a relationship with brands you already have, and keep your kitchen stocked with just the right amount of everything.

Marketing in an era when the Internet of things IS the medium means completely rethinking what it means to commit to commercial communication. It is not enough that today’s marketing strategy be 360°. It has to be spherical, where there are no “degrees.” Business objectives, the marketing objectives that come from those, and the media objectives that come from those must radiate out in all directions from a connected center; or maybe push in from all sides, above, and below. In a world where my sleep and my eating and my buying and my using and my doing and my not doing are all monitorable, controllable, and optimizable through a concert of devices, a brand’s marketing and that marketing’s content must take that into consideration.  This isn’t just the future. This is now. To paraphrase something that’s regularly attributed to William Gibson: the future is here; it’s just not yet evenly distributed.

What are the marketing strategy then going to be built on? What should that marketing content consist of? It will depend on a few things: product category, adoption rate (of the panoply of ‘things’ belonging to that Internet of things), pre-existing brand imprinting. But what it’s going to have to rely on is a whole new way of thinking about both input and transmission. If before the medium was the message, it’s now “the man is the medium; therefore, the man is the message.” For all data-centric, technology-driven marketing and advertising has for some time taken our focus off of the consumer and onto the means by which we try to influence her, the matrix of technology and data the Internet of things activates puts the consumer right back in the center where they belong. The spherical approach has “I” and “her” and “him” and “you” and “us” and “them” at the center of it.

The Internet of things means marketing verbs to pronouns, not just nouns to other nouns.

Marketing is going to have to be an active enterprise because it is going to rely on the activities of our lives for data and for the opportunity to use those activities as a means of becoming part of them.

 Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.