As technology enables consumers to enjoy hands-free smart home integrations, where should marketers focus their attention—smartphones, home appliances, or both? These technologies are becoming the two primary gateways to consumers. Will one ultimately prove to be the most effective gateway? And what’s the key to leveraging these evolving channels?
All About the Experience
We’ve entered the age and space of automated devices in the home that can perform actions with or without direct intervention from consumers. That’s how the smart home is being sold today. This new paradigm is device first, so how will digital marketers establish where the technology will take us or what the end goal should be? When true automation is adopted, devices in your home disappear, and it’s the experiences that become tangible. So, in the end, it’s all about how best to deliver experiences.
How can marketers go about creating delightful interactive experiences in the home? That’s the challenge at the crux of marketing efforts: creating engaging, seamless, out-of-the-way experiences for consumers within their homes and on the go. Creating these experiences will be a balancing act. If you focus only on the home, you’ll neglect consumers’ lives outside of it.
The Phone as a Starting Point
Retailers are reacting to what you do on your phone, and what they know about you via your phone. For example, there will likely come a day where you walk up to a self-service restaurant menu and it rearranges itself based on your preferred meals or ordering history. It might even offer recommendations based on what it knows about you and your habits.
Today, phones are the primary remote control and notification center for interactions with our homes. But our homes will soon provide automated functions without the need for this interplay. Although the phone will remain important in the foreseeable future to capture behaviors outside of the home, inside the home it’s a little bit harder to determine how to proceed as marketers. GPS and other presence-detection capabilities can currently tell us when someone is home, but people don’t necessarily carry their phones throughout their homes, so there’s going to be a battle for supremacy between wearables, voice recognition devices like the Amazon Alexa, face recognition delivered by camera solution providers, artificial intelligence, and other technologies.
From Cellphone to Smartphone to Internet of Things
Technology advances because we feel we can’t function without it. Remember when you used to be unreachable because you weren’t in the office or at home? Cellphones changed all that because we wanted to be able to connect with others from wherever we were.
Not too long ago, we wouldn’t have conceived of Googling a restaurant on our way there. But now we can check reviews of nearby restaurants while we’re waiting for the train. We can also pay for purchases with our phones and call or text without holding them (think: Apple Watch). We can even use our devices to confirm that we locked our doors when we left home. Our smartphones are now indispensable.
Our perceptions of what it means to be connected and how we can communicate have changed over the last 10 to 20 years. The speed of communication has driven this change and brought with it a new way of life. Now we’re heading into the IoT frontier, where the home becomes an important gateway to the consumer.
How Will Brands Play Together?
Will competing brands be able to break into the automated home environment? In the smart home, all of the connected appliances must work together, regardless brand. When the consumer comes home at night, his Honeywell thermostat should sense the activation of his Genie garage door opener and begin to heat or cool the house. If the consumer sets his Maytag dishwasher to run overnight, the thermostat should automatically adjust the temperature to lower heating bills.
Technologies like SmartThings and Nest will help drive this automation. In the background, smart appliances will send data to brands that can drive delightful consumer experiences. The refrigerator will tell you via your Fitbit that your protein shakes are getting low just as you finish your workout. Brands will have to adapt to these new gateways to compete for placement within our homes.
Obstacles on the Adoption Path
Marketers have a tendency to think we’re much further along with creating indispensable experiences than we are in the minds of the consumer. We’re not going to get to a state of ubiquity until an architecture is in place to connect home devices. Adopting a unified standard will be the biggest hurdle and may not be required for widespread adoption, though it would certainly help.
For the house to become an effective gateway, connectivity shouldn’t be the barrier. We don’t want to force consumers to decide—when they’re at a Best Buy looking at device options—between Z-Wave, ZigBee, or Bluetooth. We just want them to go in, buy a product, and bring it home, confident that they’ll be able to hook it up.
In addition to connectivity agnosticism, there’s a much broader customer ownership question that needs to be addressed. Whirlpool, for example, doesn’t currently maintain a relationship with its customers outside of the customer purchasing a device and possibly filling out a warranty card. If that device is connected to Nest, the Nest architecture owns the relationship. Nest handles the automation of the device as well as the information it collects. Integrated connectivity will require information sharing agreements with Whirlpool, but until then ownership of the consumer relationship will remain a gray area.
Which Gateway Will Win?
Right now the phone is definitely the consumer’s most powerful asset—a preference-centered device and remote control that we use both inside and outside the home. The phone’s portability will continue to make it a desirable channel for getting to know customers. But home automation technology is in the headlights, so it will become more about the automated lifestyle. That’s why, in the end, the home may become the preferred gateway for marketers, with the phone remaining a key channel for marketing excellence.
Brands will become much more interested in the automated lifestyle, and in helping consumers get value from automations. Brands won’t necessarily have to decide between the mobile channel and home channel, but marketers will be looking for ways to better define their consumers and all of their attributes, regardless of the gateway. The opportunities for marketers to become part of the automated lifestyle are just beginning to unfold.