It wasn't long ago that the power relationship between people and technology was enormously one-sided. You hit a button and the television channel changed; you hit another button and the TV turned off. People had control and devices obeyed commands.
We now live in the "Internet of Things" where technologies interconnect and help us in our daily lives. They don't just do what we tell them to -- they learn from one another and from us. Devices are helping people be more productive, with less fuss and time wasted.
The challenge in this new world is striking that balance between what is engaging and what can be intrusive. Technology should intuitively create a new clutter-free, curated environment and a productive way of living.
Meanwhile, how do marketers take advantage of the "Internet of Things" without annoying consumers or overstepping the boundaries? The key to smart and successful marketing is finding the right time and the right experiences to engage. In fact, today's smart technologies can do a lot to reduce information overload -- countering Orwellian fears some might have about machines that know so much about us.
But there is a trade-off. People increasingly expect technology to intuitively help them "switch off" when necessary, rather than always be on. A digital trend discussed in Microsoft's recent research study, "IntelligentlyOn" tells us that consumers want devices that understand their needs instinctively, and with that 41 per cent of Canadians expect brands to know when to talk to them.
Building Experiences around Consumers
People will engage with brands that build an experience that meets their everyday needs and wants. Devices, including mobile, are continuously learning -- our likes and dislikes, our musical tastes, our schedules, our homes and who our friends and family are.
The new MSN is a nice example of a platform built with this in mind. User research confirmed that "subtraction" is more powerful for the user than addition -- i.e. it is easier for users to remove content than find and add it. MSN took that information to heart. The new homepage, for example, is curated into themes like news, entertainment, health and fitness and food and drink. In addition to news content, it pulls email, social networks, Skype, maps, cloud storage, and productivity tools together in one toolbar. If you like Sports move it to the top of your homepage, if you don't move it to the bottom. It's not just about providing interesting content and aggregating social, but it's about creating an experience that is easy for the consumer to personalize and relevant to how they consume and engage with content.
This is just one example, developers today are creating apps and games that tailor their functionality to our everyday lives, because that's what we as consumers increasingly expect. They can recommend where to go for dinner, where to stay in a new town or how to avoid traffic, demonstrating the value in technology that senses people's needs and then offers support and solutions. I'd love to go to Vancouver and in the heart of Gastown, get an alert for a great restaurant with the ability to book reservations with just one click.
The Most Important Engagement Factor: Timing
It's tempting to suggest that the most effective way to land your message then would be through smart devices, which allow the consumer and their personal technology to choose for them. But more and more people expect the brand to know when to engage, without being told. Recognizing the time and instances when people are most receptive to marketing messages is the key.
Mobile marketer Kiip and its "moments of achievement" in-app platform does this very well. Kiip recognizes and engages with in-app achievements, such as reaching the next level in a game or running your fastest lap on a jogging app. Essentially, building a platform that capitalizes on consumer activity to provide rewards based on who they are, what they like and what they are doing. For example, hit the gym and immediately get a coupon towards the purchase of new athletic shoes.
The marketing impact is clear. Kiip doesn't bombard users with advertising enticing them to buy things, but instead recognizes an individual's achievement and matches the user with a reward that caters to their needs. The brand, meanwhile, is allied with the achievement, and in effect participates in that moment with the individual. And it is far from obtrusive: in fact, the reward enhances the overall experience.
And that's the trick, if there is one. In the Internet of Things, a marketer's job isn't just to communicate brand messages, but to deliver consumer experiences that resonate. Let's focus on building experiences that connect with them, show that we understand (and appreciate) them and give them a reason to come back. And we can do all of this with intelligent technologies.