What does a more ‘human’ Internet of Things mean for brands?

Eric Suliga, Creative Director

By Jessica Groopman Jessica Groopman is Industry Analyst & Founding Partner at Kaleido Insights, a research and advisory firm analyzing the impacts of technology disruption on humans, businesses, and ecosystems. Jessica leads the automation practice, conducts research on product, service, and process automation using the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, and blockchain, and specializes in user experience and data integrity. Kaleido Insights supports clients with research-based advisory and recommended courses of action in business model change, customer experience design, marketing, automation, and digital innovation strategy roadmaps. To learn more about Kaleido Insights, visit www.kaleidoinsights.com.

For years now, consumers have been watching the emergence of more and more connected devices. From smartphones to smart speakers, from wearables to wi-fi-enabled vehicles, the so-called Internet of Things (IoT) has gained mainstream familiarity, yet can still be slow to gain widespread adoption. But IoT isn’t the only show in town; machine learning, natural language processing and understanding, computer vision, and robotics are just some of the adjacent technologies and techniques beginning to infuse connected products, transform their interfaces, and alter consumer interactions. This has a myriad of implications for us all, but for businesses, this represents an opportunity not just to improve the customer experience, but to facilitate a better ‘human’ experience. Consider this opportunity through three lenses:

Less about the channel, more about the individual

As connected interfaces, sensor-enabled devices and infrastructure pervade virtually every realm of our lives, the corresponding number of ‘customer touchpoints’ increases. From wearables on our bodies and connected appliances in our homes, to digital experiences in-car and in-store, to our mobile devices that follow us almost everywhere, brands can now access incredibly vast and varied data about consumers. But access isn’t the point.

Success is less about channel strategy, and more about how to respectfully, contextually, and compellingly communicate with the human on the other end of the device. It’s about doing so in precisely the right moment through precisely the right medium with precisely the right message for that individual. Designing for the individual is about building for contextual content delivery, because contextual content is what bridges physical and digital experiences.

For brands, this ever-dynamic equation represents an unparalleled opportunity to deliver highly personalized content to an ‘audience of one’.

Less corporate, more human interactions

Consumers have long been exhausted of overly templated or salesy speak, and rapidly tune out companies that fail to engage them in contextually relevant or personalized ways. Although mobile apps, digital, and social media have enabled brands to communicate more intimately with consumers, these still involve a fair amount of friction—typing, tapping, advertising, click-throughs, etc.

Meanwhile, recent improvements in the accuracy and reliability of voice recognition are transforming human-device interactions from touch to speech. Not only is it just easier and more natural to speak than type, tap, or click, it lowers barriers to access… especially for the disabled, elderly, computer illiterate, etc. When emerging technologies—voice in this case—redefine interface, it’s not just an advancement in ease of use, it unlocks new modalities for humanization. Not only can our connected devices talk to us, voice agents have names, gender, tell jokes, and even offer curiously wry responses at times.

Humanization also becomes more possible as these modalities combine. Take an intersection like music—an incredibly personal, even emotional medium—with machine learning, contextual marketing, and voice recognition. Instead of the same advertisement for everyone, brands can leverage the rich multi-modal data and the intimacy of audio to activate the listener as a participant in the experience—be it an ad for a beer on the beach or an offer to pump up a work-out. As such, branded content doesn’t interrupt with salesy noise, it enhances with a contextual ‘have you considered?’ much like a human counterpart might.

Less interruption, more welcome brand interactions

Google’s Assistant product, an AI-based virtual agent that runs on Google’s smart speaker and other hardware, was developed, according to its chief designer, as a ‘friendly companion’— “always there, but never in the way; her primary job is to be helpful.”

For an AI-based assistant, this is a strategic personification, but for advertisers, this represents a fundamental shift in approach. Instead of competing for eyeballs and impressions with pop-ups, banners, and coupons, brands must recalibrate content and advertisements to become enhancements of the overall product/lifestyle experience. Already, brands like Absolut Vodka offer smart labeling which, when scanned by the customer, unlock exclusive cocktail recipes. Other companies are experimenting with AR and VR to bring sports fans right to the end-zone. These aren’t just “cool” experiences, they reposition the role of the brand in enhancing the product experience; moreover, brands can use data from sensors, apps, search, purchase, and third party data like weather to continually serve up better content or tools that actually add value for a user, while contextually overlaying the brand.

Remember, consumer IoT domains are already inherently personal— wearables worn on one’s person; connected homes; in-car experiences; even in retail—invasion in any one of these realms is not just an interruption, it violates consumer-brand relationships. For businesses, the challenge is sourcing, processing and wielding responsibly a wide variety and volume of data and interfaces to craft highly personalized and context-appropriate interactions, without annoying, alienating, or ultimately creeping customers out.

A more ‘humanized’ IoT spells better user experience and more brand opportunities

As IoT converges with more and more technologies, new data, interfaces, and contexts present opportunities that were previously absent or too difficult to configure.
  • From clicking, typing, tapping → speaking, gesture, screenless interactions
  • From salesy ‘push’ tactics and templates → multi-modal data and contextual content that ‘pulls’ customers, engaging as a human would
  • From broadcasting to rigid segments → dynamic targeting based on individual
  • From corporate voice → to humanized IoT voice, where any channel converses naturally, as a helpful brand ambassador
  • From irrelevant or disruptive pop-up ads → emotionally resonant, in-stream branded moments, offers, or advice
  • From corporate noise → redefining brands as trusted, useful, emotionally resonant and timely partners… ‘always there, but not in the way.
Ultimately, a world in which devices behave, respond, and assist more like humans is one in which cold, encoded, rigid technology is de-emphasized. Finally, instead of people conforming to technology, transformation of interface from screen to screenless helps technology conform to us—our manner of communicating, our physical spaces, indeed our expectation for personalization.

The technological shifts and best practices outlined above aren’t just about spiffy marketing techniques; they are imperative as technologies continue to infuse consumers with superhuman powers and expectations. To learn more about Jessica and how Kaleido Insights helps brands, visit www.kaleidoinsights.com. You can also access Kaleido Insights’ latest research report, Three Macrotrends Impacting the Journey to 2030, which dives into longer-term implications of the technologies, impacts, and brand opportunities outlined in this article.

Image Source: Categories adapted from the report, Contextual Campaigns: Content, Context, and Consumer Connections in a Post-Screen World, by Rebecca Lieb, Kaleido Insights