Edelman Digital

Global business, big data

Why Marketers Must Understand the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is the biggest, most impactful trend ever.



Never before have so many technologies matured so quickly to enable such transformative innovation. It took at least 60 years for the textile industry to spark the industrial revolution which impacted nearly every aspect of daily life. Many believe the Internet of Things (IoT) will have similar wide-reaching impact.

Cloud computing, ubiquitous internet connectivity, miniaturized sensors, radios, cameras and chips, robust software tools and customized mass production are enabling the remarkable IoT shift.

The IoT schema is relatively simple:

  • Things capture and share data
  • Things are either connected to the internet directly or must be connected to a computer or mobile device that is.
  • Devices like mobile phones, computers and servers then gather the data and drive actions anywhere on the network of connected things and devices.

A refrigerator (thing) can sense if the milk is gone, send the data to a server (device) that then add milk to the shopping list on your phone (connected device in the network).

My dog’s collar (thing) can sense if she’s having a seizure and can immediately send the data to a server (device) which then sends an alert to my phone (connected device) and an email to my vet.

That can of sparkling water (thing) on your desk contains temperature and location sensors and is covered in imperceptible barcodes. Its manufacturers can track it from creation to warehouse to store to home and then through disposal and recycling. They now know average lifespan, locations, temperatures and how long the can sits in your house before being hauled away and recycled – for every single can they create. The data gathered (by devices) are invaluable for manufacturing, supply chain efficiency and consumer insights, to name a few.

For marketers the IoT will have massive implications on how we develop and execute campaigns, structure our teams and optimize performance. We will shift our focus to gaining access to consumer and product IoT data at scale. We will be required to provide value to our key audiences in exchange for their permission to both capture their data and reach them directly. We will develop and optimize campaigns that use the data to trigger communications that compels action.

For example, big retailers will work with appliance manufacturers to give you the option to connect your refrigerator to the retailer’s mobile app enabling the fridge to add milk to your shopping list automatically when it’s out. Retail marketers will need to develop incentives to entice consumers to make the connection and then will need to mine the data to drive offers. When they know the milk is gone, why not add a cereal coupon to the list as well? What will be more effective, automatically adding a cereal coupon to a smart mobile shopping list or buying milk and cereal ads during The Kardashians?

To do this work effectively, marketing teams will need to transform. Instead of having brand and retail teams with siloed agencies executing creative campaigns across media and social channels, they will become consumer-centric organizations that look to data scientists to determine audience segments that drive campaigns executed by creative technologists skilled in the art of marketing automation – yes, for consumer marketers as well – and testing, learning and optimization. Brand awareness and equity building will still be important but will become secondary to these marketing sciences because the ability to target will be the competitive differentiator. To be honest, this is already true today.

It’s easy to see emerging technology as confusing, buzzwordy fads, especially as we see marquee industry events like CES inundated with IoT gadgets. But don’t let your snark blind you, the IoT is coming and has an opportunity to change everything. Consider purchasing connected devices to understand how they work and how this will change your marketing strategies in the future.

Marko Z. Muellner is Digital VP and group director in Portland.

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