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Everything Is Content: Marketing with the Internet of Things

Nora Ephron used to say, “Everything is copy.” Meaning, when you’re a writer, no part of your life is off limits as a writing topic.

For marketers, the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) means that everything is content.

A short introduction to the IoT: It refers to everyday objects—refrigerators, baby monitors, thermostats—that are connected to the internet, but that also measure and gather data. Typically, these objects are known as “smart.” Your refrigerator can keep track of foods you’re getting low on and send a grocery list to your phone. You can access your baby monitor online when you’re on that first postpartum date night. You can raise or lower the temperature of your home when you’re away. You get the picture.

In addition to convenience products, the IoT is responsible for the rise of lifesaving innovations: smart cement, equipped with sensors to monitor stress and cracks and even heal its own cracks, can be used to build a bridge. Several companies have recently introduced smart watches that monitor blood glucose for diabetics.

And “smart” objects aren’t going away: It’s estimated that there will be 75 billion connected devices by 2020, ten times the number of human beings we expect will be on the planet.

So, what’s the value to marketers? First of all, the IoT is delivering vast troves of knowledge to brands. “Just imagine the types of insights they can gain access to,” says Deon Newman, Chief Marketing Officer for IBM’s Watson Internet of Things. “They can see what features a customer is using, how the product is performing, how usage patterns and performance are changing over time and what the implications are to future product design.”

In addition to uncovering previously unavailable data to help them design better products and market to their customers, innovative brands are finding ways to deliver marketing messages via smart products. Some examples:

Home Depot brilliantly integrates elements of its mobile app, including online shopping carts and wish lists, with its brick-and-mortar stores. When contractors enter the store, they receive a personalized greeting, the most efficient route to navigate the store based on the items in their online shopping cart, and even a check of the store’s inventory.

One of the wearable tech company Fitbit’s benefits, its social accountability aspect, is also its biggest marketing tool. Users can choose to post their activity data to social media, providing what are essentially testimonials for the brand.

And no discussion of the IoT is complete without talking about the Amazon Echo and Google Home, “home voice assistants” that have sold 27 million in the year since their introduction. Brands are now rushing to develop branded skills—the voice assistant equivalent to iPhone apps—with the aim of getting consumers to interact with products by voice. Tide’s Stain Remover skill gives advice for combating more than 200 types of stains. Campbell’s Kitchen skill guides users through recipes. And Nestlé’s GoodNes skill combines vocal recipe instructions with online content.

The ability to reach and interact with users has expanded so far beyond traditional advertising mediums that the only limit to marketing opportunities is… well, to quote a wise woman: The limit does not exist.