Much of the marketing conversation related to the Internet of Things centers on the technology and the ways in which Internet-enabled devices and services can simplify the shopping experience —even eliminate the need to shop in the traditional sense — and make it harder for brands to communicate effectively with consumers.
Blending the digital and physical worlds will create countless opportunities to enhance the lives of consumers by turning the act of shopping into a literal no-brainer. If pushing a ‘Buy Now’button is too much work, then automatic replenishment is just the thing.
But no matter how automated the world becomes, not everyone will be able to fulfill all of their product needs through the connected household. People will still need to actually shop for at least a few things. And that means marketers will still need to find effective methods to engage them.
And effectively engaging shoppers is much more about the message than it is about the medium. Internet-enabled devices might give marketers ways to reach consumers at more ideal moments in their shopping journeys, but timing doesn't count for anything if the communication isn't right.
Despite the increasingly automated world around us, we still need to be marketers.
The main difference in this digital age is that the communication needs to be a two-way dialogue. Social media lets consumers share how they feel about brands, so brands can tell them how they should feel. Marketers can no longer tell consumers what they should do; we need to ask them, ‘What are we going to do together?’
And if the dialogue is what really matters, then even some of the old school digital marketing vehicles can work just fine; even those that were left for dead in the past.
Email, for example, hasn't been viewed as a sexy tool since SMS"became part of the marketing vernacular. This perception is mainly because email's ability to influence behavior tanked some years back as consumer inboxes became flooded with irrelevant brand messages. And then spam folders began saving consumers the trouble of deleting what they didn't want.
But a number of CPG marketers have established very effective e-mail programs by creating those two-way dialogues. Kraft Foods has done a great job with its three email newsletters, (Food and Family, Make Tonight Delicious and Coupons,) by learning, and then responding to, user preferences. Over time, Kraft has basically let me design my own email, so now I almost never get any communication that I didn't request and, therefore, don't want.
That level of individual, personal commitment makes consumers sit back and say, "Here's a brand that takes the time to understand me." When that happens, you're on your way to establishing an emotional connection that will make consumers want to hear from you.
Not everyone is doing it as well, of course. One recent example was from a manufacturer with a subject line that warmly declared, ‘Happy Holidays from us to you!’ But inside, recipients were confronted with an ad for a generic sweepstakes company and had to scroll down before finding the holiday message. Any emotional connection that might have been made was immediately redirected to a third-party website.
As the Internet of Things becomes more pervasive and consumers enjoy more and more options for shortcutting the shopping journey, the ability to develop personal, emotional connections with consumers will become increasingly critical to a brand's success.
So don't worry marketers. We're not all out of a job just yet. We just need to start listening as much as we talk.