Understanding Shoppers Is Key To IoT Marketing Strategy

Will the Internet of Things one day let shoppers browse the aisles of their favorite retailers without ever leaving home?

It's easy to jump to such futuristic notions as you follow the evolution of internet-enabled devices like the Samsung Family Hub Refrigerator, which caused a stir when introduced at the CES in January.

The new smart fridge raised eyebrows by hinting at a future where consumers might do their grocery shopping right there in the kitchen­ through an embedded app (developed by financial services company MasterCard) that lets consumers make lists and place orders directly from the appliance.  

Before anyone panics, consider that the fridge currently retails for about $5,000. So don't expect massive changes in shopping behavior anytime soon.

But one thing the introduction of such internet-enabled home appliances should have marketers thinking about is the need to work closely with retail partners. That's not a new idea, but it's one that might become even more important.

If that sounds counterintuitive, it's not. If the future food shopper will program her refrigerator to communicate directly with her favorite retailer, brand marketers will have limited chances to influence purchase decisions. If they aren't on her list already, and aren't working with that favorite retailer, they'll risk losing her forever.

More and more, effective marketing needs to balance the needs of three key elements: brand, shopper and retailer. Brands need to find relevant, authentic ways to engage shoppers. That often requires working through retailers, who are trying to do the same thing with their shoppers and already have established relationships.

One of the hardest aspects of marketing in the post-mass media age has been moving away from a singular focus on delivering the brand message. That's still vital, but the message now needs to be filtered through shopper needs to ensure relevance and authenticity.

And working with retailers requires a holistic understanding of your partners' go-to- market strategies and objectives. When developing programs for clients, there are three key questions that should be asked:

  • Does the program reflect the retailer's brand equity and values? Tapping into the reasons why shoppers have already connected with this retailer will make brand programs much more relevant.   
  • Are you clearly delivering on the retailer's priorities? Remember that you need to make the program relevant for partners if you want their support.
  • Are you optimizing retailer vehicles and platforms? It's often easier and more effective to engage shoppers by leveraging tools they already use and value. Instead of looking for a cool new way to reach Target guests, why not tap into a proven commodity like the retailer's Cartwheel app?

While considering these three elements, also take note of what isn't among them: the technology itself.

Marketers should never obsess over technology without first understanding how shoppers use it and how it can be leveraged to deliver relevant brand messages.

Two questions to ask: Does the technology solve a shopper problem? Does it enable relevant behavior? In the case of making lists and ordering groceries from the refrigerator, the answer to both might someday be, "Absolutely." (I'm not as bullish about the need to virtually browse aisles, though.)


Internet-enabled appliances bring new opportunities and challenges. So it never hurts to start considering future possibilities. But if you focus on understanding shoppers and retailers, the technology won't be scary at all.

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