The future of smart devices

September 26, 2016


Smart Devices cartoon

The Internet of Things is coming soon to consumer packaged goods.

Pernod Richard introduced a pilot last month with 40,000 bottles of Malibu rum, turned into “digital touchpoints” with an NFC chip. The bottles connect wirelessly to your phone, providing exclusive content like drinks recipes and prize draws. As marketing manager Jo Alexander put it:

“We have identified an opportunity to use our bottles as media platforms, we are trying to find ways to connect with consumers more intimately. By turning bottles into vehicles that directly connect to consumers’ phones, we are providing added value.”

As MD Gilles Bogaert expanded:

“When it comes to the IoT and [our bottles], clearly we are working on it a lot. More and more it will be focused on consumer engagement. That’s something we’re looking to do more of in the future. To be able to create more experiences around the brands, including when people are at home organising parties for instance.”

Diageo has been experimenting in a similar way with “smart bottles” of Johnny Walker that are designed to improve the experience throughout the process from buying to consuming the bottle.

It makes sense that earliest adopters are spirits brands given the high price points that warrant the technology. But it will be interesting to see how this extends over time to other products, when every brand wants to create “experiences.” Huggies experimented a few years ago with “TweetPee”, a diaper that sends a tweet when it detects wetness.

The Internet of Things brings whole new opportunities for brands to interact with consumers. But consumers may not be as enthusiastic as the brand teams about all of this “consumer engagement.”  Marketers need to understand that putting a chip on a product won’t suddenly make it “smart”. It’s how you use that technology.

As Haydn Sweterlitsch at HackerAgency put it, “When I can sell you pizza through your lightbulbs, it doesn’t mean I should.”

As the Internet of Things continues to explode in the home, what is the place for consumer brands? I like the “Calm Design” approach that Harvard fellow Amber Case shared at last week’s FutureM conference:

“This technology isn’t smart; it’s just giving us incessant amounts of information … The scarcest resource isn’t technology; it’s our attention. In the beginning, we had many people to one device and now we have many devices to one person, and how that affects our attention is very intense and very difficult to handle.”

She advocated the following approach for Internet of Things experiences:

  • Require the smallest possible amount of attention
  • Inform and create calm environments
  • Make use of the periphery and not always remain in the center of attention
  • Amplify the best of technology and best of humanity
  • Communicate, but technology does not need to speak
  • Work even when it fails
  • Only use the minimum amount of technology needed to solve a problem
  • Respect social norms

Here’s a related cartoon I drew in 2014 when Google announced that it was buying Nest.











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