2016, The Year of Connected Disconnect

By Corbin Brown, Senior Strategist, Giant Spoon

Over the past several years, CES has ushered in an awakening of the everyday objects that surround us. Each year, more and more of these "dumb" things become "smart". As we continue to digest last week's showcase, it's difficult not to feel like this was the year that the Internet of Things became the Internet of Everything.

Indeed, the one common thread with nearly every product at CES? Whether flying remotely, sitting on your wrist, speeding down the road, or brewing coffee in your kitchen, it is undoubtedly connected to the Internet. The connected world isn't just a collection of coffee mugs and crock-pots - it is much wider in scope, encompassing the kitchen, the city, and everything in between. But as we canvassed miles of expo center carpet, surrounded by one Internet-enabled object after another, we can't help but wonder: Is smarter actually better? And more importantly, does this overwhelming trend really matter for marketers?

The answer? Not Yet (and Not Yet).

The promise of the connected home - or the quantified self, or the smart car, and so on and so forth - relies upon a symphony of conversation between objects. When these objects talk to each other, they will save us time (that is, accomplishing multiple tasks with one command) and make us smarter (predicting what we need before we need it, giving us insights into our daily patterns that we otherwise wouldn't have been aware of.) But this promise can only be fulfilled through standardization and centralization - an operating system for the connected world. What was missing from CES amid this tidal wave of smart hardware was a breakthrough platform that makes these smart devices useful. Google Brillo, Apple HomeKit, Lowe's Iris, and Under Armour Record are all attempts at solving this problem. But they haven't cracked it yet. Right now, each hub is compatible with a small menu of approved products. In other words, each operating system has its own tiny app store.

Until we have the equivalent of an iOS or Android for our connected devices, we will be stuck in a state of connected disconnect - a jungle of near impenetrable chaos that only the bravest marketers would dare to navigate.

When our connected world finally begins communicating is when things will begin to get exciting. Here are the three most important takeaways that brands and marketers need to start thinking about:

1. Platform loyalty will supersede product loyalty.

The consumer's relationship to hardware will completely change when we operate every home appliance, every wearable, and every sensor through a third-party app on our phones or tablets. This shift has both an upside and a downside for brands. The upside is that the user interface - carved in steel and dotted with knobs and buttons - can instantly be dynamic and personalized. For example, in any given household, a dishwasher could be used by a teenager, a parent, and a grandmother. But when they engage with it through an app on a smartphone, the user experience could be customized to cater to that individual's usage patterns or habits - the teenager would undoubtedly be savvier with usage than a grandmother who prefers using a landline to a cell. Brands that recognize and take advantage of this opportunity can retain a relationship with the consumer and increase their product's shelf life. The downside is that products become modular while the platform is permanent. I'll be able to cycle through dozens of wearable devices without concern when I know that my activity profile lives in one digital place. In this way, a great product must not only do its job in isolation but also weave itself into a larger ecosystem of tools and evolve with the platform.

2. Marketers will have a rich digital map of our physical lives.

Cookies track our digital lives -- painting a picture of our interests, browsing habits, and consumer preferences. But when our cars, homes, and limbs are laden with intelligent objects that communicate with each other, our physical activity patterns inside and outside the home become data points that paint a vivid picture about who we are and what we do with our time. This data will have instant - not to mention, powerful - impact on media, creative, and e-commerce by informing everything from messaging to targeting to budget allocation.

3. A connected world will be a new canvas for innovation and creativity.

Despite the present lack of standardization and centralization with connected hardware, brands have already begun experimenting with new products and creative executions that hint at the future potential of a connected world. At CES, one brand revealed a smart refrigerator that tells you when you're running low on milk and let's you order it for delivery on a tablet mounted to the door. But, using entertainment as one example, we're just scratching the surface - when your lights, heating system, TV, and ceiling fan all talk to each other, they could flicker during Paranormal Activity or (semi-spoiler alert) blast your face with wind at the closing scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Marketers flock to CES in search of that one trend or piece of consumer tech that sets the world ablaze (in addition to the meetings, parties, and Tyga and Lady Gaga concerts we'd never get into otherwise.) We're listening for the gunshot at the starting line in a race to see who can be the first brand to figure out how to use autonomous cars (2015), virtual reality (2014), wearables (2013), or 3D printing (2012). But this year, if you were listening hard enough, it's what you didn't hear that mattered the most: A platform for the connected world, the cure to all of this connected disconnect.