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Internet Of Things: Beyond the Smartphone Screen

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By Steve Griffiths, Global CDO & Head of Strategic Services & Partnerships, DDB Europe

A recent report from Deloitte shows the extent to which people in the UK have become ‘addicted’ to their smartphones. 10% admitted to using their handsets "always" or "very often" while eating at home or in restaurants, a third of UK adults has argued with their partner about using their mobile phone too much, 50% of 18 to 24 year olds said they checked their phones in the middle of the night (mainly for instant messaging and social media) and one in ten adults admitted to reaching for their phone as soon as they woke up.

These are staggering but probably conservative numbers, as people rarely own up to the extent of their usage – even to themselves.

I recently went on a smartphone detox because of an all-consuming habit and gave my phone away to my daughter.

Don’t get me wrong - I think smartphones are amazing and services like UBER are evidence of how these things have transformed our daily routines. So, my issue is not with these life-enhancing services but rather that there are so few examples of services, which are genuinely better and easier to use than the current alternative. As a consequence, we all spend too much of our time, head down, staring at our screens instead of taking in the world that is in front of us. In other words, our smartphone screens have become too much of the window through which our lives happen, and that doesn’t feel like a good thing.

So, what about The Internet Of Things? Well actually I have a huge amount of hope that IoT will change that because it will unburden us all from our smartphones.

Back in 1998 Nicholas Negroponte said: “Like air and drinking water, being digital will be noticed only by its absence, not its presence.” His quote perfectly captures why I am so excited by IoT. It suggests that life will happen, and that technology will exist to make life better, which is in sharp contrast to some of the talk about BIG DATA and AI, where you might be forgiven for thinking that technology will happen and that life will exist only to make technology better.

In Negroponte’s world our smartphones will become less obvious as the connections between objects, places and people become smarter and UBER is the perfect illustration of this in action. Screen interaction kept to a minimum and complex demand and supply processes dramatically simplified and automated leaving us to get from A to B with minimum effort.

IoT is an opportunity for brands and retailers to move beyond the limitations of the smartphone screen, and also to overcome a significant issue they have all faced: how to covert the enormous amount of screen time we all generate, into opportunities to engage with us as consumers. With the emergence of IoT where everything and everyone is connected, not only do the opportunities to engage multiply dramatically, but with the addition of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, the room for brands and retailers to deliver more personalised and more intimate value is immense.

Take the example of DROPLET- a start up focusing on gardening. DROPLET has developed a garden sprinkler for people wanting a beautifully flowering garden without the effort, paying for a gardener or investing in an expensive watering system. Because DROPLET is a connected device, it can be programmed to target specific areas of your garden with more water than others. It knows the exact amount of water to dispense based on plant data as well as weather and soil data associated with your postcode.

Whilst it’s a great solution for novice gardeners from a marketer’s perspective, it is pretty interesting marketing too. Data from DROPLET can be useful for driving sales of plant food, plants and other associated garden supplies. And because gardening supplies is such a big category, even a small increase in percentage of supplies sold would make the ROI for a retailer extremely attractive.

This is a great example of how marketers within retail should be thinking about IoT. A service based solution that delivers value for the consumer whilst at the same time helps the marketer better understand the needs of the customer and then provides a communications/sales channel through which the marketer can proactively offer products that suit the consumers’ lifestyle and needs. It’s a win-win for all.

Although the example may seem simple, the challenge for retailers and brands to embrace IoT will be significant. IoT will build new connections across the retail ecosystem, requiring new and connected customer journeys, which generates more data, putting pressure on brands to act with transparency and integrity, as they convince customers that the data collected will be put to good use (any wrong steps will quickly destroy trust).

IoT will require major investment from retailers and brands in new skill sets and partnerships, in new processes and crucially in new platforms that allow them to connect, aggregate and influence their own touch-points and the customer engagement points. New Zealand based start-up Plexure, has been working with us at DDB and our in-house data specialists DataBay, since 2014, on global retail client accounts, turning the constant stream of available data into business intelligence, customer understanding, customer engagement and, most importantly, into sales.

The key insight for us as we have gone on that journey, and in learning from organisations like Samsung, Google and Apple who are leading innovations in home based IoT, is that by taking a platform or ecosystem approach, we can quickly accelerate and scale the potential that IoT has to offer our clients.

About the Author

As Global Chief Digital Officer, Steve is responsible for DDB Worldwide’s McDonald’s digital business, as well as being responsible for developing strategic services and partnerships for DDB Europe. He is an experienced business leader with a background in CRM and digital communications, technology and business transformation and innovation.

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