When we first started hearing about the “Internet of Things,” it seemed to be more than just the next technology buzzword. Many found it difficult to imagine how the abstract nature of the internet and the physical nature of what we call “things” might coexist—and to do what, exactly? Over the last couple of years however, this concept has come to the forefront of our relationship with technology. The Internet of Things—the idea that nearly every device can be internet-enabled and can communicate with our other devices—is the fastest-growing area in tech. There are over one billion connected devices right now, and that number is just scratching the surface of mobile’s vast potential.
It isn’t a stretch to say that the Internet of Things (IoT) is going to change everything. At its best, it is going to help bring about the shiny future envisioned by sci-fi optimists. Soon, your fridge might know when you need more milk and can order it directly. Your car might know where every other car on the road is located and automatically avoid them. Your alarm clock might alert the shower to turn on and start getting warm. The IoT is a series of amazing interconnected developments which will also change how market research is conducted. It will allow for unprecedented insight into consumer behavior and for smart businesses to tailor their product development on an more personal level.
The Arrival of Really Big Data
We’re in the era of Big Data. Anyone who has skimmed a newspaper headline over the last year can tell you that “Big Data” is probably the most serious buzzword rival to the “Internet of Things.” The information age has allowed us to collect incredible amounts of data on consumer behavior, as we track buying patterns, survey responses, and reviews on websites like Yelp. This has given us a great insight into what people want and don’t want.
This sort of data is a mere trickle compared to the flood that is coming via the IoT. When all devices are connected, it won’t just benefit the consumer. Let’s take a look at the type of data that a smart refrigerator can provide as a small slice of what we can expect. It’s important to note here that this situation is currently hypothetical (although it probably won’t be for much longer).
A shopper in the very near future whom we’ll call Dave, has a smart fridge. This fridge not only knows how to adjust its temperature when needed, but can keep stock of its contents. It has a scanner so that when Dave puts groceries in inside, it conducts a product quick-read. There are designated areas in the fridge for milk, eggs, soda cans– anything you can imagine. It tracks expiration dates.
Even more importantly, the fridge gets to know Dave (algorithmically, not personally). It learns his shopping routines and what Dave needs based on these patterns. Maybe it even suggests new or related products from a different brand. The fridge will sync with his digital calendar to know when Dave might be hosting an upcoming dinner party.
The mini fridge sends a message to Dave on his phone reporting that it has made grocery list, and asks him if he would you like to order these items. Dave can say “yes or no,” or check off just a few items to order, and the fridge will do the rest. It will scan stores for price comparisons, place the order and make sure it is delivered at a time when Dave is home (or if Dave wants, have it ready at the store to be picked up). At some point, if Dave chooses, the fridge can do all the ordering without approval, once it gets to know him better.
What the Internet of Things Means for Market Research
This is the crux of the IoT—that devices can learn behaviors. They are smart and are getting smarter. This leap in artificial intelligence doesn’t derive from a series of ice-breaker conversations, but rather from pattern recognition and analysis. It’s about learning the way someone prefers to do things and then figuring out how to anticipate needs. It’s all about data.
This data is at the heart of market research. The manufacturer of packaged foods can see who buys their butter, when, how long they have it, how much they use and if they start to use it more during the winter or the summer. The manufacturer will have possession of the purchasing patterns of millions of people and can really start to understand how and why consumers purchase goods holistically. It’s like gathering feedback from millions of real-time surveys.
Smart businesses will use this information to their advantage. They will consult with companies that understand how to take really big data and make it manageable. The upshot is that we will end up with more targeted marketing and services. Imagine knowing that someone is running out of milk, and then sending them a coupon for your brand. That kind of incredibly specific marketing is beneficial to the consumer and to your company. You can create loyalty through knowledge and through proactive market assessment.
When all of our devices can communicate, the world will be a different place. Knowing how to manage and take advantage of the data means that your business can change with progress. At the end of the day, it’s all about interconnection.