Internet of Things

smart-pill-technology-marketThe Consumer Electronics Show this month has led to lots of press on the internet of things, where every gadget and device is connected to the internet, and sending and receiving data.

Samsung’s Chief Executive pledged that every single piece of Samsung hardware will be connected to the internet within five years, including TVs and domestic appliances. This is very much science fact, not science fiction, and while many will yell is there no privacy left in this world, I would like to suggest my top 3, the first of which I presented for the first time back in 2008:

1. The kitchen – imagine if you are on a controlled diet and you decide to break the rules and cook a ready-meal in the microwave followed by sticky-toffee pudding. Your fridge sensors notice what has been removed from the freezer compartment and the microwave tells your fridge you are about to cook that high-fat, sugar-and-salt meal. The microwave declines your request. You are the system administrator of your kitchen, so you override the microwave and instruct it to cook the food. Your microwave obeys, but it then notifies the fridge, which as the central processing unit of the kitchen sends a note to your doctor and your insurance company, and now you are no longer insured.

2. Fruit & Vegetables – coming from a background of food, I always wondered why my father had to keep a box of fruit that was always bruised or damaged to one side. With RFID chips on the cartons plus tighter planning with transportation schedules, more fruit makes it to its destination intact and bad apples cannot influence the rest of the crate.

3. The health pill – my favourite of the three, which is a tiny pill that you take weekly that monitors your wellbeing and sends a weekly status check to your doctor over wifi via a traffic light system. If it displays green you continue as normal; amber and you are sent a text message asking you to make an appointment; if the doctor receives a red signal, you are called within the hour. Preventative action can save the health services millions and technology must be used to help facilitate change.

I am all for the internet of things because the possibilities are endless, I just think they could have found a more interesting name for it.

Every keystroke tells a tale


I found the best definition of Big Data and I think it is worth sharing. It stated that big data is simply about joining the dots of all your data sources.

Amazon is a master of data – it believes it can send us our next purchase before we decide what it is, via what it is calling anticipatory shipping, based on a user’s shopping habits, age, income, even how long the cursor hovers over an item. I guess this is no different to thermostats from Nest Labs that learn from their owner’s behaviour over time.

This is my favourite tale because only data could have revealed the opportunity. Walmart, owner of ASDA in the UK, realised that prior to hurricane warnings, sales of torches increased, but so did sales of Pop-Tarts, the breakfast snack.

So as storms approached, as well as putting torches at the front of the stores, the managers also put boxes of Pop-Tarts at the entrances, and sales rocketed. No store manager would have ever worked that out unless they looked at the data and correlations of events and products. It is not what comes from individual data points that is critical here, but what they reveal in the aggregate.

Zynga, who own FarmVille and other social games, describe themselves as “an analytics company masquerading as a gaming company – everything is run by the numbers.”

I believe that big data could well be the next corporate asset and it is quite possible that it will be recorded on balance sheets in future. We shall see.

Technology is making it personal


There is a common thread around technology making marketing personal and I will try and summarise how I think this will play out.

I have presented my view on moving from mass production to mass customisation, how technology is driving a world which is more personal. Google captured this in a quite brilliant advert which stated: “You know who wants a haircut? People searching for a haircut.”  With technology facilitating an overload of information every day, how do we ensure our customers don’t get fed up of us sending them irrelevant messages?

IBM CEO Virgina Rometty has a great vision for her company which is worth sharing, because this captures where we are heading. First, Rometty believes data will drive every decision we make in future. Second, she predicts that companies will use their data to shape direction, products and services; and third that through data a company can cultivate one-on-one relationships directly with its customers.

Think of yourself as an independent coffee shop in a small town. Over time you will get to know your regular customers on a first-name basis. Eventually you will learn precisely how they take their afternoon tea or coffee and their preference for lunch. In conclusion, behave like a small company. Use your technology, and your data, to treat every customer as an individual.

Creative kids from Calcutta


This story inspires me and it keeps me believing in the future.

A group of primary school kids in Calcutta realised that the slum in which they live wasn’t on Google maps anywhere. Their home simply didn’t exist in the eyes of officialdom, which meant they didn’t get access to government services such as running water and vaccinations.

The school kids took it upon themselves to add themselves to the map. They went door to door and took photos of the entire area. Eventually, they were put on the map and recognised by local government.

While one result was great evidence of the amazing outcome that can be achieved by bringing together young people with technology with a community goal in mind, the thing that left me speechless was that this meant polio vaccination rates doubled in the local area. Do we understand what that means to the people there? It means health and life – all down to kids with a camera and creative genius! I am taken aback each time I recall this.

Knowledge Economy to a Thinking Economy

ThinkingThere is an increasing emphasis on collecting and deciphering data and I read an inspiring story recently about a slum in Calcutta whose school kids have put them on the government map in a clever utilisation of data (more of that next time). Data alone, however, will never be enough.

We can collect all the data we want but we still have to connect with our customers on an emotional level. If our product or service isn’t humanised, it will not sell. A customer doesn’t go through a process of saying this might just be useful for me, a customer says to himself, I want this.

Moreover, while individuals are willing to buy consumer products online (books, electronics, laptops) without talking to a salesperson, a recent survey highlighted that 95% of corporate buyers want a salesperson to be involved in the process. They want to engage with people. It is important to balance this with salespeople who help the buyer make better decisions, not be the subject of monotonous sales pitches.

One of my favourite messages is describing how we have moved from a knowledge economy to a thinking economy, because we can find everything we need by searching on Google. But we mustn’t forget that the sparkle in a deal coming together for the benefit of both parties is always underpinned by good relations between the partners.

My Future

When asked “How will the future look?” I replied “Differently.” How different I am not entirely sure, but I can confidently say a few things.

  1. The future will include an increasing amount of measurement, ie. using data to crunch our business information. The more we know about our customers, the more we can target them with products they need and want. Why try and sell a lawn mower to a lady who lives on the 10th floor of an apartment block? A scatter-gun approach of marketing to thousands in the hope that five people buy is history. The future market segment is “One.” One person. One set of preferences.
  2. In future, customers will help set strategy arm-in-arm with CEOs. Technology allows us to be better listeners and social media especially is redefining the way business interacts with both customers and employees.
  3. The future is up to me. I will assemble my own degree from the thousands of excellent courses available, most of them free of charge. I will learn when I want, on the device I choose. I will learn on my iPhone on the train to work, on an iPad in the evening and on the laptop at the weekend. Each will know exactly where I left off and at which point to pick up.
  4. In future I will have more control. When I my car breaks down, I will access the ‘Parts’ section of my car’s website, download a new component, print it on my 3D printer, and fit it by watching and listening to instructions. In 60 minutes I am on the road.
  5. Almost everything in future will be connected. When I brush my teeth twice a day for two minutes, my toothbrush will know. I will be given recognition and offered an ‘m-voucher’ via my mobile for toothpaste the moment I walk into a supermarket – my reward is a free tube of toothpaste by a leading brand and a discount towards my next dental check due in 4 weeks.

People will not allow technology to watch us all day, every day, but these things are happening. It will be interesting to see how they play out.

Cafe Culture

Technology has created an opportunity for us to be small again. As companies and brands get bigger, inevitably they lose some of the personal touch that earned them the reputation and recognition in the first place. Technology can help us get that back.

If we consider the small boutiques across the country, the independent tea rooms and coffee houses, they tend to know their customers on a first-name basis, as well as their preferences for their morning brew or lunchtime favourite. Experts in the retail world are the same – a great clothing boutique will know the sizing, colour and style preferences of their best customers. These little stores are experts at building loyalty, all delivered by personal touch and great service. I call this the ‘café culture.’

By putting technology to good use, engaging customers via social platforms and listening and delivering to their needs, and extracting ‘wisdom’ from the data our business generates – against purchases, preferences, trends – we too can adopt this café culture, talk to our customers on a one-to-one basis, and be small again.