Trendspotters love to tell you every January that it’s going to be ‘the year of X’, where X equals some new, barely understood and therefore fashionable technology doing the rounds in the exhibition halls of Silicon Valley. The current favourite is wearable technology, which has so far taken the form of watches and glasses – Google Glass being the best-known example.
I, however, can confidently tell you that 2014 is not going to be the year of wearable technology. By December, it will not be commonplace to see people on the street talking into their wrists like super-spies; nor will it be socially acceptable to make unintentionally suggestive hand gestures in public places because you’re browsing the web through your connected specs.
Certainly, as a marketer, you should encourage your R&D department to have a play with the latest gadgets and see where it gets them; without doubt, bookmark Whatthefuckismywearablestrategy.com on your web browser; but don’t expect consumers to catch on any time soon. After all, it took several false dawns before ‘the year of mobile’ finally came around in 2012 (or even, you could argue, 2013).
As a rule, let’s accept that ‘the year of X’ actually happens about two or three years after the technology press says it will. So that means it’s now high time the connected home started approaching the tipping point where it becomes a real consumer trend. And it is.
Already this year, Google has shelled out $3.2bn on Nest, which manufactures internet-connected home appliances including smoke detectors and thermostats; British Gas has started airing TV ads for its Hive ‘active heating’ product; and we’ve even seen the first reports of hackers targeting TVs and fridges. Last week, security company Proofpoint said it had uncovered a cyber attack where 100,000 home appliances had their connections hijacked to send out 750,000 spam emails over the Christmas period.
If fridges sending emails isn’t the litmus test for a technology trend, I don’t know what is.
The big data question (as well as the ‘big data’ question), especially now that Google is involved, is not just how the internet can help consumers control their home environment, but what brands will start doing with the data the devices generate – either at an individual or an aggregated level. The answer will directly impact the consumers already using Nest products, who are believed to number in the millions.
At the moment, Nest’s user data is only utilised to help improve its products, but expect the privacy policies to change, as is Google’s wont. The end game is surely that Google and other providers will be able respond to the data that comes out of the connected home in order to prompt personalised direct marketing, advising consumers of the best tariffs to suit their energy usage, for example. Aggregate data could also be offered to advertisers, manufacturers and utilities companies to assist them with broader geographic and demographic targeting, and to predict demand.
As I wrote almost exactly a year ago, the prospect of having no choice but to share the data generated by your home could cause concern for a lot of consumers. A couple of commenters were very dismissive of the idea, but it doesn’t seem so ridiculous now, does it?
In any case, with several prominent signs that the connected home is breaking into the mass market, and with energy costs higher on consumers’ agendas than ever, 2014 will be a key year for answering all these questions.
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