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As technology has advanced, the classification of what is “smart” has stretched to encompass a host of technology: from mobile devices to TVs to cars to security systems to even kitchen appliances. This has come as a result of almost every industry racing to market with electronic devices that connect to other devices or wireless networks to deliver on consumers’ heightened expectation of seamless connectivity.
The ways in which consumers connect and engage with technology has often been the impetus behind marketers’ adoption of new processes, tactics and, frankly, new buzzwords. But a moment of pause is warranted.
While today’s connected devices have quickly become the driving force of the behavioral evolutions soon to impact our world, the “machines are taking over” societal concerns are still a distant future. If we take a moment to look past the anxiety-provoking headlines and weed through the details, we’d quickly realize that many of these high-level futuristic promises have yet to be delivered.
For example, to make your home genuinely “smart,” devices in one’s kitchen — all the way to their security cameras — would require connection to the same network via a single company or smart line. Mostly due to today’s existing technological limitations, this is largely unrealistic. When was the last time you were in someone’s home and every electronic device was marked with the same brand or platform? Let’s not ignore the issues around security this raises, especially when speaking about newer, less tested networks.
Putting the negativity aside, we’ve certainly made massive strides in making artificial intelligence (AI) a more mass reality. With smart technology growing fast enough to have a noticeable impact on society, it’s no wonder many companies are placing bets on home-based smart devices and partnering with larger, trusted players to borrow and play off of their equity. For example, moving from past trends of trying to launch a company’s own core system, LG’s new SmartThinQ smart kitchen appliances range are now Alexa-powered, turning a kitchen into an Alexa device powered by Amazon.
This ability for a third-party company to securely and confidently leverage an existing platform’s technology has done more than give Amazon and Google a boost in recognition. While we’re most likely a decade or more away from consumers fully integrating smart homes into their lives (and still, we aren’t talking Jetsons-level connectivity or automation) today’s consumers are already dabbling with AI at mass scale, searching for ways to simplify life’s menial tasks.
According to recent research, the smart home market, valued at $76.62 billion in 2018, is expected to reach $151.38 billion by 2024. Looking even more closely at individual brand purchases provides further evidence of our rapidly evolving future. While they don’t share numbers, Amazon laid claims this holiday season that its Alexa-enabled devices were amongst the best-selling holiday items on Amazon as they publicly stated they experienced “a record number of smart home devices sold on Amazon.com; best-selling smart home devices included Amazon Smart Plug, Ring Video Doorbell 2, TP-Link Kasa Smart Plug Mini Outlet, and the iRobot Roomba 690.”
Compare this to the hype around virtual reality when the industry was so invested in predicting what the technology would mean for our future. We haven’t even progressed well beyond its use with gaming. The main difference is accessibility, with the high cost of VR technology dissuading many to fully invest in testing devices.
With AI, we are now in the age of curiosity and play — that finite window when a consumer is curious and willing to invest in the technology to satisfy their piqued interests. Consumers across demographics are playing around on both large and small scales, testing smart light bulbs or attempting to connect their herb garden to a smartphone to track water intake.
This window of “playtime” should not be ignored. It is more than only fun for consumers. It is a time of exploration and, for marketers, a glimpse into the future. Consumers are providing a look at how and where they want to integrate smart technology into their lives. They are inviting us into their homes as they weigh the benefits, risks and, importantly, their privacy limitations.
This playtime is a time when brands should be most excited and adventurous. With this direct and unparalleled access into the most intimate of places, it’s the ideal opportunity to take time to understand more deeply these new consumer behaviors. As they open their homes to more brand-based experiences, marketers must be assessing, testing and adjusting their communication strategies if they are to grow.
Which will be the brand to ensure customers’ groceries are waiting for them at their doorstep before they even realize they’re running low? Or automatically playing that uplifting song on their smart device after a rough breakup? There’s no better time to decide how to own the future — however real it could be.
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