The smart home offers brands the kind of relationship with consumers that was impossible just a few years ago — but it’s one that comes with new responsibilities. My company helps brands integrate IoT technologies, and yet our first conversation with clients usually isn’t about wireless standards. It’s about whether they’re ready to ‘move in’ with their customers.
I live in a modest condo in downtown Toronto and I’ve mostly enjoyed having the place to myself, but over the past couple of years I’ve accumulated a handful of new roommates. Their names are Alexa and Google, Philips, Sonos, Nanoleaf, August, Nest, Zen, Dropcam, Wemo, Anova, and Ring, amongst others.
Five years ago, who could accurately recall the brand of their light bulbs or electric sockets? Today’s smart home brands have become household names, in the most literal sense. We now regularly interact with them, and even speak with them on a first-name basis.
Beyond brand equity, the much-touted ‘big data’ benefits of smart home products deliver incredible insight into customer behaviour. Which features are most popular? Which drive consumption (or conservation)? Has anyone used that feature they spent years developing? These innovation-driving observations can only come from ‘living’ with users.
Cohabitation can be mutually rewarding, but it comes with responsibilities. Many of us have had roommates that seemed great at first but became a daily annoyance. Maybe it was forgetting to lock the door, leaving the lights on, or thermostats off. Maybe they needed constant reminders for simple tasks. Maybe they shared your personal information. How frustrating and stressful was that? And how damaging was it to your relationship?
This is the challenge for brands entering the smart home. Brands that want to become an intimate part of our lives need to make a commitment commensurate with that level of relationship. So how can brands be good roommates?
Be reliable. Smart home products often replace devices so reliable we don’t even think of them as technology, making it particularly frustrating when something goes wrong.
Be trustworthy. This applies to performance, security, privacy, and support — sensitive topics, for good reason. Brands doing this well are upfront about their use of personal data, and visible in their defense of it. They’re transparent about issues and provide the quality of support that reflects the role they want to have in users’ lives. Few things diminish trust more than someone who isn’t there when you need them.
Bring new value to the home. Consumers expect connected products to get better (and keep working) over time. This offers brands an opportunity to delight users with new abilities, and a responsibility to keep devices up to date.
Be nice to the other housemates. Products that only talk amongst themselves are rude, forcing users to be IT managers. Common IoT standards like zigbee, Thread, and dotdot make sure everyone gets along.
Brands that see connected products as a short-term commitment or bonus feature will end up kicked out of the house. Those that understand the commitment required to be a good citizen of the smart home will enjoy unprecedented engagement with their customers, and gain insight that will fuel successful innovation.