Marketing editor Claire Beale
Marketing editor Claire Beale
A view from Claire Beale

Claire Beale: Forget the dizzying possibilities, and offer something useful to consumers

In our crazy digital world, I love the fact that the internet of things (IoT) was invented by a brand manager at Procter & Gamble. Its catalyst was an out-of-stock shade of lipstick in Tesco. And it began life on a P&G PowerPoint presentation.

And just when you thought the story couldn’t get any better, you find out the guy responsible was born in Birmingham. Genuinely, I find this exciting.

Gloriously, the next "big new thing" was (almost uniquely) born out of a clearly identified marketing and consumer need, articulated by a normal bloke (OK, maybe not normal, but not a T-shirt-and-sneakers child of Silicon Valley who suckled this stuff at the teat).

In coining the concept of the internet of things, Kevin Ashton identified the possibilities of a world where supply chains loop with purchase data and appliances to create new buying and selling efficiencies, and, in the process, revolutionise our lives. Probably.

The IoT will realise its full potential only if it offers consumers, not just businesses, something truly useful.

If it’s true to Ashton’s vision, the IoT will necessarily revolutionise business models, since companies with pretty static information architectures will struggle to realise the value that the IoT can add.

Exactly what that value might look like is a pretty broad picture, from more efficient manufacturing processes based on known purchasing needs to dynamic pricing structures tailored around real-time propensity to buy and local stock availability; from domestic appliances that create a more efficient maintenance service by self-diagnosing faults and ordering parts to even bigger big data that will unlock new consumer insights and create new revenue opportunities. In fact, Ashton reckons this level of connectivity will shift many businesses from a product-centric focus into new service areas.

It’s easy to get dizzy on the intoxicating possibilities. But the IoT will realise its full potential only if it offers consumers, not just businesses, something truly useful. If it means our washing machine calls out the plumber and tells him what tools to bring, if it reduces our heating bills, if it means Tesco doesn’t run out of our favourite lipstick, then the IoT will be life-enhancing, and we’ll be prepared to trade more of our privacy in return.

As always, it comes down to understanding what people want, not just what’s possible.