What Every Brand Marketer Should Do Post-CES 2013

In the aftermath of interviews, dinner meetings and numerous conversations at CES 2013, one thing has become crystal clear to me — the connected home will be a reality soon and every marketer needs to think now about how this will impact their communication strategies.

The connected home is the ability for your most used, most important household devices to talk to one another. And don’t think TV, computer and smartphone — we are there already. The connected home is about your refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, vacuum robot, washer and dryer all talking to your computer, TV, smart phone and tablet. But more than just devices talking to one another, it is about the consumer’s ability to capture, connect and use data between all of these devices.

Credit: Touchstorm
Credit: Touchstorm

Consumers are getting access to their personal data, and they are getting the tools to aggregate, analyze and make decisions based on this data the same way corporations do today. Everything from how many steps I took today, what I ate, what’s in the fridge or how to wash that new sweater requires the collection and analysis of data. Collecting, analyzing and sharing this information between ALL of the devices in my home is what the Connected Home is all about.

Here’s an example shared with me: You are surfing a smart TV app looking for recipes for dinner. You find one that looks good—something new the kids might like—and then check to see if you have all the ingredients you need in the fridge. Thankfully, you do. So, you send instructions to the oven which gives it the baking time and temperature and you let it know that you want to eat at 6:30 tonight. Next, the app will send the video showing you detailed steps of how to make the dish to your tablet — or other smart TV in the kitchen. You get a couple of dessert ideas suggested based on what you have in your fridge. And, voila, you save time hunting for information in your recipe box, magazines or books and you save time digging around in the pantry or fridge wondering what to cook tonight. Sound impossible? It’s headed to market now.

This kind of scenario used to be seen only in the science fiction videos created by software companies—I remember seeing Microsoft’s connected home videos in the 90s—to show what life would be like… at some point, out there, in the future. But now, electronics companies are putting microprocessing power into our once-dumb devices like the oven, refrigerator and even the washer and dryer. And we are just a couple of pieces of software away from this working exactly like the demo I was given. For example, right now inventorying your food in the fridge is just a bit tedious, but UPC scanning technology on your smartphone as you shop in store is now rolling out that will make home inventory—and the check out lanes—a breeze.

Credit: Touchstorm
Credit: Touchstorm

So, this all sounds great if you are one of the electronics manufacturers who is going to sell these hi-tech appliances, but how does this impact marketers? Here’s 3 ways, depending on your appetite for innovation – or where you fall on the tech adoption curve:

1) A new opportunity to market at the key moment of need. Sticking with our recipe example above, ingredient brands can advertise when someone is planning their meal. Coupon distribution can help drive trial of new products while the shopping list is being created. Consumers can be pointed to local retailers, or even shipped to direct-to-home right at their moment of need. And you can tap into the social graph of those who love sharing new recipes and ideas with friends.

2) More forward-thinking brands could develop the content showing how to make the recipes using their products. This is not new, it is just that now they can leverage content that used to be stuck on the pages of a magazine to help Mom plan her meals and show her the right way to make them to ensure she has a great experience with your products. It is a great opportunity for a more meaningful engagement, and a big opportunity to develop the must-watch content in your category.

3) Finally, even more innovative marketers can develop the apps and software which helps to connect these devices. As appliance manufacturers start down the software road, what they are going to quickly find is a need to have consumer insights to drive its development. Historically, product and software companies have been separate (Apple being the exception), but right now, there is no Home Appliance operating system, per se, the way there is for computers, smart phones and tablets. But as the appliances in our homes evolve into communication devices, we are going to need an operating system for them or consumers are going to be frustrated. Who better than a P&G to create the operating system for your home?

Crazy? Perhaps, but a couple of guys in Washington state saw the need for dumb grey boxes to have an operating system, and a college dropout in the valley saw the need for hardware and software integration and built the most valuable company on the planet.

If I were a brand manager or marketing director for a CPG company, then my #1 priority for 2013 would be to become friends with an OEM and offer to partner with them on the insights they need to make this system work. If I was a brand manager or marketing director at an OEM, then #1 on my priority list for 2013 would be to uncover the insights needed to develop THE operating system for the home. If you don’t have an insights or consumer research group in house, then find a brand marketer who does. If I were a product person at Google – or even better at Yahoo, who is in need of a space to own – then I’d be developing THE operating system for the connected home because we desperately need it and all of our homes are going to be connected very soon.