A tectonic technology shift is underway as the physical world becomes part of the web. Our real and virtual lives are merging, powered by smart net-connected chips and mobile devices. The principle that products are inherently more useful and desirable when they come with personalised digital services that expand and enhance the owner experience will soon be applied across all categories. The technological building blocks required to deliver dynamic services are now in place and have passed the tipping point in terms of cost. The global market opportunity represented by the Internet of Things has been estimated at $19 trillion by Cisco’s CEO.
The real game-changer is smartphones, which function as a set of handheld digital sensors for the physical world (accelerometer, proximity, ambient light, compass, gyros, GPS) with a range of in-built connectivity. These devices we carry around with us constantly have more computing power than was needed to launch the first Apollo space missions.
For brands, the global rise of smartphones represents a tremendous opportunity to form direct, ongoing digital connections with customers, and make their business and marketing operations smarter by gaining real-time analytics about every product interaction.
Already, there’s a growing range of web-connected products on the market. The Philips Hue LED bulbs let consumers create a personalised mood lighting system controlled with app. Rolls-Royce has embedded jet engines with sensors that not only transmit real-time data about their condition, allowing them to be monitored and maintained remotely, but means the engine usage can be metered on a thrust-per-second basis and sold on a subscription-based pricing model.
This is only the start. Smart products can allow consumers to access the kind of real-time, socially-connected web experiences they’ve come to expect in their daily lives. What does it mean for a brand if their product can talk to their customer? What stories can it share? What advice on sustainable use might it offer? Already, we ask search engines questions, and follow people we may never have met on social networks. Is it really any different to engage with a smart and responsive object – in effect, to ‘friend’ our stuff?
Product Relationship Management™ – brands leveraging physical products as owned digital media to super-charge the consumer experience in exchange for a rich stream of transaction and usage data – will leave no product or industry unchanged. To remain competitive, all product companies will have to think about technologies that bridge the real and virtual worlds to provide smart digital services through the physical things they make.
Image credits: EVRYTHNG