Advertising and technology: the internet of better things


Why consumers will embrace connected brands that dynamically care for them, writes Rasha Rteil

If you are thinking this is another one of those geeky tech overloads that subjects you to the belief that robots may inherit our future, you’re not entirely right.

I will start by limiting the meaning of ‘things’ to devices that empower us with light, contexts of comfort, safety and security – a technology that offers entertainment and the transportation of messages, environments and singular actions based on preferences. It’s mainly ‘things’ intended to help us improve our lives, to be healthier humans.

‘Keep a thing seven years, and you’ll find a use for it’. It’s a popular saying we’ve heard before and it’s been about six years since we realised there are more ‘things’ connected to the internet than people. Those things are called the Internet of Things (IoT).

In 2005, there were 2.5 billion connected devices – most of them PCs, smartphones and tablets. By 2020 there will be over 30 billion connected devices, most of them not PCs, smartphones or tablets (Gartner 2013).

The Middle East is set to become one of the world’s fastest adopters of IoT solutions over the next three years, and the region is set to post the world’s highest growth of cloud data traffic, increasing more than eight-fold from 30 exabytes in 2013 to 260 exabytes in 2018. To top that off, UM Labs conducted a survey that revealed that 60 per cent of people in the United Arab Emirates want to control all of the devices in their home remotely using a smartphone.

The IoT is not a revolution in technology, rather an evolution. So how can it evolve in 2016 to better serve people? And how can brands ride that evolution?

Let’s focus on people for a minute, as they have a set of basic needs and wants – physical health, mental wellbeing, safety and security, connection to loved ones. Consumers will lavish love and attention on products, services and brand experiences that unlock new ways to attend to these imperatives. This is called the ‘Internet of Better Things’.

Could you shape your next campaign around IoT and self-improvement? Now that IoT seems to be closely embedded in our lives, 2016 and 2017 may be those transformational years when it segues from the ‘oh gee’ phase into realistic, everyday application. And this is why and how:

Scalable and better technologies converge

Four forces are paving the way for the explosion of IoT and its betterment across the Middle East and North Africa in the coming two years:

  • Cheaper (and DIY) wireless connectivity chips. With the likes of Estimote (beacons and now nearables), their developer SDK allows deployment of IoT easily;
  • The rising adoption of cloud storage means more consumers will now have a place to put all the data that IoT will create;
  • Ultra-precise geo-location. Improved smartphone technologies will allow a consumer’s physical location to be known with ultra-precision (Apple’s iBeacon, part of iOS7, allows location to the nearest centimetre);
  • The crowdfunding start-up revolution in the region has unleashed a never-before-seen wave of hardware innovation.

More ways to care

When consumers live amid their own personal network of caring objects they will naturally ask: how are brands caring for me? Start by caring for them in these ways:

  • IoT platforms making us healthier. Connected objects that merge self-tracking through daily life will boost self-improvement of fitness and physical wellbeing;
  • IoT enabled brands making us more aware. Stressed, time-poor, over-stimulated consumers will expect brands to attend to their mental wellbeing too;
  • The safer the better. Physical safety is one of the most fundamental human needs. Now a network of better and caring brands can unlock new ways to serve it;
  • IoT of connected families. Supercharged oversight of the physical world doesn’t only apply to possessions. It will also help consumers stay close to their loved ones.

So in a ‘better’ nutshell, what does the Internet of Better Things mean for your brand via these three pillars:

To the consumer: When consumers live amid their own personal network of caring objects, they will naturally ask: how are brands using IoT to ‘better’ look after me – in-store, online, during delivery, and more?

Better data: Life amid IoT generates a flood of data on daily movements, mood, sleep and interactions with the home. Who will help consumers enhance their lives by drawing actionable insights out of their data-sphere?

But not better privacy: The data produced – at home, in wearables, used by any individual – means fresh grounds for concern over discretion. How worthwhile will you make it as a brand for users to let their guards down?

2016 and 2017 will be the years in which enterprises focus on making the best use of big data from connected devices and I expect cognitive computing to emerge as the most practical way to serve business value opportunities. IoT doesn’t have to attend to a profound human need for care – there are loads of other vital needs it can serve too.

Rasha Rteil is head of innovation for the Middle East and North Africa at UM Labs