Of all the technological advancements to significantly impact our lives since the dawn of the internet, the smart home is potentially the most fraught with complications. It took some time for people to become comfortable with the loss of privacy implicit in smartphone usage, with GPS tracking and an ‘always-on’ dependence on the internet raising understandable concerns. Some still aren’t, and moving this technology into the home will be a feat of not just persuasion, but reassurance. If a customer is happy having their heart rate monitored by a connected fitness tracker, why shouldn’t they welcome tech into their home?
The rollout is already underway, though, with Google Home and Amazon Echo already working their way into people’s lives - according to a report from VoiceLabs, it is estimated that some 24.5 million voice-first devices will be shipped in 2017, leaving 33 million in circulation. The current functionality of being able to answer queries, play music, or turn on smart lights are not exactly terrifying by anyone’s standards. GeoAnalytics manager Kevin Foreman believes homes will one day be able to distinguish between family members and guests, using heartbeat rhythms, body temperatures and fingerprints to build a picture of who they’re serving. Until then, adoption of smart home devices seems unthreatening once the issue of the device being able to ‘hear’ you is overcome.
And, without any hesitation as the technology begins to take hold, digital marketers are flocking as they try and identify how best to exploit the unprecedented access to the consumer’s world. The primary functions of home assistants are all voice-activated, and marketers will have to step away from the current domination of visual content and develop audio-only experiences to reach this nascent audience. AdWeek use the example of a user asking Echo how to remove a stain. Tide then gives the user detailed instructions through the device, and a message is sent to the user’s phone with these instructions and a link to buy some Tide detergent on Amazon.
The opportunities for brands to be helpful whilst marketing themselves are numerous. Patron Tequila’s Amazon ‘skill’ offering recipes and tips for bartenders is another example. It’s been downloaded just 7,000 times, though, highlighting an issue that could hold back branded ‘skills’ on smart home devices - when users want objective advice they don’t want promotional messages. Like all good content marketing, marketers will need to find a way to bring value to the user first and selling a product second. The likes of Amazon and Google have to be cautious, too; if their devices keep prompting users to buy they’ll almost certainly be rejected.
Another key for marketers will be downplaying the ‘creepy’ side of artificial intelligence. The smart home will eventually know its inhabitants better than they know themselves, tracking buying habits and even medical information in an effort to understand its user. But for all the good this information can allow technology to do, it’ll turn users off if rolled out insensitively. ‘We’re now at the point in time where we can deliver the kinds of experiences that cause goosebumps,’ said Charlie Kindel, Amazon’s director of its connected home offerings Echo and Alexa. Let’s just hope they come from wonder rather than discomfort.
The smart home is coming and alongside it the opportunity for incredibly effective marketing. You might think that many will not be comfortable with being sold to in their own home, but the television and radio have been doing so for decades. What sets the smart home apart, though, is the level of connection to the user, something the aforementioned could never achieve. This understanding makes voice assistants and connected devices a potential dream for marketers, so long as they understand that just because personalization is possible, that does not mean it’s always welcome.