With a Bluetooth beacon, and a coupon, and a mom in the aisle

In a recent conversation about the Internet of Things (IoT), we got on the topic of monetizing data from devices. Someone asserted there is little value in one social stream – unless it happens to be that of Ashton Kutcher or similar – but instead the value is in millions of streams. I strongly disagreed with that; when one person armed with a mobile device and a social app meets a few of the right embedded devices, a lot can happen.

I know, social is a fad, or for the young, or just a time waster, at least according to many of the old guard I hear from. It’s time to expand the vision. If there is an expert on networking as a business, it is John Chambers, CEO of Cisco. In his recent keynote at Interop, Chambers characterized the Internet of Everything as the fourth phase of development of the Internet, following connectivity, e-commerce, and mobile plus social technology.

Most technologists see the value of the IoT in industrial settings laden with sensors, a big-data connectivity problem. Mobile devices are a natural fit for the IoT, because they offer connections to sensors via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth and a gateway to the Internet, allowing personal clusters to be created. But how does social technology fit in? The clue lies in how the combination of technology in the progression Chambers outlined creates possibilities.

That average person about to merge onto the IoT is typified by the “mobile mom” persona. She is a power Facebook or Pinterest user with an increasing amount of purchasing power. More importantly, she has a decreasing amount of time to make decisions due to an overload of work and family commitments. In her circles, she wields a surprising amount of localized influence that can be tapped and amplified if conditions are right.

One application that illustrates how this may happen has appeared in the form of proximity beacons. Several varieties of beacon concepts are being put forth; most rely on using a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connection to deliver an event to a device, even if the application is not open. Much more than simple indoor navigation, beacons take engagement to new levels with location and loyalty combined in one delivery mechanism.

This goes beyond the concepts of QR codes and NFC, both of which require a positive swipe of the device by the user, and even beyond digital signage which requires attention and some physical interaction. BLE beacons can engage a nearby user with an offer, just for passing by with their smartphone. Plus, through integration into the loyalty app of the retailer, the entire purchase history of the individual can be brought to bear and the offer customized accordingly.

Tod Bluetooth Proximity Beacon

Now add the social component. Mobile Mom passes a display while wandering in her favorite retailer, and her phone beeps notifying her of a coupon she just received. She physically inspects the item, and shares the information on her Facebook page (“OMG, these are on SALE!”), influencing others to discuss or even head down to the store. The retailer, with a combination of social listening and reporting information from the beacons, can see any results from mobile mom or from others in her social graph. What was one interaction has the opportunity to touch many more potential buyers, in a more active way than in-store advertising ever could.

Creeped out yet? This may be invasive by old standards, but not in this new frontier. People that have enrolled in a retailer loyalty program, or follow brands on social networks, have already given up more privacy than they may realize. The benefits outweigh the risks for most. Retailers will be on their best behavior, because those who mess up on privacy will be shamed extremely quickly on the same social networks they use to reach and nurture consumers, and saavy companies will vigilantly monitor and mitigate that risk.

The IoT is not just for engineers and IT practitioners anymore – the technology is about to go mainstream. Beacons have a lot of energy behind them because they sit at the intersection of marketing and measurable transactions. Apple has been promoting iBeacons for location-based services, but several other companies including Adomaly, Estimote, ROXIMITY, Sonic Notify, Tod (their device is pictured above), and even PayPal and Qualcomm are jumping in. Also of note is Facebook using MQTT, a popular protocol for M2M communication – one short step from IoT devices sending and reading Facebook posts.

Are results guaranteed? In this age where ROI is queen (or king), many are skeptical about monetizing IoT services out to consumers. The unpleasant reality: many other “proven” ways to reach consumers are on the decline. There isn’t likely to be one killer IoT application, but instead users will pick and choose apps that fit their lifestyle, building a suite for their preferences – and a social stream that can be monetized, via customer purchases and tangible savings.

For instance, mobile mom may also be an “alpha daughter”, deeply concerned with the health of a parent and interested in mHealth technology not just for personal fitness, but as a real-time way to check on the health of a loved one using familiar mobile/social tools. “Gadget Dad” may have an intense interest in home automation devices like those from Nest, and home security platforms, and connected cars. IoT services will start to accumulate into a valuable picture, one app at a time.

People won’t see IoT technology if designed right; they’ll just use it, for a wide variety of things. Technologists and CIOs alike need to grasp the vision of this fourth Internet stage, and embrace some early IoT risk – much like the early days of Web 1.0 – and be willing to experiment and adapt.

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