Internet of Things

Connecting things for fun and profit - that's the promise of the Internet of Things, as Peter Bihr explores.

If everyday objects could talk, what would they say? That is the question we should ask ourselves when thinking about the opportunities offered by the Internet of Things (or IoT for short). The IoT is what you get by connecting physical objects – TVs, cargo containers, bracelets, coffee makers, cars or thermostats – to the internet: A connected world, studded with sensors, permanently exchanging data with both machines and humans.

And it is one of the most influential trends in technology that we have seen since the advent of the consum- er internet itself. How can IoT be beneficial in the context of marketing?

Data and deep engagement

Over the last few years, we have witnessed a wide range of experiments around the IoT. Many of the more widely known ones were driven by advertising. To name one well-respected example, Budweiser built a big red light that connected to the web and checked a feed for ice hockey results. Whenever the user’s favorite team scored a goal, the light would flash, and a loud horn would sound. It was a cute, well-executed and playful way to engage with fans around a topic they were passionate about. Hundreds of these lamps were sold as these fans paid money for an advertisement in their living rooms. As advertising ideas go, this one was very smart. And it just scratched the surface of what is possible.

The IoT allows for a much deeper engagement and has the advantage of allowing us to collect and analyse data to build services that are valuable to both the audience as well as marketers. Two areas offer particularly huge opportunities for fast movers who overcome the (sometimes thorny) challenge of balancing value-add versus ‘data collection creepiness’: Wearable technology and connected driving.

Wonderful Wearables

What happens if you strap a smart watch to your wrist or place a fitness tracker in your pocket? By putting on wearable technology (wearables for short) you allow a computer complete with sensors and internet connectivity into your life. Most of us don’t think much about it, after all we carry a connected computer almost constantly anyway: our smartphone.

As sensors and chips get both smaller and cheaper, Wearables evolve. Rather than bulky smart watches, we see stylish accessories: Jewellery and fashion are increasingly connected, too. A ring that subtly notifies you of a text message from your spouse? New York startup Ringly has created one. Clothing that tracks your vital signs? Look no further than the sports bras and running shirts that San Francisco-based Sensilk is currently developing.

What today may sound like gadgets for early adopters will be a normal part of life within just a few years. If we build services today that are so good, valuable or interesting that users let them into their everyday lives, it allows for huge engagement opportunities.


With new technologies at hand, data captured from people in the physical world can be used to reshape experiences. Wearable bracelets like the Lightwave, an invention by Silicon Valley technologist Rana June, can measure physical engagement and energy levels of the people wearing them – like in this case allowing the DJ to play with the information and to show the most active dancers on a leaderboard. This kind of innovation cannot only be applied to performances, it can also reshape the way we shop. Just imagine, for example, advertisements that adjust in real-time to the emotions of a TV-audience or in-store offers reshaped by the energy level of the shopping crowd.

Connected driving

Along with data, cars move into the cloud – or rather, the cloud moves into the car. Automobiles become another media surface, another interface. As cars – owned or shared – get connected to the internet, the car stops being a mere means of transportation.

By combining navigational data (where you are now and where you want to go), intentional information (your calendar knows where you want to go, why and with whom) and external data sources (weather, traffic, event information) we have a treasure trove of data points to work with. We can build true context-aware services. This could range from subtle reminders to more complex offerings. Two examples:

  • “Your fridge says that you need milk. We are passing by a supermarket with milk on offer in two minutes. Do you want me to recalculate your route?”
  • Media recommendations: “Based on current traffic information, your drive is estimated to last about 28 minutes. Should I read you a few chapters of your audio book?”

The key: respecting privacy

The key to success is, as always, to be sensible. With the tools provided by the Internet of Things, companies are tempted to collect as much data as possible just to be safe: Collect first, analyse later. In Germany, more than anywhere, consumers are highly sensitive to data collection and the implications for their privacy. As such, we will see consumers reward those companies who find the best balance between marketing that offers added value based on data analytics on the one side and respect for privacy on the other. Don’t be a creep, and consumers might allow you into their lives. If they do, both sides will benefit.

Peter Bihr is the founder of The Waving Cat, where he explores the impact of emerging technologies and helps apply the insights of innovators through consulting and conferences like Things-Con and NEXT Berlin.