Smart cities: How will brands interact with customers in 2020?

Stephanie Himoff: the UK managing director at Outbrain
Stephanie Himoff: the UK managing director at Outbrain

The smart cities of the future will produce streams of data triggered by everything from a heartbeat to a city's traffic flow, writes Stephanie Himoff.

The Internet of Things has been subject to some significant scrutiny recently as a data scientist took 11 hours to boil a smart kettle that failed to connect to the Wi-Fi. But don’t let that dishearten you. From the watch on your wrist to the city limits, we’re making a sure-fire shift to a smart world, powered by big data and super-connected environments.

Despite any technical hiccups in its infancy, IoT will deliver marketers with a whole new world of lucrative opportunities, so the brands that prepare for this change are set for long-lasting success.

Worlds collide

IoT, and especially wearable technology, will reveal previously unknown consumer behaviours and needs thanks to data from search, social media and physical activity. As they become commonplace, an array of wearables will one day overtake smartphones as the devices that generate the most data about their users.

Let’s start small – the human heartbeat. In four years’ time, smartwatches will be able to accurately detect whether its wearer is enjoying a great boxing class or having a particularly stressful week. Intimate data sources will offer a granular understanding of individual consumers on a city-wide scale.

The resulting statistics will allow for a real-time understanding of an entire city of consumers, proving invaluable to marketers, especially in fitness, health and insurance industries.

The smart cities of the future will produce streams of data triggered by everything from the miniature event of a heartbeat to the traffic flow of a bustling metropolis

Let’s apply this to a hypothetical scenario. Consider an executive in a crowded train station wearing a fitness tracker amid commuter fury over delays. If the device senses he’s stressed, he would be recommended appropriate features such as top tips to avoid congestion or five ways to keep zen during rush hour. However, if he is feeling relaxed and positive, content recommended to him would be light and entertaining, perhaps a listicle collating the funniest tweets about delayed trains.

The wearable market is et to reach $34bn by 2020. It will provide marketers with swathes of intimate information to inform content personalisation. Brands will be able to react nimbly to consumers’ personal situations and offer useful and timely reads or videos relevant to what’s going on in their lives.

Location-enabled wearable devices will allow businesses to identify trends specific to certain areas of the city, and use such insights to inform their next steps.

The Internet of Everything

Smart devices have only recently been released onto the market, so we’re yet to see how fully consumers will adopt IoT technologies in their homes and workplaces. But once it’s possible to automate the delivery of what’s missing from the fridge, who could resist the temptation of giving up grocery shopping for good?

The flow of city life will be vastly improved if shopping and delivery moves entirely online and automated replenishment frees up more leisure time than ever before. Come 6pm in the smart cities of the future, people will be found enjoying themselves instead of queuing in a crowded supermarket for their dinner.

The advent of IoT, projected to be worth $1.7 trillion by 2020, means an increasing number of everyday objects will have screens, making it possible to display content where it wasn’t possible before.

Whether it’s the bathroom mirror, the fridge door, or a shop window, consumers can be engaged with as they move through their smart homes and cities, just like consumers demand entertainment from their devices today.

The further proliferation of technology, information displays and data is a chance for marketers to exercise their creativity. If the smart mirrors of the future combine IoT with facial detection technology, they may be able to detect if someone’s had a bad night’s sleep. As that sleepy individual gets ready for work, their phone could show them personalised deals on the latest hi-tech mattresses.

The applications of IoT are far too wide-ranging to cover in one fell swoop, but for consumers the convenience cannot be understated. They will expect quality content on-demand, and products to be delivered quickly. That may mean extra work for companies expected to provide those services, but in return, ubiquitous data sources will reveal important trends in consumer behaviour that will help marketers truly understand customers and drive revenue.

Smart marketing, smart cities

What if online actioning of individual data were replicated on a larger scale to break down the barriers between the home and the city? With content recommendation technology deployed city-wide and smart displays replacing today’s billboards, marketers will be able to apply the online tricks of the trade to roadsides and shop fronts.

What would a day in the life of this city be like? In a virtual reality cinema, personal headsets would show different ads before the film begins, depending on the headset wearer’s data. Restaurants will remember their customers’ favourite order, and discounts will be tailored to individuals.

Across the city, the beacon technology of wearables will combine with patterns and trends in IoT data and online information around shopping habits, daily routines, social media activity.

The smart cities of the future will produce streams of data triggered by everything from the miniature event of a heartbeat to the traffic flow of a bustling metropolis. The offline world is going online, and marketers will be awed by the new opportunities for content personalisation on countless screens that will be become available at home, in the workplace, and on the street.

Stephanie Himoff is the UK managing director at Outbrain.

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