The only Internet that matters is the Internet of things. Admittedly, this sounds like science fiction, but it is an idea that bears directly on the future of brand marketing that comes straight from consumer packaged goods.
In 1997, Kevin Ashton was an assistant brand manager at P&G where he was part of team developing the use of RFID chips to manage P&G’s supply chain. Out of that experience, in 1999, he coined the phrase “the Internet of things” to describe the digital data networks that interlink objects to measure and transfer information about them.
The Internet of things is much vaster than the Internet connecting people to one another. It is also more purposeful, capable of instantaneously applying decision algorithms or campaign rules, not just transferring data. With the huge effort underway now to embed identifying tags, chips or scannable codes into every object imaginable, this is the future.
The transformative impact of the Internet on brand marketing will be more in the way it networks things than in the way it networks people. Digital marketing through the Internet of people has blossomed, rapidly becoming the channel of choice for many brand marketers, yet as different as it is, just another part of the marketing mix. The Internet of things, though, is about much more.
Already, there are hints of what this world will be like for consumers and marketers. Google’s recently announced Project Glass is an R&D initiative to create glasses (AKA: wearable displays) that enable someone to “see” the augmented reality tagged to every object in his or her immediate environment. Apple is pursuing a similar technology. As augmented reality becomes ever more dense and sophisticated due to the ever-growing pervasiveness and complexity of the Internet of things, consumers will live in a different world, not simply hear from brand marketers in a different way. This new world will add richness to what people experience and know, and even more importantly, will be a self-selected subset of all that could be known.
An even better clue to the future can be found in personal informatics. These are apps people use to collect and analyze information about themselves, on the basis of which they can optimize personal behaviors like better managing the flow of tasks in their days or getting maximum benefit from exercise or improving the efficiency of their computer usage or completing errands with the least expenditure of time and gasoline, and so forth.
Already, Web sites offer hundreds of such apps for download. In 2008, Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired, started Show & Tell meetup groups and a blog dedicated to personal informatics called Quantified Self, with the tagline, “Self Knowledge Through Numbers.” Over time, these sorts of self-organized, data-saturated, continuously fed, algorithmically operated, self-improvement systems will become deeply embedded in the structure of everyday life via the Internet of things.
With algorithms in ascendance, quants will rule the world, brand marketing especially. We joke now that nerds rule the world, but not just any nerd. Only quants, and soon enough they will run brand marketing, too. With data systems more influential than message saturation in defining the character of consumer experience and choice, a quantitative background will be at least as important as a creative background. Advertising and strategy depend as much on on-going feedback and experimentation as creative inspiration. Breakthroughs will still come from brainstorming, but more and more of the breakouts in performance will come from the incremental accumulation of test-versus-control insights.
At the July 14, 1998 Single Source Data Workshop sponsored by the Advertising Research Foundation (ARF), and later again that year at the November 3 ARF Computer Technology Workshop, I argued that the future of marketing would be one of “real-time marketing,” in which technology would create an instantaneous feedback loop between information and action. I presented it as a vision of a Starship Enterprise-like control room in which marketers would survey real-time data from around the world and make real-time decisions to update and adjust their marketing activities.
I got the basic idea right way back when, but I got the crucial element completely wrong, that of agency. I envisioned brand marketers standing watch over their instruments on the command deck of their marketing starships. I assumed that brand marketers would still be making the decisions. But it’s clear now that that’s not the future.
The Internet of things will make its own decisions in real-time based on the algorithms encoded in its set-up. The only decisions made by brand marketers will be objectives (although I don’t want to go too far in making that assertion because learning-based systems can even update their goals not just their goal-seeking behaviors). But however these systems operate, marketing agency will reside in the algorithms not in brand marketers, at least not in the sort of brand management that we know and practice today.
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