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Why the Internet of Things will make context a brand’s ultimate advantage

Technology & Data

Why the Internet of Things will make context a brand’s ultimate advantage


As the IoT turns every object into a communication channel, understanding the power of context becomes a brand’s ultimate advantage. By Sérgio Brodsky.

This article originally appeared in The Intelligence Issue, our April/May issue of Marketing magazine.

Change is just as constant as our resistance to it.

MK0417 coverThus, a relentless state of tension is what really defines human behaviour. This is verified by homoeostasis, a physiological property in which living organisms will self-regulate to remain constant. It explains why it is so hard to form new habits and even harder to break away from them.

It’s also why I buy into Byron Sharp’s mental and physical availability need for brands to grow; just be there, create the context and the buyers will buy.

The question is how to become more useful with a more holistic approach that focuses on contextual rather than behavioural change?

In Brazil, Danone established a contextual link for the consumption of its Actimel yoghurt product. Danone distributed free toasters able to brand the words, “Have you had your Actimel today?” on every morning slice. The reinforcement of specific cues turned the consumption of Actimel into an automatic response to making toast.

The positive experience from using a free toaster and the sensation of pleasure from eating breakfast worked as a Pavlovian reward that helped cement the newly created context.

Oreo did it better than anyone else. The context repeatedly depicted by its many advertising pieces is of a father returning from work to spend time with his daughter and ritualistically have milk and Oreo cookies. The TVC script focuses not on the benefits of the product or why people should eat it – but how they should eat it and, with consistent detail.

Precious time between father and daughter is the emotional reward – always – contextualised by Oreo.

And, with the Internet of Things’ (IoT) near-readiness to turn every object into a communication channel, understanding the context becomes brands’ ultimate advantage.

Once the objects that surround us start making our shopping decisions, there will be little space or value in trying to change behaviour.

Don’t try persuading me to buy a different brand of  milk – my refrigerated bottle will do it automatically. And, if my toilet identifies my urine lacks calcium it’ll inform my bottle to buy from a brand with higher levels of the mineral.

In an IoT world, our needs self-regulate. Advertising will not be used in the same way by brands and marketers to reach their customers. Brands will no longer spend their money with tactics of mass-persuasion during consumers’ paths to purchase.

The annoyance that made advertising notorious might finally disappear…

Instead, intelligent brands will strive to participate in the broader context of our lives, algorithmically bidding to be the suggestions and subscriptions automating mundane tasks.

According to Professor Gavan Fitzsimons from Duke University, a world-leading expert in communications-led behavioural change, “The brand of the future will enhance the consumer’s life without them even considering the brand or product category at all. Brands become the new context at an increasing pace.

“Groups of people that originally formed around a brand connect more broadly with each other outside of that brand community.”

The opportunity for advertisers is to make sense of two key areas: the data created by connected devices and how to design services that use that data to create utility.

Once we have connectedness across devices and beyond their proprietary ecosystems, brands will be able to deploy specific types of contextual services to addressable audiences, driving big media dollars. But advertisers will have to do much more than just use data to trigger a communication; they will have to infiltrate people’s contexts.

Behavioural scientist and founder of highly acclaimed start-up SelfHackathon, Patrycja Slawuta, believes that “to hack the human operating system, one must understand the code that the OS runs on and the triggers that  put things into motion. Many of the triggers, as vast psychological research shows, are external or have external origins that throughout time got internalised (eg. cultural standards, gender norms).

“Thus, intelligent and skilful alteration of contexts can be an effective catalyst for a skill all humans possess – behavioural adaptation.”

An interesting IoT experiment has just started in Dharavi, India’s largest slum. Using 100 beacon devices provided by Google’s IoT Research Award Pilot, a ‘physical web’ is being created to connect different shops in Dharavi’s markets.

Designed to allow any smart device to interact with real-world objects without having to download specific applications, smart store owners aware of growing competition from e-commerce giants were among the earliest adopters strengthening their retailing contexts with the beacons.

Moreover, the greatest opportunity for a contextual upgrade lies in shifting Dharavi’s image from being Asia’s largest slum to becoming the informal economy’s largest digital hub.

From a city-within-a-city to the world’s cities: “2017 will be the year when technology and government leaders shift their focus from providing connectivity to imagining how it can radically transform cities and help reduce inequality,” Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff says.

With one billion people migrating to cities by 2030, a billion-dollar opportunity is emerging for pioneering marketers to affect much bigger, more challenging and exciting contexts.

In Civilisation and its Discontents, Freud’s most important and influential book, our constant state of tension is described in detail. The laws society has created to ensure harmony are confronted with our individual desires for freedom. Therefore, social inclusion is always a matter of behavioural adaptation.

Those unable to adapt often resort to therapy or are brought into the correctional system, both incredibly profitable these days.

This is why the success of Weight Watchers is due not because it made overweight people eat carrots instead of ice-cream during a food craving, but because it taught them how to redesign their eating contexts. Brand nudges may drive unique actions but will not ensure repeat buys and could risk feeding our innate neuroses.

Instead, specific ingredients, making up for specific meals, eaten at specific times and verified at specific group meetings with a specifically rewarding left swing of the scale’s needle was the stickiest way to make consumers buy into Weight Watchers.

Next time you hear an adman or adwoman saying they can change consumer behaviour, make sure to question under what context this can effectively happen. Hopefully not the one of their therapist’s divan…


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Image copyright: stnazkul / 123RF Stock Photo

Sérgio Brodsky

Sérgio Brodsky (L.LM, MBA) is an internationally experienced brand strategist, a marketing lecturer at RMIT and chairman at The Marketing Academy Alumni. He is passionate about cities and culture and the role of brands and technology in society, an intersection from where he drew inspiration to conceive a radically innovative approach to brand communications, he coined Urban Brand-Utility. Connect with Sérgio on www.sergio-brodsky.com or through his Twitter handle @brandKzarglobal brand strategy and innovation. Follow him on Twitter: brandKzar.

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