5 Brands That Are Using the Internet of Things in Awesome Ways

By Amanda Walgrove March 16th, 2015

Is your refrigerator running a spam operation? Thanks to the Internet of Things, the answer to that question could be yes.

Despite some dystopian fears, like that spamming refrigerator, the Internet of Things isn’t just an eerie term that sounds like it was plucked from Brave New World. It is a vague one though, so to clear up any uncertainty, here’s the dictionary definition: “a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.”

As Altimeter Group points out in its new report, “Customer Experience in the Internet of Things,” brands are already using this sci-fi technology in amazing ways to build customer relationships and optimize their products. In reality, it’s more evolution than revolution, as companies are already tracking smartphone and Internet usage to gather data that provides crucial feedback about consumer behavior. As the report states, the Internet of Things only “brings us closer than ever to the ultimate marketing objective: delivering the right content or experience in the right context.”

Talk of trackers and sensors and refrigerators gone wild may sound intimidating for brands that are still getting their content operations up and running, but some major companies are already exploring the new frontier of the Internet of Things. Here are the five brands doing it best.

1. Walgreens

Have you ever found yourself searching for a specific item in a pharmacy, wishing you could click control-F to locate it, pay, and leave quickly? Aisle411, Google Tango, and Walgreens teamed up to create a new mobile app that can grant harried shoppers that wish. By using Google’s virtual indoor 3D mapping technology, Aisle411 created a mobile shopping platform that lets consumers search and map products in the store, take advantage of personalized offers, and easily collect loyalty points.

“This changes the definition of in-store advertising in two key ways,” Aisle411 CEO Nathan Pettyjohn told Mobile Commerce Daily. “Advertising becomes an experience—imagine children in a toy store having their favorite toy guide them through the store on a treasure hunt in the aisles of the store—and the end-cap is everywhere; every inch of the store is now a digital end cap.”

According to a Forrester study, 19 percent of consumers are already using their mobile devices to browse in stores. Instead of forcing consumers to look away from their screens, Walgreens is meeting them there.

2. Taco Bell

Nowadays, practically everyone is reliant on their GPS to get them places. That’s why Taco Bell is targeting consumers based on location by advertising and messaging them on mobile platforms like Pandora, Waze (a navigation app purchased by Google), and weather apps.

Digiday reports that in 2014, Taco Bell positioned ads on Waze for their 12 Pack product each Saturday morning to target drivers who might’ve been on their way to watch college football games. The Waze integration was so successful that Taco Bell decided to do the same thing on Sundays during the NFL season—this time advertising its Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco.

3. Home Depot

Home Depot has previously used augmented reality in its mobile app to allow users to see how certain products would look in their homes. IKEA is also known for enticing consumers with this mobile strategy. But now, Home Depot is making life even easier for shoppers by piloting a program that connects a customer’s online shopping carts and wish lists with an in-store mobile app.

As explained in the Altimeter report, upon entering a Home Depot, customers who are part of the Pro Rewards program will be able to view the most efficient route through the store based on the products they shopped for online. And anyone who’s been inside a Home Depot knows how massive and overwhelming those places can be without directions.

Creepy? Maybe. But helpful? Definitely. Michael Hibbison, VP of marketing and social media at Home Depot, defends the program to Altimeter Group: “Loyalty programs give brands more rope when it comes to balancing risks of creep. The way we think of it is we will be as personalized as you are loyal.”

4. Tesla Motors

Getting your car fixed can be as easy as installing a software update on your phone—at least for Tesla customers. Tesla’s cars are electric, powered by batteries similar to those that fuel your laptop and mobile device. So when Tesla had to recall almost 30,000 Model S cars because their wall chargers were overheating, the company was able to do the ultimate form of damage control. Instead of taking the products back or bothering customers to take them to a dealership, Tesla just updated the software of each car, effectively eliminating the problem in all of their products.

Tesla also used this connectedness by crowdsourcing updated improvements for their products. As reported by Altimeter, a customer recently submitted a request for a crawl feature that allows the driver to ease into a slow cruise control in heavy traffic. Tesla not only granted the customer’s request, but they added the feature to their entire fleet of cars with just one software update.

5. McDonald’s

McDonald’s may be keeping it old school with their Monopoly contest, which, after 22 years, can still be won by peeling back stickers on your fries and McNuggets. But for their other marketing projects, McDonald’s is getting pretty tech savvy.

McDonald’s partnered with Piper, a Bluetooth low-energy beacon solution provider, to greet customers on their phones as they enter the restaurant. Through the app, consumers are offered coupons, surveys, Q&As, and even information about employment opportunities.

What does McDonald’s get out of it? Data. Lots of data. When customers enter comments, their feedback is routed to the appropriate manager who can respond to the request before the person leaves the establishment.

Too close for comfort? Not compared to the company’s controversial pay-with-a-hug stunt. And at least this initiative is working. According to Mobile Commerce Daily, in the first month of the app’s launch McDonald’s garnered more than 18,000 offer redemptions, and McChicken sales increased 8 percent.

By tapping into the Internet of Things, brands can closely monitor consumer behavior, and—even though it may sound a bit too invasive—put the data they collect to good use. With sensors, a product can go from being a tool to an actual medium of communication between the marketer and the consumer. That sounds pretty cool. But, just to be safe, if you get a shady email from your fridge, maybe don’t open it.

Image by Ostill
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