Connected devices may seem like a brain-bending puzzle of physical hardware, data collection, and digital experience design, but there’s always a way to apply connectivity to your brand that benefits customers.
To keep pace with opportunities from the Internet of Things (IoT), you must engage in a user-centered re-look at your brand, it’s value to customers, and the customer experience. Only then should you start considering the power of IoT and the value of data to improve your products and services.
With 49% of Business Decision Makers reporting that the expansion of IoT initiatives is a “high” or “critical” priority moving into 2016, the time is now to forge partnerships and internal efforts to extend connected functionality to your product line.
Here’s a five-step checklist to get ahead of the competitive IoT curve:
1. Map the existing customer journey
To find your brand’s place in the connected world, start at the beginning. Think about your brand’s purpose, who your customers are, and what they value. It can help to consciously get out your magnifying glass.
Re-examine the customer experience across the entire lifecycle of your products and services. Examine each step at a microlevel, from the purchasing decision, to setup and installation, to maintenance and repair, and even replacement.
To map your customer journey, follow these guidelines:
- Identify pain points throughout each customer interaction: Even when all is going well with your product or service, what do customers complain about? How long does each product interaction take? Are there opportunities to make interactions more efficient and better set expectations? Documenting each touchpoint with your product and brand can unveil a world of opportunity for connecting your products with IoT.
- Detail troubleshooting and service needs: As you identify pain points for your customers, the next step is to fully identify areas that require troubleshooting or customer support. Ask yourself: Where do things go wrong? Are there easy prevention steps that IoT can assist with? What are the best solutions to reduce customer frustration?
- Expand your thinking: Once the customer journey is fully outlined, think beyond troubleshooting and identify opportunities to improve your product with new technology. How and where can you automate processes? Is there new functionality that can provide increased value to your users? What innovations can be added to your product now that will position it for success over the next five years?
Once you understand your customers’ journey, throw away the notion of business as usual and evaluate the possibilities with new eyes. What is the potential for your brand and the Internet of Things? How can you shift your industry and stake your brand’s claim as a disruptor in your industry?
2. Develop a user-centered data practice
Next, think about data. What data do you collect — or could you collect — as consumers interact with your product or service? More importantly, what value does this data have, and for whom?
Big hint: while you may care about the data, your customers don’t.
Yes, we know. Everyone’s talking about data — and it really is invaluable. But the people you are serving don’t want to see more of it. What they want is the value that can be derived from it. They need data to be put in service of their priorities.
For example, sprinkler system owners don’t want graphs showing the moisture content of their yards. What they want is to keep the grass alive — preferably without water wastage. Using data to turn the system on and off is meeting the real consumer need.
As you investigate the data you have to work with, keep user-centered data principles in mind, and think carefully about the real value it delivers:
- Does the data benefit your product development strategy? What are consumers showing you — by how, when, or why they use your product — that could help you offer support or services to improve their experience? Even more, how can this data help you improve your products?
- Does the data benefit partnerships with connected products? How could your product benefit from being aware of other smart devices, or work in concert with them to automatically address consumer needs? What opportunities does this present for your overall product portfolio?
- Does the data benefit consumers? Most importantly, what could you show consumers that would improve their experience with your brand? Better yet, how can you analyze that data to put it in service of their actual needs rather than creating more distraction and overwhelming users?
Oftentimes, you won’t know what your users really want or need, and they may not be able to articulate it, either. You can gain insights by closely observing their behaviors — what they do may be a more powerful indicator of need than what they say. The best way to learn is to make your best hypothesis and test it out.
3. Develop skills, processes, and experimentation practices
To explore connected world opportunities and encourage innovation across your product, service, or brand, you’ll need to augment in-house skills, expand your technology base, and create a culture of experimentation.
Gather your tinkerers, whether internally or with a trusted partner, and make time for connected world ideation and experimentation. Challenge them to innovate around pain points and opportunities uncovered during the customer journey mapping exercise. Adding a connected world consultant team to your product strategy resources can help your brand identify and rationalize the best ideas.
Lay the foundation for IoT innovation with the following principles:
- Augment in-house skills: Evaluate your current capabilities and perform a gap analysis to identify where additional human resources and expertise is needed. Based on your timeline, budget, and internal knowledge, consider seeking an outside partner to help define processes, initiate user research, and create a scope of work for execution and implementation.
- Expand your technology base: Joining the IoT revolution requires an expansion of existing tools and systems, namely including the creation or adoption of an IoT platform. Your team will also have to explore new forms of hardware and related components, as well as expand your software portfolio to bring your connected products to life.
- Create a culture of experimentation: Your brand will not receive a manual to read as it forays into the world of connectivity. Once you understand this notion, fostering an environment for experimentation, and failure, is the next step to creating high-value, connected products. Start by joining your internal experts and external partners to brainstorm possibilities first, then create a plan for delivery.
If time, budget, or expertise are an issue, IoT partners and consultants can ensure you are thinking big and keeping user needs in mind. As developer skills can be hard to hire, these groups can give you a jump-start on turning the best ideas into reality with concrete prototypes.
4. Ideate, prototype, and repeat
In the end, you can’t evolve your connected world strategy without developing a connected product. With the support of your innovation team and/or IoT partners, make your best hypothesis and prove it out with prototypes.
Prototyping is the most efficient way to guide innovation. Prototypes make connected product ideas real so they can be experienced by stakeholders and test audiences. Their resulting feedback will guide on-target actions from investment to course-correction.
Begin development of your IoT product with the following:
- Make ideas real: Build paper prototypes that allow you to provide concrete examples of a new, improved user experience. You don’t need to spend hours upon hours building a prototype that generates useful feedback to support your next iteration.
- Get real feedback: Test initial prototypes against internal audiences, or external consumer audiences, to gather feedback that supports your IoT efforts. Use this feedback to unveil user insights that answer whether or not your new product solves the pain points identified during customer journey mapping.
- Gain buy-in and set strategy: Present more sophisticated iterations of prototypes along with supporting user feedback and insights to internal stakeholders. From there, gather additional feedback, answer questions, and form a strategic roadmap for investment and implementation.
Once your prototype has gone through multiple iterations based on user feedback, establish a longer-term roadmap that details various stages of capabilities. For example, what does your minimum viable product (MVP) contain? What feedback mechanisms are in place in a live environment that drives the next versions and ongoing updates?
When it comes to connected technology, taking a product to market is just the beginning. Instead, constant improvements focused on delivering additional user value and convenience requires ongoing attention and resources. If done correctly, however, the return from refining product direction and improving capabilities based on real customer needs will far outweigh the investments.
5. Go to market with a focus on value
The rapid growth of smart products is very real, as is consumer enthusiasm around the possibilities of a connected world. Despite this, barriers still need to be removed to increase consumer adoption and understanding of the value of IoT.
As Acquity Group reports, 64% of consumers have yet to purchase an in-home IoT device because they were unaware that these products are available for purchase. More importantly, 36% of those aware of IoT products state their top reason for not adopting was a “lack of perceived value.”
These findings suggest one critical point: your brand must demonstrate clear value to drive consumer adoption.
- Communicate benefits, not features: Customers don’t care about the technology behind your connected product – they care about the end results. Keep this insight at the forefront of all marketing and product communications by focusing on simplicity and value instead of technical specs.
- Clearly demonstrate results: Users fall in love with connected devices once they see how they’re improving overall quality of life. Accelerate this activity by turning user data into actionable insights, including features like user-friendly dashboards, goal-setting tools, and progress updates.
- Focus on user experience and engagement: Regardless of utility or “cool factor,” no connected product will impact the market unless it delights users. Creating intuitive and beautiful experiences that makes users want to engage with your smart product is a key step in the design, development, and testing process that shouldn’t be ignored.
As IoT technology expands and users become more comfortable with connected products, the landscape will only become more competitive for your brand. By demonstrating true value and utility now and into the future, you are paving a direct path to market leadership in our increasingly connected world.
Leveraging the power of IoT to make life better is a big dream for brands — but it is rapidly becoming a reality for those willing to innovate, experiment, and even fail.
User-centered learnings derived from observing, prototyping, and refining connected world products are the key to staking a claim on the connected world. Brands who take action will create connected world products and services that deliver previously impossible value.
Need help or have questions regarding IoT solutions for your brand? We’re here to help. Contact us and one of our experts will be in touch.