Data becomes more valuable when you share it.

Waze users share traffic data to help each other to have better car journeys. Uber users generate information about taxi journeys which can help town planners. Medical devices may share data to give doctors a more complete picture of the patients’ situation.

Sharing data appropriately can give any device a missing piece of the puzzle, allowing it to provide a more personalised service. 

But devices in IoT ecosystems can share capabilities as well. Your refrigerator is quite limited in what it can do on its own but if it knows what is inside it, it can guess when food needs reordering. And if you link it to a shopping app then it can reorder items for you as well.

The logic of getting data from external sources is easy to see because firms themselves are starting to share data more and more. But sharing capabilities is a bit trickier to understand. Think of IoT devices as a team of royal servants helping a queen (the user). A single servant can only do a small part of the job but together they ‘wait on the queen hand and foot’. 

IoT products are starting to join up their individually limited capabilities to help each user. And joined-up working needs information sharing – for devices as well as for firms.

But how can a refrigerator choose the right app to help it restock? 

There’s a general problem for all IoT firms. In any given user’s personal situation how can a product be aware of which other products it can work together with to help that user? 

Right now, device manufactures are working with their normal business or supply chain partners to set up relationships between devices. For example, IoT cars are more likely to be set up to book their annual services with garages that are already affiliated to their brand, because there is already a relationship to build on. 

But most IoT products will not be aware of all the potential data sources and potential useful capabilities that they can draw on in any given situation. They will just know that their user has a problem. They will look around with their web connection to see what other devices can help them. Then they will evaluate the alternatives and make a purchase decision. 

Sounds familiar? Yes, it’s a conversion funnel for machines.

fridge

Could a fridge make purchase decisions? Image via Barbier Garreau

Conversion rate optimisation for IoT products

Conversion strategies for human customers are getting pretty sophisticated. But how do you drive device traffic into your IoT funnel using M2M (machine-to-machine) communications? There is no such thing as a Google Search for IoT devices. Although the IoT operating system Android Things and the communications platform Weave go some way.

First, there’s the technical problem of context: how can a device understand our complex human world? This problem might be solved by looking at the customer journey. Devices don’t need to understand the whole human world, just the customer journey that their user is on. And many firms are thinking long and hard right now about mapping customer journeys.

Plus there’s the 'marketing (to) automation' problem – how do you spread awareness to toasters, drive them into your funnel and then increase the conversion rate? And how do you do it for toothbrushes, refrigerators, cars, phone apps? Or anything with a chip and an internet connection that could help the user of your product?

android things

A visualisation of Android Things, which "extends the core Android framework with additional APIs provided by the Things Support Library. These APIs allow apps to integrate with new types of hardware not found on mobile devices."

Use customer journey thinking

The most important thing for any IoT product is user experience (UX). And the best UX is produced by devices helping each other in communities that are centred on each individual user’s journey.

So be clear about what sort of journey your user is on. Don’t just map touch points and small parts of customer journeys. You need to understand their broader life journeys to get the full context. 

If you understand the journeys that your users are on then you can specify to your product what data and capabilities it needs to look out for. The logic of the journey explains what outside help is needed. 

Customer-journey thinking also helps your product to market the idea of collaboration to other devices – or their product designers – because the purpose of partner devices is also to help the same user on the same journey. 

So, use customer-journey thinking to design your IoT product to work with any device that might be able to help your users along their journey.

More IoT fun:

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Published 29 June, 2017 by Duncan Shaw

Duncan Shaw is Consultant and Lecturer in Information Systems at Nottingham University Business School and a guest blogger on Econsultancy. You can read Duncan's blog or connect on Google Plus

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