In their rush to upgrade the devices they make to "connected life," many companies are neglecting to ask the simple but essential question, “Why?”
The reason: Companies are sprinting as fast as they can these days toward a huge potential market. As a recent report pointed out, connected-home devices this year will bring in $61 billion in revenue; sales by 2019 will escalate to $490 billion.
Yet if a company seeks to make all those connected experiences meaningful -- and the smartest do, knowing they will profit more -- that company needs to first ask, “Who benefits from connectivity, and why?” Turns out that there are three beneficiary groups: businesses, users and communities. And companies need to consider the needs of each when they're designing connected experiences.
Businesses create connectivity for three reasons: Connectivity gathers data; data allows businesses to update their products; and data allows companies to differentiate themselves from the competition.
Data obviously informs a business of customer behaviors and tendencies, and allows the business to calibrate its offerings. Big data, let’s remember, is a marketing tool. Yet it's not the total solution. The experience that data delivers may not after all feel meaningful to customers: A new Johnnie Walker app tells you whether that 12-year-old bottle has been previously opened but not whether it's helping a lone drinker at his barstool. So, a business may be at risk from having made a less-than-meaningful connection.
Connectivity also fosters new products and marketing: The iPhone, for example, somewhat reinvents itself every time there is a software update (Macs, too). And Apple is smart in offering just enough new features to those who update their software, while leaving some new features out of reach for anyone who doesn't own the latest hardware model.
Illuminage is another connected product that encourages updates. Illluminage plugs into a laptop to track use data and provide feedback to the user. The resulting data allows the company to make firmware updates as needed: to enhance efficacy, safety and compliance with new standards.
The connected experience often breaks down along generational lines. And it’s important to take this into account when thinking about the individuals who will use your connected device. Generations have different buying powers, needs and ways of being connected.
Millennials and Generation Z, for instance, get the most media attention today. They are makers, seekers of experiences. They are not terribly concerned about privacy and grew up living a great part of their lives online. As the Pew Research Center says, millennials are Confident. Connected. Open to Change. To them, connectivity feels less like an intrusion and more like a natural extension of their offline existence.
Any degree of suspicion and skepticism they may have toward connected experiences is generally lower than that of older generations. And they have, relatively speaking, the least amount of disposable income -- they may have student debt, but don't yet have dependents and do have more time and energy to spend on themselves. In short: millennials don’t need to be convinced of the importance of connectivity; they’re already there.
Gen Xers are different. They have the buying power to purchase big connected products such as the Volkswagen with biometric sensing. But that doesn’t mean that they’re rushing to connect. Since they grew up in the pre-Internet era when 1984 was standard high school reading, Gen Xers don’t like the idea of Big Brother watching. They have more privacy concerns than their younger brethren, and they often have safety concerns for their children and grandchildren.
Baby boomers, meanwhile, may not even want to know they are interfacing with connected technology. Unlike Gen X and millennials, many of them need to put effort into understanding how connectivity works. Yes, there are some leading-edge boomers who actively seek technological connections -- but they are in the minority.
Because of this boomer hurdle, connections aimed at this generation may require a seamless design. Businesses need to either make enough margins on the whole product knowing its connected piece may not be used, or they need to clearly communicate the value of connectivity to boomer consumers.
Nor is the generational issue the only concern for companies offering connected products and services. Businesses need to create connected experiences that have sufficient meaning and value for all people. We see a lot of examples of “connectivity-washing” today -- meaning products that are connected for the sake of being connected but don’t legitimately add value to people’s lives.
And at the same time, consumers are becoming smarter and more discerning. As the fascination with connectivity eventually fades, they will see through the smoke and demand experiences that are truly meaningful for them.
Connectivity affects communities. Done right, it creates communal knowledge and communal feeling, which can go a long way to helping companies show that they care about improving society.
We’ve seen communal connectivity in healthcare, for example. Connected healthcare communities can do things like reinforce how patients are well or sick, or using a treatment right; help people monitor their health; and create a competitive, motivational communal ethos. In this context, Misfit wearables has recently partnered with Oscar Health to use connectivity to collectively benefit the people Oscar insures.
On a smaller scale, Rosalind Picard’s Embrace smart watch aims to connect a person with epilepsy to doctors, caregivers and family members, to alert them that an epileptic seizure is coming on.
Connectivity can also motivate us with snapshots of how we compare to others. The Nike+ sports kit builds an interactive community of runners that allows these on-road athletes to compare their progress and cheer one another on. Energy companies connect by sending users notes about how they compare to their energy-efficient neighbors.
Finally, Waze is a crowd-sourced, self-contained traffic and navigation community: People use the app to improve their driving experiences; and they contribute data to it because the developers have been transparent about how that input makes the whole experience better.
The community as a whole benefits because as a result of the app, traffic flow is improved in congested areas.
Connect with intention
The lesson here is clear: Before scrambling to produce that next connected product or service, companies should slow down and think hard about who is on each end of the connection.
It’s a complicated equation, but such thinking will allow companies to make better decisions and increase the likelihood of making connected life truly pay off.