Marketers are great at searching for ways to do a better job: They endlessly read up on the latest trends in the field, attend industry conferences to improve their skills, and chat with colleagues to find best practices.
All of this is admirable, but there is a flaw in the approach: knowledge tends to come from fellow marketers.
There are, of course, many benefits to interacting with peers, but sometimes it can help to also look further afield. Often marketers can find interesting learnings by examining what’s happening beyond their immediate discipline.
For example, take the Internet of Things (IoT). This thriving area — essentially the marrying of digital connectivity and physical objects — has some specific overlaps with marketing, such as new advertising channels and data sources. Beyond that, though, the wider nature of IoT– it’s rapidly evolving structure, combination of different elements, and reliance on complex technologies — makes it the perfect field for digital marketers to learn from.
Specifically, almost every marketer could benefit by paying attention to these four lessons those succeeding with the IoT have taken to heart.
Work collaboratively, not individually
The complexity of an Internet of Things project can be intimidating. To bring even a relatively simple IoT product to market — such as Master Lock’s line of phone-connected padlocks — involves software development, hardware development, networking expertise, and multiple specialists. Moreover, in addition to coordinating internal staff it’s often necessary to work in concert with external teams as well.
To do all this requires true partnership. With Internet of Things projects, “cross-functional” is a necessity not just a buzzword.
For digital marketers, there’s a lot to be learned from watching an IoT team at work. Development groups often include members from various highly-specific expertise areas as well as broader units (QA, product development, etc.). The unit works together to accomplish its goals and brings in both internal and external resources when needed to complete tasks. The intricacy of IoT projects forces people to work collaboratively rather than individually, and great things come from that.
Prioritize processes and project management
The idea of working collaboratively sounds great, but how do you actually make it happen?
When it comes to the IoT, good execution often comes down to processes and project management. Specifically, high-quality products are often built using many of the approaches and tools that software developers have honed over time.
This includes a range of different things, including methodologies for structuring work — such as Agile and Scrum — as well as project management software, such as Basecamp and Jira.
The combination of these elements allows Internet of Things projects to essentially be handled like giant development undertakings. Tasks can be assigned and tracked across multiple groups, progress can be monitored, bottlenecks can be identified, and responsibilities can be made clear.
Of course, most marketers understand the importance of project management and processes as well, but they often they don’t spend as much time as developers thinking through the right platforms and structures. What the IoT shows is that these elements are often the foundation of success.
Focus intensely on each integration
For marketers, if an integration isn’t perfect that’s usually OK. It’s nice if a new automation tool syncs seamlessly with other platforms — such as analytics, lead tracking, etc. — but it’s not usually viewed as being absolutely essential.
That’s not true when it comes to the Internet of Things. Those who work on products understand that almost every new integration — connection to new platforms, additional devices, etc. — must be flawless.
For example, take the Nest home products. If the company’s Internet-connected smoke alarm is meant to pair with a new type of smart sprinkler and the integration doesn’t work, the result could be catastrophic. That’s why each new element, whether software or hardware, must be thought through well and tested rigorously.
Marketers would do well to learn from this. All too often additions to marketing stacks are made cavalierly, without much attention paid to how they’ll fit with what’s already in place. That usually leads to time-consuming retrofitting and additional spend.
Be open to open source approaches
Finally, one of the biggest learnings marketers can take from the Internet of Things is fairly simple: open is often better.
So many of the exciting things happening in the IoT space are based on open source approaches. This ranges from Raspberry Pi hardware used by tinkerers around the world to the Kaa IoT platform utilized by huge enterprises.
Arguably the most successful IoT device so far, Amazon’s Echo smart speaker, is a hit largely because the company has actively encouraged third-party developers to create capabilities for the underlying Alexa assistant.
For marketers, this openness can often feel uncomfortable. After all, much of the field is based on competition; on beating the competition by sparking more awareness, developing better messaging, and encouraging more sales.
However, a little openness can go a long way. Taking an open source approach — soliciting feedback, working collaboratively with external individuals, etc. — can lead to better campaigns and increased effectiveness.
Fundamentally, many in the IoT field have already realized what marketers are just coming to grips with: success often comes from individuals and companies working together rather than apart.