The Internet of Things (IoT) isn't a new phenomenon, but it’s certainly one that’s getting a second -- a third, a fourth, a tenth -- look in recent months. Think of the ways you integrated IoT into your every day: sensors in your car that alert you to check the engine, pacemakers and high tech, hands-free medical devices, red light cameras or even the microchip in Fido.

These commonplace devices work without direct human interaction, often sending substantial amounts of information or, in some cases, responding to their environmental circumstances on their own. Today these and other essential and far flung IoT connections account for 1.9 billion devices, with Business Insider predicting upwards of 9 billion by 2018.

Real Time, Contextual Solutions

The implications for retailers? Plenty. New York-based Immersive Labs has developed interactive billboards and in-store displays that leverage facial recognition software to identify the age, gender and even the estimated attention span of the consumer along with sizing up the other people in their party. With this content “in mind” the displays deliver a targeted ad based on who’s looking along. Similar displays in Japan are upwards of 90 percent accurate in assessing the viewer.

Think of what this means for marketers. Advertise high end cold weather gear to a 30-something consumer when the temperature drops. Promote a family friendly movie when mom passes with kids in tow. Make a last minute gift suggestion on Valentine’s Day when he’s waiting for the bus -- and likely panicking.

But these IoT-based ads don’t stop there. As they cull firsthand data and metrics based on consumer engagement, the technology, in effect, gets smarter, delivering the right ads at the right time. Whether it’s a special offer from a local fast food restaurant during the evening rush, midday coffee promotions or entertainment going into the weekends, the ad learns the patterns of the environment and relevant consumers, making future outreach even more efficient and effective.

It’s that gathering of information sans human interaction that makes these things in the Internet of Things truly remarkable, replacing manmade content and solutions with more streamlined, more efficient and more cost-effective ones that, in most cases, are more accurate and better equipped for optimization and personalization than their human-derived counterparts. This highly connected advertising and marketing platform will no doubt be among the top IoT uses.

While human decisions and intuitive targeting is still a critical piece of the consumer equation, there has always been a gap in real time problem solving, especially in complex situations and unfamiliar environments. Tapping in to the IoT, automated systems can aid in effectively overcoming these challenges and increasing performance levels.

Expanding Opportunities Ahead

Earlier this month all eyes were on the always agenda-setting 2014 International CES (a.k.a. Consumer Electronics Show). Last year, the “smart” world seemed fairly isolated -- albeit, at the time, incredibly impressive. There was the HAPIfork, the first smart fork that encouraged healthier, better paced eating, the Samsung T9000 smart fridge with integrated Evernote capabilities for seamless list making and recipe referencing.

But, for me, the question was really "then what?" Where do you go from there -- not just what’s next in a macro perspective, but what’s next in the moment? What else syncs? What else connects? Where else is this valuable information, content and activity integrated?

Judging from the IoT focus of CES 2014, though, I wasn’t the only one feeling the “smart stops here” vibe coming out of last year’s show. Wearable tech took center stage in a big way, with a host of highly connected, highly innovative products and even more ways to connect the dots -- plus a few dots we hadn’t even known about before. From Intel’s partnership with luxury apparel retailer Barney’s to Fitbit’s announcement that it would team up with designer Tory Burch on a new accessories line, the fashion/tech fusion rolled out in a big way.

Even more exciting, though, was the deep level of interconnectedness and true alignment with consumer needs. It’s not just about looking good or being more efficient and effective but, instead, about brands solving a greater consumer need and culling a tremendous amount of real time, actionable data while they’re at it -- data that will, in turn, help them fill those future needs in a bigger, better, more personalized way. This profound shift away from stand-alone “smarts” -- smart devices, smart phones, smart appliances, smart fashion -- is what’s really the IoT game changer, and certainly worth all of the noise that surrounds these high profile roll outs.

The proliferation of the IoT means a greater reliance on testing and increased occasions for optimization, personalization and automation -- but, at the same time, a boom in relevant opportunities. Marketers can now monitor and test behaviors, optimize resource utilization and even automate decision making and delivery in uncertain situations. The applications for retailers and marketers is boundless as the “things” get more sophisticated and more readily available, with the ability to solve advanced processes and dictate an incredibly sleek, sophisticated and optimized consumer experience based on data-driven decisions -- and greater ROI for organizations.

It won’t happen overnight -- think of how much buy-in and institutional support was required to get your organization to where it is today in terms of testing and optimization -- but the benefits abound and will continue to expand in 2014 and beyond. Today, positioning yourself for these changes is key as is assessing where the holes in traditional business process optimization lie. Beyond that, the ability to optimize and innovative all of those “things” awaits.

Title image by Elnur /

Editor's Note: Read another take on the Internet of Things and customers in The Internet of Things: Do Customers Have a Say in Who Owns Their Data?