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We've heard all the big numbers about the Internet of Things (IoT). Like Gartner’s claim that as many as 25 billion "things" could be connected by 2020.

As we speak now, nearing the end of 2015, perhaps as many as 4.9 billion devices are connected to the Internet (and this estimate comes from Gartner as well).

Technologists and consultants dream up ways the IoT will transform our daily lives and business sectors.

Marketers ought to be licking their chops on all that data coming from these devices too. Perhaps they ought to be feasting already.

User Experiences Like Never Before

Selina Petosa, chief creative strategist at full-service agency Rational Interaction, thinks so.

She's already seen big brands like Google, Nike and Apple serve as the vanguard action. They've used the IoT, she explains, to better understand their consumers and "deliver unprecedented user-experiences."

"The data has presented a large opportunity for brands to insert themselves into consumers’ lives and differentiate from others on the market by offering a timely, relevant value-add to consumers," she said.

Take what Tide has done with Amazon and its Dash buttons. Amazon is building "contextual profiles" on all of us, which can determine that, say, we use X amount of laundry detergent in an average of Y days, then calculate how many people we have living in our household.

"As they get you to use more of the buttons, they build a fuller profile, not just of you but of your family and living situation," said Sean Shoffstall, vice president of innovation and strategy, Teradata Marketing Applications.

‘People-Based Marketing’

Facebook's new personal assistant M is another example. With its "people-based marketing" approach, it promises advertisers the ability to be increasingly sentiment- and context-aware. It also features AI that learns from the user and the user's social network preferences, explained Forest Young, senior creative director at Interbrand, a global brand consultancy.

"Sixth-sense ads are on their way," Young said.

So even in its early days, the IoT offers data that could propel advertising.

Brands can already access data points such as user location, browsing behavior, social networks, quantified activity data, biometrics, gaze tracking, energy consumption, RFID tracking and even geospatial data from low-altitude satellites, according to Young.

"In the future, we’ll have more granular data about consumers’ preferences, relationships and more, allowing brands to deliver more extensive and valuable real-time updates to consumers via connected devices," Petosa said.

The Future is Nearly Now

That future could be 2016 or 2017. It all depends on how fast connected devices go mainstream and how fast marketers can learn how to apply the data.

But the ability to target and understand and reach consumers on a one-on-one basis will only deserve the adjective "unprecedented" more and more, or as Petosa puts it, "really endless."

It will be a test, too, that allows the best marketers to shine — those who are able to determine when, where and how consumers are interacting with branded content, not only tackling the attribution and conversion data but keeping their eye on awareness too.

"The context of when and where people are consuming messages and also looking at a confluence of multiple devices or appliance working in conjunction will be the coolest areas of focus," said Shoffstall.

This will test all of our persona based marketing and really show how we will need to evolve as marketers over the next few years.

Risk vs. Reward

Of course, with great power comes great responsibility, as Shoffstall said, paraphrasing Marvel Comics great Stan Lee.

"In the next 12 to 24 months, as the IoT and connected devices become more mainstream, it will be crucial to ensure consumers find value in the devices and also feel their personal data is being accessed in a safe and secure manner," Petosa agreed.

Shoffstall believes marketing departments might even annount an owner of customer data or take some actions now to protect consumer privacy, before "it is legislated out of our hands."

Perhaps behaving responsibility and communicating this privacy, "we got your back" message to wary consumers will be the hardest task of all for IoT-powered marketers.

Then again, done well, IoT-powered advertising will empower consumers and help solve their daily problems (rather than just annoy them and intrude on their lives). IoT data could ensure that "the user will be triumphant," Young suggested.

Let's hope so.

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Title image by Danka & Peter.