Gartner is predicting the rise of a new marketing discipline: “Thing marketing”.     

The term relates to the ‘things’ within the Internet of Things becoming customers which can make purchases on behalf of humans based on rules, context and preferences.

Therefore, Thing Marketing is the “process of promoting and selling products or services to things.”

The analysts argue things will become a new customer segment that businesses will need to learn how to listen to, engage with and serve. Gartner predicts these devices will act as agents for humans by providing suggestions, but in the future they will act autonomously to buy items automatically.

The most well known consumer example of Thing Commerce is Amazon Dash, which can be a physical button used to place an order or an API embedded into smart home appliances. For example a smart washing machine can monitor how much detergent you use and reorder a new packet.

That’s a simple use case, but as devices become more intelligent and analytics become more sophisticated, things will be able to detect customer needs as they arise, argues Gartner analyst Sandy Shen.

Rather than just re-ordering the washing powder, more sophisticated examples of thing commerce will use multiple sources of information to make buying decisions. For example a bot may look for a cross section of lowest price, best customer reviews and optimal delivery time. 

Shen argues this development will give brands a chance to form direct relationships with consumers, as opposed to being disconnected from the customer via a marketplace like Amazon or eBay.

If you sell through marketplaces it’s more so just a sales channel because you don’t really control the customer experience, you don’t own the customer relationship and you don’t have 100 per cent of the customer data, so it’s an intermediary between you and your customer,” Shen told Which-50.

“Now you have things, this can become a channel where you can have all the visibility about customer data and also control their experience. Also you can lock in customers through recurring revenue.”

Thing Marketing

Replacing human shoppers with bots will also require a change in the role of the marketer. Instead of appealing to emotions, marketers will need to appeal to logic and reason the bots have been programmed to obey, Gartner argues.

Gartner research notes, “marketers will need to appeal to the factors that things perceive to be in their best interest (price, quality, service and sentiment), based on the algorithms that have been put in place.”

This, according to the analysts, may lead to “two speed marketing” one speed for marketing to humans and a much faster speed for programmatic purchases.

Shen said Gartner envisages there will be an ecosystem of bots, including a master bot like Siri or Google Assistant which is connected to mini-bots like the washing machine bot,  kitchen bot of the travel bot which manage different tasks.

From a technical point of view, brands will need to make sure their products and services are visible to bots, and optimise their ranking similar to search engine optimisation. 

This will require a whole set of new technologies, some that will be similar to the search engine optimisations, but others will be new that we haven’t come across today yet,” Shen said.

Barriers to adoption

Shen said adoption of thing commerce will depend on how much buying power consumers are willing to cede to machines in the name of convenience.

“Do you really want to delegate all your purchase decisions to your fridge or car?”

There’s also the technology challenge of getting multiple systems to talk to each other. 

“If you get more sophisticated and combine several rules, like lowest price, best quality, highest ranking or a number of other rules then it becomes more complicated. Also one button could purchase from a range of products and pick the best product based on my preferences. This requires the analytics engine to be more sophisticated in understanding customer preferences and what they want to buy.”

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