With connected home products making big waves in the news, we sat down with Account Executive Heather Hewit to speak about her experiences with connected home campaigns. In a space that is so new, Heather touches on some of the challenges that connected home companies and marketers could possibly face and how to overcome them.
Why don’t we start off with you telling us how you began working with connected home products?
HH: I started working with brands in the connected home space back in 2012. So, yes, notably before the “Internet of Things” trend really overtook the tech space. I worked with a brand from their beta launch at CES 2013 to their Kickstarter campaign last summer. After a successful campaign, we worked on their retail launch in Q4 2013. This year’s CES was really exciting for them and us as the Internet of Things was definitely one of the top trending topics at CES 2014.
How do you feel about Kickstarter campaigns for connected home products? Have you run into any issues with your clients where they can’t deliver?
HH: Kickstarter campaigns are great, for the right client. This holds true regardless of the sector. One of my recent blogs on crowdfunding campaigns touches on some of my thoughts as to how to get it right. You have to be realistic about what you can offer and when. Media coverage for crowdfunding campaigns is always a mixed bag. There are many publications that won’t cover Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns or won’t cover a product without a sample. To get past these hiccups, you really have to have something unique to offer. And, this is where products in the connected home space can have a leg up. The companies that were the first to come up with futuristic yet feasible technologies for the home are the ones who really killed it on Kickstarter this past year, with top tier press to boot.
What are some challenges that you see for connected home products coming to market?
HH: Well, there are definitely some challenges as a tech company moves from conception to market. From a PR gal’s perspective, I generally see most of this occurring after a CES launch or the completion of a crowdfunding campaign. If you’ve got something groovy and a solid PR agency, you’ll garner a good amount of media surrounding these. But, there’s only so long you can garner attention for simply your ideas.
After CES, you’re not going to get much press unless your company is making something happen. That “something” is generally bringing your product to market. Media wise we’re talking a product review and/or a retail call to action. First, of course, you’ll actually need to have some product for media. For products like phone cases or speakers, this is pretty straightforward. However, for products in the connected home space this can be a little more complicated. There are more variables in this space. If I make a device that talks to or connects with other devices, then how my device works and if an accurate review can be completed is going to depend on if and how it can work with other devices and if others have access to those devices.
Especially if you want an accurate and “real-life” review, right?
HH: Right. It could be hard for people to get a true sense of how a product might work. There are certainly folks who have followed and attempted to integrate connected home devices into their lives from the beginning. They might have thermostats, home locks, smoke detectors, light bulbs and more that can be monitored and controlled remotely. Still, we’re not yet at the place where the average technology reviewer has a truly connected home and the average consumer is definitely not there yet.
If the average consumer isn’t integrating these products into their home does this pose a threat to you as a marketer?
HH: It could. But, it’s more so what I feel the entire connected home industry needs to take into consideration. Who are the people who are going to dive right into purchasing connected home products? I’d say in consumer electronics, the connected home space has one of the greatest divides between what a consumer thinks is cool, and may retweet, versus what they will actually buy.
Once you get to the retail space, as a connected home company, you’ll definitely need to move from promoting how your advanced technology works to how and why the average consumer might buy it. And, I don’t just mean the average techie. Lowes and Staples have done a pretty good job at streamlining the process of connecting and managing the smart home and bringing it to the average consumer.
Where do you see the connected home space going in the next few years?
HH: The CE and tech space is always advancing and moving rapidly. We’re constantly updating and upgrading our phones for example. There’s some sort of ingrained desire in the consumer to keep craving the better or more advanced version in the CE space.
There was a lot of talk at CES about smart appliances and refrigerators, etc. and while there was a lot of hype around these products, I think we will definitely see a slower growth here. As a newbie to smart devices, a consumer might be willing to spend less than a hundred dollars to try a smart thermometer or something of the like. But, will I shell out the money for a new smart refrigerator if I don’t need one? Doubt it. With the economy as it is, there’s a very slim slice of the market that would. More so, one of the main sells of brands who have been making appliances for years is their durability and reliability. There’s simply not that desire for the latest and greatest here in the way there is in other areas of consumer electronics.
Over the next few years, I think we will continue to see this divide of what we can do in homes versus what the average home consists of. We hear “the home of the future” in the media and I think we’re going to keep hearing this not because things cannot be done, but because it’s not feasible for the average American to prioritize the cost of making their home “smart” over other items. I imagine integration to be quite slow: when my current X dies, maybe my new X will be smart. I’m certainly interested to see what will happen in terms of growth and interest level.
With the appliances, don’t you think there could be a way to update the software within the product rather than updating the whole appliance itself?
HH: Oh, sure, in time there definitely will be. Like I said, I just feel it’s a real niche market right now that wants to and can afford to install these sorts of products in their homes.
Knowing all of this, how would you face these challenges in the connected home space as a marketer?
HH: I think that it’s really about knowing your space, knowing the media, knowing your product and having a good relationship with the company that you represent. If an issue arises, such as the technology isn’t integrating with something as soon as you thought it would, you should have a pretty accurate idea of when there will be a solution.
Communication is really so important. You want to connect with the media who has covered your company and product about anything that is happening, particularly at these times when the process of conception to implementation can be lengthy, as I mentioned earlier. Your best bet is always to address concerns with honesty.
Admitting your shipment is one month late with apologies is much better than dropping off the face of the earth. There’s no such thing as pretending something isn’t happening and hoping the public won’t notice. They will. Yet, I’ve seen many CEOs push to take this route. There’s only so long that the “coming soon” messaging will work. Keeping folks abreast of the details of your progress if you face challenges is the way to keep your reputation in tact.
You always need to do your best to keep your word. And, if you can’t, you need to tell them why, which is true about all kinds of PR. It’s so important.
What if you run into a company that has tech issues and they don’t want to answer to the media or their customers?
HH: In a digital world, this isn’t an option. People are always talking, it’s just up to you how you want to involve yourself. What you have to say isn’t always going to be what people want to hear, but it’s speaking the truth that is of the highest priority. As a PR pro, counseling your client on best practices is part of the job.
You really have to work with your client to find an answer you will both be happy with at times like these. They need to be aware of the reactions their actions are causing on their Facebook, Twitter and any review sites. The last thing you want is your glorious story on CNET or TechCrunch to become littered with comments that tarnish your reputation when all that was needed was a simple transparent statement.