Communicating IoT: How to Make Complexity Understandable
Learnings from the second IoT Brunch at Factory Görlitzer Park
When you consider that by 2020, 20 billion objects will be connected by the Internet of Things, it’s fairly obvious that IoT is by nature, complex. However the communication around IoT needn’t be.
This was the core idea behind the second IoT Brunch at Factory Görlitzer Park, called “Communicating IoT and What’s Behind It” on July 25, 2018. The session featured three engaging guest speakers who delivered essential insights to a gathering of freelancers, entrepreneurs, marketing professionals, and journalists.
We’ll take you through the learnings so you can improve the messaging behind your connected service or product.
So why offer this brunch to Factory Members?
Easy answer: It’s difficult to pitch and sell ideas. It’s especially tricky when your industry is laden with buzzwords: blockchain, AI, Machine Learning, IoT, etc.
The explanation of your product or service must be step-by-step and easy to understand. If it isn’t, you risk losing your audience (investor, customer, conference-goer) straight from the start.
But with input from three experts in the tech space, Tom Hayton, Cate Lawrence, and Matas Petrikas, things get clearer pretty fast.
“Complexity inhibits engagement”
With an emphasis on visual communication, Creative director and consultant Tom Hayton, says a simple Google image search yields representations of IoT that are extremely complex and difficult to understand. They are representing the vertical itself, not its value. Heads up: If you apply the same kind of visual representation to your product or service, it will shortchange your end-goal of getting your message across.
Instead, he recommends using simple wording to break down terms e.g: blockchain: essentially a list with info and everyone has a copy, and when it gets updated, everyone gets a copy of it. Done, also don’t ‘fetishize complexity.’ He offered video examples from Skybell and alertmedia and bodyport. What makes the examples successful are their use of storytelling, graphics, and emphasis on human emotion.
Tom shared noteworthy communication principles:
- Don’t focus on the IoT/Vertical, but rather focus on what it is you DO.
- Don’t blind the audience with tech or buzzwords; keep the tech mentions minimized and focus on the service/activity of the people using the service or product.
- Tell a story; the term ‘storytelling’ is risking becoming a buzzword itself, but do it anyway; humans have been telling stories since the dawn of humanity.
- If B2C: focus of emotion and lifestyle they you want to sell.
- If B2B: focus on solving problems, with emotion as the undercurrent.
- Use consistent visual language: hire a graphic designer to stylize if feasible.
- Practise explaining your company/product/service in 1 sentence flat.
His main point was: do not confuse complexity with sophistication. Now on to Cate.
“Look we wanna work on something…”
Cate Lawrence is a tech journalist at DZone.com and a marketing associate in IIoT VC and advisory practice, Momenta Partners. She specializes in B2C and B2B industries, platforms, machines, connected devices and protocols. As such, she gets numerous emails daily with people trying to sell their services, newest gadgets, brilliant and half-baked ideas. To weed through those solicitations, she looks for subject lines that closely pertain to her interests, (try: IoT, Smart Cities, or IIoT).
She gave an overview of her journalistic perspective on IoT, breaking down various categories of products: life-changing solutions/products, Nice-to-haves, and WTF?!. The life-changing solutions were the most impressive, featuring hearing aids, removing explosives, and assisting paraplegics with driving — to name a few good ones.
In terms of marketing and messaging, Cate cited examples from Cisco’s #tomorrowstartshere campaign and Geico, which echoed Tom’s winning recipe for harnessing video, emotion and humor to convey your message.
To share what it is you are working on with a journalist, here are Cate’s essential messages.
Convey these answers to bring attention to your product, service, or company:
- Who are you?
- What is your product or event?
- What problem does it solve?
- Why is the product connected anyways?
- What’s the story?
- Who is your competition? ( Find them or the journalist will.)
- What’s your point of differentiation from the competition?
If you can clearly state these answers — and get your subject line right — you’ll have a greater chance of getting your news published. She predicts the next wave of IoT journalism will cover what’s around IoT, what makes it smart such as how a smart home can both predict and be able to react. It will explore the convergence and combinations of innovations in AI, blockchain, AR, and nanotechnologies. She hinted that she and her fellow journalists will be offering sessions to Factory Members to have their materials read and get feedback. Stay tuned for that.
“Would you ask a soup can what it can do?”
To round out the brunch session, we heard from Matas Petrikas, CEO and co-Founder of Vai Kai, a Berlin-based company who is providing families educational technology that uses a humanistic and sustainable approach. Vai Kai builds “screenless connected play objects for today’s children, inspired by nature and technology.” He discussed how people interact with tech like Amazon’s Echo, or a simple bathroom scale.
In keeping with advice from previous speakers, Matas delivered a great talk that focused on the story leading up to why his product is necessary to a growing market. Most kids in developed countries have access to screens, sometimes their own screens, receiving them as age 2-year old birthday gifts. Matas shared a personal anecdote of how his young family members became distracted and disrupted by access to screens, and this subsequently led to the need for parental intervention. His solution, along with a great product dev team, leans towards applying principles gleaned from experience at Berlin legends like Geeny and Soundcloud.
For connected product design, here are Matas’ pearls of wisdom:
- Keep it simple: remove features; improve the core.
- Expect to provide updates and surprise users so they enjoy a discovery process.
- Be mindful of product daily life cycle; battery time is a high-priority for users.
- Consider the role of the app carefully: unlike the ubiquitous Wechat in China, which can integrate IoT, payments, and messaging, plan to develop apps for any connected consumer device. An app should do less, so make it simple.
- Focus on emotion: what does touching the object convey about its state?
- Future of consumer IoT? Any connected object will have the ‘guts of a smartphone.’
The Forbidden Doll and the Unfortunate Lamp
With smart consumer devices, we need to be wary of regulations and privacy. Cate referenced smart locks on home and the recent havoc around those. Matas mentioned the now discontinued and destroyed children’s toy Cayla, a bluetooth-enabled doll that could lead anyone driving by a house to hack into and listen to private conversations. In Germany, this type of surveillance device that charades as a common product is outlawed.
Matas also cited other examples where the product doesn’t match the need: an example of a smart lamp that he could not turn off in a child’s room at bedtime. They ended up fruitlessly searching for a manual switch, the only solution which would require redundancy in design. Matas concluded, “Tech masks itself as convenience, like an old school device, but it doesn’t function.”
Tech’s Flourishing Forest
Vai Kai is focusing on user research, sustainable materials, and understanding cultural differences as their products are now in homes across 33 countries. He closed with a mention of a 1989 essay, “Computer for the 21st Century” by Mark Weiser, chief scientist at Xerox PARC.
In that essay apparently, Weiser describes an analogy of how when we go out into nature, say a forest, we recognize the interconnectedness of different parts. Perhaps trees, insects, moisture levels, foliage, animals, and weather work cohesively; we are not overwhelmed by it as we enter the forest. It still has an easy feel. Matas wants to see that future for technology, where all the parts are working together harmoniously.
Let’s hope we can aim for more of that feeling when conveying the complexity of IoT.
Big thanks to MXC, for generously sponsoring and Factory for hosting. MXC is integrating blockchain with IoT to make machine-machine transactions. Factory is Europe’s largest private members club for startups and brings together a community of innovators.
If you have something great to offer the ever-growing IoT ecosystem in Berlin, just click below to find out more about our IoT Hub.
Originally published by Elisheva Marcus at blog.nextbigthing.ag.