When Is an IoT Company Not an IoT Company?
Marketing matters. It always has done, but never more so than in today’s world of aggressive global competition and instant communications, where a company can seemingly live or die at the whim of social media. Some companies hype up the internet of things (IoT) angle even though they sit on the fringes at best, while a growing number of UK SMEs whose products and services clearly play in the IoT space are choosing not to define themselves as IoT companies.
We spoke with three such companies with very different products, and discovered that distancing themselves from the IoT moniker was a very deliberate strategy. A common theme was a desire to stand out from the crowd of companies, new and old, that are billing their products and services as IoT. Another was the fact that IoT is an ill-defined term that can mean different things to different people or even different industries. Furthermore, given that pretty much everything is connected nowadays, is there a need to highlight the fact? Does it add true value? Instead the companies we interviewed prefer to focus on the specifics of their product and the benefits it can deliver rather than using what might be considered an umbrella term.
There was also a sense of not wanting to be associated with a phrase that could become outdated. The ‘internet of everything’ is already in common use – it could take over from IoT or completely new terminology could come into being. And if the bubble does deflate or even burst, companies that haven’t relied heavily on an IoT definition won’t be tainted by association.
Cambridge-based PragmatIC is gearing up for volume production of its flexible integrated circuits (FICs) from early next year at its facility in County Durham. They promise to be significantly lower cost than conventional silicon chips, as well as thinner and flexible, and will introduce interactivity into a huge range of everyday products. They also have the potential to open up completely new applications for electronics.
PragmatIC decided not to brand as an IoT company because of the lack of clarity surrounding the term and in order to appeal to its target customer base. As CEO Scott White explains, “The companies using our technology do not think about it as IoT, they think about it more in terms of smart packaging or digital games, or specific technologies like RFID or NFC”. PragmatIC worked with potential customers throughout the design and development phases in order to define the use cases that were of most interest, and also has solid investors that include ARM and packing materials manufacturer Avery Dennison. This focus, and the relationships it has built up, means it does not need to be overly aggressive in marketing itself as an IoT company.
London’s Pavegen (to rhyme with ‘pavement’) launched the world’s first smart street in June, in partnership with New West End Company and Transport for London (TfL). Pavegen’s V3 technology in Bird Street, just off London’s Oxford Street shopping mecca, harvests energy from people’s footsteps and converts it into electricity to power bird sounds during the day and lighting at night, incorporating low power Bluetooth beacons. Pavegen currently produces footfall data that can indicate areas of busy traffic, which is particularly useful in retail environments, and an app that enables it to build up customer relationship data. It is developing more complex algorithm-based footfall analysis that will allow it to penetrate deeper into retail IoT applications, while the off-grid energy produced by Pavegen has the potential to power other low-power devices such as air quality sensors.
Alex Johnson, Pavegen’s Head of Communications, explains why the company chose not to use the IoT moniker: “People and not objects are at the centre of our vision, so we talk about the ‘internet of beings’ rather than the ‘internet of things’ as well as smart cities. Our technology is connected, but it’s not just about efficiency, it’s about helping to create healthier and more enjoyable places to be in.”
The GEOmii parking finder app provides real-time information to direct drivers to the best available parking spot for their destination. It currently provides data on over 260,000 spots in the UK, with the expectation that this will exceed one million by the end of 2018. CEO Martin De Heaver outlines two key reasons for the decision not to make IoT central to GEOmii’s marketing. First, the company is technology-agnostic. While it gathers data from IoT sensors and uses IoT systems including LoRa and Sigfox, it also collects data from a variety of other sources, especially from legacy parking systems that were previously closed but have now been opened up with an IP connection. Second, the customer is more concerned about the results GEOmii delivers rather than the underlying technology. “Our customers do not buy GEOmii because it’s an IoT product,” De Heaver rationalises. “We focus on delivering an outcome and that can be achieved in many different ways.”
Of course there is absolutely no reason why a company shouldn’t define itself as an IoT developer, manufacturer or service provider, but that shouldn’t be the entirety of the marketing message. Take the time to define your target customer base and hone your marketing for that audience. Talk up the IoT angle as needed, but don’t ignore the specifics of your technology, product or use cases in favour of nebulous buzzwords and jargon.
Digital Catapult is working with Bloom and ODI Leeds; as well as researchers, businesses, and government; to clearly define what an IoT company is ahead of the next phase of the IoTUK Nation Database in a roundtable this week.
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