The Human API

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Plugging an Ethernet cable into the back of my head – that is literally how I pictured being constantly connected to the internet back in 1999, the year The Matrix was released. I was blown away by that film, the thought provoking storyline, the music, fight scenes and the sci-fi advancements in technology. Skip forward 15 years and our world has changed – the rise of the smartphone means that many of us are already classed as ‘always on consumers’. The gathering and merging of data on these consumers online and physical behaviors has seen a new buzz word coined in the technology press – ‘The Human API’ and whilst not as complete (or as painful!) as depicted in the film, being plugged in to the digital world is fast becoming less science fiction and more science fact. Why is this relevant to us as marketers… put simply the more we understand about our target audience the more we are able to understand how best to influence.

Optimising the real world

Smart businesses in the US are currently trailing the use of beacon technology to monitor customer in-store behaviors through their smartphones. By tracking footfall and customer routes in-store they are optimizing store layouts to improve the consumer experience, so moving the most popular isles to the front of the store or prioritizing certain isles in a supermarket to make the consumer’s journey more efficient. At the same time, companies such as Walmart have included an ‘in-store’ mode on their app to offer users an enriched experience in store. While still in its infancy, initiatives like this have huge potential  to enhance the shoppers experience, offering the richness of the online environment with the immediacy and personality of buying in-store.

 The Impact of the Internet of Things

And it is not only in the retail space but also in the home that we are starting to see a merging of the two worlds. The ‘internet of things’ (IoT) will have far reaching implications on many aspects of our lives.  The first iteration of this movement has really been focused on automation within the home –appliances, heating and lighting, home security and even tooth brushes(!) are all becoming internet enabled and more often than not, interfaced through a smartphone. Connecting everyday items to the internet will essentially allow them to gather, share and react to data they collect on their surrounding environment.

The 2nd iteration of this movement is going to be even more useful/powerful still – one need look no further than Google’s recent acquisitions to give us a better idea of the end-game for this type of technology.  They purchased Nest back in January – maker of smart thermostats and smoke alarms – for a massive $3.2 billion dollars and although the ability to remotely control your thermostat a home security is useful – it is with Google’s subsequent purchase of Dropcam (which provides Wi-Fi-connected web cameras, trackers, and cloud-based storage) that the strategy behind these acquisition becomes clear.

By building their portfolio of Android based hardware, not only are they making a play to be the dominant OS within the home, they are also giving themselves the ability to gather data on a home-owners real life behaviors. This information on our physical habits, coupled with the vast amount of data Google already hold on our online behaviour will be very powerful indeed.

Impact for Marketers

At the end of the day, the IoT and the human API will be drivers for our explosion of growth in data collection in the coming years. Why does this excite me as a marketer? Because as we all know, data is the life blood of effective digital advertising.

Although using this human data from the home may sound slightly Orwellian – the same may well have been said a decade or so ago about monitoring our online behaviours and that certainly hasn’t stopped digital advertisers from navigating the associated privacy minefield. I may be biased here but I feel for most people there is an understanding for the need for advertising – it keeps the services they want to use free and as long as there is a balanced value exchange between brands and audience for many people ignorance is bliss.

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Understanding our audiences to a level of detail never before thought possible will allow us to deliver the most personalized and relevant content than ever. Gathering physical data on an audience and merging it with online behaviours may sound a little creepy but I can’t wait to be fully connected to ‘The Matrix’. Now where did I put that leather trench coat?

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