PR pros: are you IoT ready?

By Sophia Zhao, SVP, PPR Worldwide

The impact of IoT will be as big as the impact electricity has had on the world. It is a mega societal trend with changes that impact everyone, in every industry. From traditional IT companies to insurance companies, from refrigerator manufacturer to oil companies, every company and organization will enter into the IoT space with their unique business goals and value proposition.

For such a revolution, IoT opens up an entirely new opportunity for PR and marketing functions as companies will need help defining what IoT means for their business short and long-term, what customer audiences and targeted communications can help advance those objectives. PPR Worldwide has launched an IoT Specialty Group that provides communications strategy to help clients navigate this growing trend. Following are a list of considerations to guide companies through this inevitable transition.

  1. Vision, big numbers, so what?

Gartner estimates that there will be more than 20 billion connected devices globally by 2020 resulting in a global market valued at $1.9 trillion. That’s big! Regardless of the size of the market, companies must push themselves to come up with unique sets of data that illustrate where their particular industry is headed to gain customer buy in.

  1. Every company calls itself an IoT company. 

Early this year, an IoT industry consultant remarked that at his last count there were more than 160 different players calling their end products “IoT platforms”. By now, the number might have just tripled. This presents a challenging situation for companies to differentiate as customers are overwhelmed with information. By focusing attention on competitive advantages and IoT milestones, brands can break through the noise and create a differentiated story.

  1. What Things? Consumers are overwhelmed. 

Tech blogger Preston Gralla voiced his frustration on the IoT trend: “Once upon a time, being your home’s IT director meant knowing how to troubleshoot one or two PCs. Then you had to learn how to troubleshoot wireless networks. After that came smartphones and tablets. Soon it will be every device you own. How many hours do you think you’ll be spending being your house’s IT director in the IoT future? More than you want to spend. Certainly more than I do. Because I have seen the IoT future, and it doesn’t work.”

As the Internet connects all the things and reaches into every corner of people’s life, it truly digitizes people’s lives. New devices, a new way of living, smart homes, connected cars, etc. Traditional consumer goods communications professionals need to simplify consumers’ lives through creative storytelling and equip themselves with deep understanding of the technologies involved. Companies must be prepared with questions from consumers like “What? What? What?” and PR should be ready to help.

  1. What if something bad happened in an increasingly connected world?

Consumers are becoming increasingly sensitive about how data is gathered and used, and how safe the devices are. According to Travelers’ third annual Consumer Risk Index, cyber-related concerns grew by more than 20 percentage points from last year, moving from the fifth-ranked to the third-ranked worry overall. The survey found that one in four Americans say they have been the victim of a data breach or cyber attack. Look at the troubles Chrysler is facing with connected car hacking scandal and class action lawsuit following it. Companies need to be well-prepared for crisis scenarios related to their IoT products and solutions. When all things are connected and huge amount of data everywhere are venerable to threats, extensive issues mapping and scenario planning is needed. Examples of how communications will be critical in this process include communicating product recall decisions early, alerting customers more quickly to any problems, and communicating new service offerings. As consumers and industries still have doubts on the future of IoT being trouble-free, the way an organization responds to and communicates after such a crisis will have a material effect on its standing among stakeholders.

  1. IoT takes a culture and mindset change. How to get employees on board with it? 

In a recent survey conducted by Tata Consultancy Services, when asked to rank the importance of 21 success factors for IoT in their organizations, corporate culture ranked second. Organizations will need to solve for changing mindsets all every level and communications functions will play a critical role in educating employees on creating an IoT enabled organization that benefits the customer.

  1. Policy makers are merely catching up. How to collaborate and communicate? 

Politico’s “The Agenda” ran a special report on IoT titled “Why Washington isn’t ready for the biggest tech wave of a generation”. They surveyed more than 40 top tech leaders and 84 percent said there should be a national policy on consumer data privacy, while 63 percent believe there should be a more formal national IoT policy.

While there is an IoT Caucus in the House and an IoT working group at the White House there is no clear oversight or even policy parameters have been articulated. Just as with the Internet itself, a laissez-faire mindset will likely permeate Washington for the foreseeable future as IoT evolves. Yet, the likelihood that IoT will face greater scrutiny is high. Whereas the Internet is a platform primarily, IoT has the potential to fall under a legislative or regulatory structure.

Once an IoT benefit, in health or finance for example, falls victim to fraud or theft, people will think and feel differently about it. And that is where “protections” will be floated by lawmakers and policymakers. Organizations that want to lead in IoT must turn these risks into opportunities and argue for sensible protections. PR and marketing will play a critical role influencing current laws and practices that extend current circumstances to new markets that IoT will undoubtedly create. The key will be a thorough understanding of the policy environment and how the emerging benefits the technology of IoT will unleash.

The wave of Internet of Things is giant. Companies need to be cautious and smart when riding it. The question to ask communications professionals is “are you IoT ready?”

Sophia Zhao is Senior Vice President at PPR Worldwide San Francisco office. She has more than a decade of PR experience in advising clients on technology communications, corporate positioning, corporate branding, strategic media relations, social media, influencer relations strategies, issues management and consumer product marketing. The clients Sophia has worked on include Qualcomm, HP, SAP, Dell, Motorola, LG Display, Red Hat, Siemens, Pfizer, Roll-Royce, BHP Billiton and Accenture. Sophia has strong experience in working with clients on identifying key communications issues and opportunities under challenging business environment and designing programs that help achieve specific business goals. As Internet of Things is becoming the next largest technology wave, Sophia is spearheading PPR IoT Specialty Group, which aims to help clients navigate the mega trend across industries and regions.