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At some point in the not-too-distant future, we’ll have more refrigerators and cars than computers and mobile devices connected to the Internet. Just a few years ago, this sounded like the stuff of science fiction…

. . . not anymore.

By 2020, there will be over a quarter billion connected vehicles on the road, according to Gartner. We needn’t look even that far into the future anymore; today, there are 4.9 billion connected “things” in use, up 30% over last year.

Yet we’re still struggling to simply define what this Internet of Things entails and more importantly, what it means for both consumers and the businesses that serve them.

How will the Internet of Things (IoT from here on out) impact the way we do business in the very near future?

This was a hot discussion topic at the Local Search Summit 2015 in San Diego recently. Local search experts Andy McMahon from MapQuest, Mike Pycha from Neustar Localeze and Abid Chaudhry from BIA Kelsey tackled the very real issues facing businesses, particularly those with physical locations (and often hundreds or thousands of locations).

Consumers are already on board with the Internet of Things, although many don’t realize it. One-third of US homes already have connected TVs (eMarketer). Despite earlier privacy concerns, people have quickly become comfortable with Fitbit, Pebble Watches, Jawbone UP, and more.

The industry is at a turning point now, where the IoT is rapidly moving beyond those applications a consumer consciously chooses – a smart home system to enhance security and comfort, or a connected car to ease the commute, for example. Consumers seek out these solutions and willingly trade off any privacy concerns, because they understand the value exchange.

Yet beyond the home, beyond the car, outside of each consumer’s personal space, businesses are increasingly realizing the potential inherent to IoT connectivity in shops, on the streets, and around entire neighborhoods. The local searcher interacting with a beacon may not necessarily understand that’s what is happening, yet they’re receptive to relevant messaging within an alert. People naturally want to know what is in the surrounding area and how it can benefit them.

“The Internet of Things, at a very base level, is simply the way different data flows to different people, through all kinds of devices,” McMahon explained.

The conduit may be a connected car or a device in your kitchen, but it could just as easily be a GE light bulb in a store, a piece of street furniture, or an object in a stadium communicating information to you.

However, he cautioned, regardless of the device or the technology communicating to it, if the information it calls up for a consumer is wrong, the interaction has failed.

Consumers search locally because they have an immediate need. It may be an urgent need – they need a drug store in the neighborhood because they’re on vacation and their child is sick. It could be a commercial query – the searcher is in a retail store looking at a product and wants to compare prices with nearby stores. Their query could be more exploratory in nature – they’re outside of their neighborhood and want to find something interesting to do for a few hours.

“Regardless of query urgency and intent, the information returned to a mobile searcher must be 100% accurate,” Pycha explained.

Underpinning this entire industry of connected devices, furniture, cars and more is an entire ecosystem of local business data feeding the consumers’ need for contextually relevant, timely information, he said.

“It’s not just about NAP (name, address, phone number) data,” Chaudhry added. It’s about the context of that location:

    • Is it open?
    • Does it have inventory?

To provide utility to consumers and deliver the best possible user experience to people in your company’s physical area, the data must deliver the right information.“We aggregate almost 100 different feeds (at MapQuest),” McMahon told the audience.

“We try to judge the quality of a feed coming in – who do we trust? It comes down to being able to make sure that you get the information out to as many sources as possible in a timely manner. The problem used to be that we didn’t have enough data. Now we have too much and need to figure out how to parse it,” Chaudhry explained.

Pycha agreed and noted that how businesses syndicate, aggregate and distribute their location data to the many different data points is critical. Still, he said, despite understanding the importance of feeding accurate data into the IoT, businesses still face the basic problem of not showing up consistently.

Failing to show up at all results in lost traffic to a business, but showing up with incorrect information fuels poor user experience and potentially negative feedback.

“Across devices and networks, accurate core data is key for businesses to succeed,” he said. Businesses, (especially large companies and multi-location retail businesses), are clamoring to get connected and eager to adopt the IoT. In fact, Forrester predicts that by 2017, 82% of large companies will be connected.

It’s an exciting time to be involved in the IoT. Seeing the vast array of possibilities come out of events like Cisco’s IoT Innovation Grand Challenge, for example, will make your head spin.

Yet behind the shiny new devices, the innovative new connection opportunities and the exciting retail applications lies the foundation of the entire IoT: local business data. It was a theme that carried through the entire panel discussion – businesses need to get right with their data verification, optimization and syndication to power accurate, relevant consumer interactions via connected devices of all kinds.

Consumers can do the IoT in a really interesting way if they’re willing to share information and let these different devices figure out what they want to do, McMahon pointed out.

So the big marketing take-away for Inbounders here?

It’s the responsibility of businesses (offline and online) to ensure the information shared back to consumers:

    • Makes it easy for them to accomplish their task
    • Is useful, relevant & most importantly, accurate

If you confuse people, put obstacles in their way, send them in the wrong direction (literally or figuratively) or give them bad or wrong info- say goodbye to their business.

What do you think?
Will the Internet of Things change the way we market?

I’d love to get your input!

Originally posted at inbound.org