11 Seriously Creative Ways to Use IoT for Marketing

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11 Seriously Creative Ways to Use IoT for Marketing

A busy venue

It’s IoT Week at SitePoint! All week we’re publishing articles focused on the intersection of the internet and the physical world, so keep checking in for the latest updates.

Imagine you’re walking around Restoration Hardware when you spot it: the dining room table of your dreams. It’s unique, extremely well-made—and just too expensive to buy right that second. So, you find the big red “Pin It” button on top of the table, press it, and move on. Pressing that button just saved the table to your Pinterest board; tonight, you’ll look at it again and decide whether it’s worth the price tag.

Sound a little far-fetched? Well, this hypothetical scenario isn’t actually hypothetical. Pinterest and Tok&Stok, a Brazilian furniture retailer, partnered on an in-store campaign that lets shoppers save physical products to their digital accounts with, well, the push of a pin.

There’s an obvious difficulty. If you push the “Pin It” button on your dream table, and then I walk up three minutes later and push the button again, the button must not only recognize that two different people activated it—but also know which two people, so it can save the table to our respective Pinterest accounts.

The answer comes to us from IoT technology. Each pin uses a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacon to communicate with nearby consumer smartphones, telling it exactly who’s in the vicinity.

When it comes to the Internet of Things, this use case is just the beginning. Let’s explore how IoT will impact how products are marketed and sold.


Beacons (or, small, wireless devices that send out signals with their unique IDs) are every marketer’s best friend. No, really: not only do they have an unbelievably long list of potential uses, but they give us accurate, comprehensive, nuanced data.

Just like a website heat map tells you what’s grabbing your user’s attention and what’s being ignored, beacon technology can tell you where in your store shoppers are lingering and where they’re rushing. Since you’re getting this information for individuals, you can combine it with other customer data to build incredibly accurate and granular consumer profiles. As an example, you might discover that the average man in his mid–30s spends three minutes in the produce aisle, while the average woman in her mid–30s spends five minutes.

You can collect meta-data as well. For instance, a major clothing store installed beacons in 20 of its locations around the San Francisco Bay Area to track which zip codes consumers were coming from. At the end of four months, the store identified its highest and lowest-density areas.

That brings us to the second use case: data optimization. The clothing retailer used the zip code data to focus its bus advertising on the highest-density neighborhoods; plus, it identified instances where stores were drawing large numbers of customers from a distant zip code, opening the door for future openings.

Beacon technology also lets you send people extremely customized notifications. That’s how Target is doing things: shoppers who opt in to the beacon experience (by downloading an app) get push notifications based on where they are in the store, their personal consumer profile, and product info. Imagine a teenage girl walks into the shoe section. Her previous purchases suggest she likes athletic shoes in the $40 to $60 range, so Target sends her a 10% coupon for a nearby pair of $50 sneakers.

When Hillshire Brands rolled out a similar campaign for its American Craft sausages, purchase intent and brand awareness increased by 20% and 36%, respectively.

That brings us to my favorite beacon use case: giving your customers a good time. That’s how Rockbot, a virtual jukebox that lets customers request songs at restaurants, hotels, and gyms, used beacons. After analyzing historic listening patterns to figure out which songs its users liked best, the platform would automatically play those songs when the consumers walked into its partner venues. Picture this: you open the door to your fitness studio, and your favorite pump-up song starts blasting. Pretty awesome, right?

(And while the ROI of this use case might seem less obvious, there’s a lot of research proving that the physical environment can be as or more important than the product when it comes to driving sales.)


There’s a good chance you already use geofencing in your day-to-day life. Maybe you’ve got an important errand to run the next morning, so you set up a reminder in Evernote, Apple Reminders, or Todoist to go off when you leave the house. Or perhaps you’ve enabled your phone to go on Mute when you arrive at the office.

These digital recipes use geofences, or “virtual fences placed around a physical location”. Every time a person enters or exits the defined area, a programmed action takes place.

You might assume beacons and geofences would conflict with each other, but they’re actually compatible technologies. Since you can define beacon signals down to the centimeter, they’re optimal for incredibly precise interactions. Geofences, on the other hand, can range from 50 meters to the entire city.

Marketers typically use geofencing to send targeted push notifications. Sephora, for example, keeps track of customers with unspent gift cards—and when those customers pass near one of its locations, Sephora sends them a friendly alert.

Geofencing push notification

Meanwhile, Dunkin’ Donuts employed geofencing to poach people from local competitors. Along with its own stores, the brand set up geofences around competitive coffee shops and convenience stores. When pedestrians passed by, they’d see a coupon on their phone. They could either choose to use the coupon immediately or save it for later. Ultimately, 3.6% of recipients ended up using the coupon. Not only is that percentage three times higher than average rates for paper coupons, but almost 4 in 10 consumers spend more if they have a mobile coupon—making this campaign a double win for Dunkin’.

If your marketing strategy involves user-generated content (UGC), geofencing is extremely handy. Let’s say you’re hosting a conference. While you should definitely create a custom event hashtag, like #INBOUND15 or #CTAConf, it’s inevitable that attendees will forget to use it, or type it incorrectly, or simply not bother to include it. And as a result, you’ll miss out on a ton of awesome content. But geofencing lets you capture UGC without a hashtag: just set up the virtual perimeter around your event space, and you’ll automatically collect all the social media posts uploaded within it.

Marriott has taken this use case to the next level. After a guest posts something to social media, the hotel team uses that post to create a “surprise and delight” moment, like delivering a celebratory dessert to a guest who tweeted about his birthday, or sending a friendly “Welcome!” to someone who posts to Instagram soon after checking in.

The results have been impressive. After Marriott interacts with guests on social, those same guests go on to post twice as often. Even better, 82% follow the brand back, post about their travel experience again, or specifically mention Marriott.

Thanks to these technologies, marketers can get seriously creative with their campaigns. Which use case is your favorite, and how are you planning to use IoT tech? Let me know in the comments!

Aja FrostAja Frost
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Aja Frost is a writer, tech/design geek, and podcast addict. Check out her site or say hi on Twitter.

beaconsEmerging TechgeofencingInternet-of-ThingsiotjoelfMarketing
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