Many companies with new IoT offerings are asking platform providers for speed to market, when they should be asking themselves if they're ready to go to market in the first place.
The IoT ecosystem is home to a plethora of platform companies that will monitor and manage your IoT devices -- and many IoT platform companies will also sell you end-to-end solutions complete with devices and connectivity. Although some end-user-facing IoT companies are completely self-contained, most of the companies currently operating in the space make use of at least one of these IoT platforms because in many cases the complexity of building out a bespoke IoT solution from start to finish heavily tips companies new to IoT towards the "buy" end of the build-versus-buy spectrum.
And the complexity of building out an IoT solution from scratch can be daunting, indeed. Devices must be designed and built, or suitable COTS devices identified, networks created, security -- both physical and cyber -- put into place, databases and software architected, connectivity purchased. That kind of a complex build-out is costly.
If done properly, it's also extremely time-consuming. (See, for example, this infographic from Gemalto which generalizes bespoke IoT solutions taking 300% longer to put into place than bought solutions.)
In my travels to conferences and shows, and in my capacity as partner in a specialized IoT marketing agency, I have occasion to speak with a lot of folks in management and leadership positions at IoT platform providers, both big and small, and other players in the IoT ballpark. Some are friends; some are clients; some are partners in IoT consulting firms; some are investment firm partners; some are people I meet and speak with at conferences simply because, having the IoT focus that we do, I always want to stay on top of the ecosystem news and trends.
And these people very often end up echoing variations on the same theme: "We're putting businesses on the platform that just aren't ready." When they tell me things like that, they're not talking about the platforms, of course -- they are instead talking about the people who come to them with new businesses or new IoT offerings.
I'm not going to call out any platform providers in particular, since I've heard this from many. I'm also not going to call out the sales teams for those platforms, who work hard at an endless cycle of trade shows, phone calls and emails. But what's happening is that new businesses, once they've landed on purchasing a solution instead of trying to build their own, then go shopping for a platform and start comparing features -- and one of the "features" on which they are commonly sold is speed to market.
Getting to market quickly is great, and I've written before about how important it is for IoT companies to find or create their own niche so that they can get there first and truly own it. But here goes the cold water:
Speed to market can be devastating if you're not ready for market.
At July's IoT Evolution show in Las Vegas, I had the great good fortune to attend a keynote by Dr. Zulfikar Ramzan, the CTO of RSA Security. Among the various great insights he shared was this: Many new IoT companies mistake a feature for a product, or mistake having a product for having a complete solution, or mistake having a solution for having a company. In Dr. Ramzan's opinion, such premature rushing to market is one of the key reason that the IoT ecosystem is currently in such a mess.
They're pushing for speed to market, but they're not ready for market.
Now, there are probably very few new IoT companies out there holding internal meetings to discuss why they shouldn't be building their brands. The crux of the matter, though, is that building your brand is work. It is, in fact, life-long work, because if you're doing it right then your brand will long outlive any individual product -- and if you're not doing it, if you're relying on your amazing new product to be your brand, you're in trouble.
As author and marketer Scott Goodson points out in a timeless Forbes article, "Why Brand Building is Important", brands outlive products precisely because products have lifecycles -- and in a quickly-evolving marketplace like the IoT ecosystem, that's growing exponentially more crowded as the days go by, product lifecycles are likely to be very short, indeed. Your product will fade. It will become outdated. A competing product will come along that has more bells and whistles, makes use of the latest communication protocol, has more hardened security. It's inevitable -- and without a brand, you're left adrift with no clear message or identity when your product reaches the end of its life.
The dangers of having your product overtaken by competition and leaving your company brandless are pretty self-evident. But aside from the insurance which a strong brand offers at the end of your product lifecycle, there's also a very clear, well-researched reason to have a strong brand throughout the duration of your product in the marketplace: In the presence of a brand of which they're aware, people in the buying process will tend to simplify their decision-making heuristic and choose based on brand awareness rather than invoke a more-complicated process that forces them into evaluating multiple features and functionality -- which is in perfect accord with the ideas of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who summarizes in Thinking, Fast and Slow a lifetime of work pointing out how very prone we humans are to making snap decisions despite the presence of data that might have led us to different decisions.
If it's true that buyers very often choose on brand awareness -- and I put forth the proposition that that is true, based on the above sources, personal observation, and agency experience -- then new IoT companies are leaving dollars on the table when competing in a marketplace without a brand of their own to trigger buyer awareness. In a nutshell, that's why I keep hearing about this problem from platform providers:
Companies that aren't ready for market with a strong brand are not putting nearly as many devices onto the IoT platforms as they could be. That hurts not only the companies themselves, who are shooting their own sales in the foot, but also the platforms that derive their revenue from the number of devices on their platform.
The rush to market, then, is a problem from top to bottom. It's why we have a channel partnership program whereby IoT platform companies refer their downstream clients to us that aren't yet ready for prime-time, brand- and marketing-wise. It's why certain IoT advising groups I've spoken with won't even take on a client unless that client commits to a monthly marketing budget. And it's partly why -- remember Dr. Ramzan? -- the IoT ecosystem is in a mess, and perhaps even part of the reason why IoT adoption has been somewhat slower than forecast.
So as you prepare your go-to-market plans for your IoT offering, turn all of this over in your mind and ask yourself, your platform, and your business advisers one simple question: Is your brand ready for market?
You'll be glad you did.
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