Part 1 of 3 (Strategy): How to score a touchdown in IoT home product and experience design

October 25, 2015

As a strategy and research practitioner for the past 15 years, I have advised start-ups and established firms on how to better position their products and services in the marketplace.

As a strategy and research practitioner for the past 15 years, I have advised start-ups and established firms on how to better position their products and services in the marketplace. In the last couple of years I’ve had the privilege of "reviewing the tapes", so to speak, of several smart home products and their associated apps, and have witnessed a broad range of consumer experiences that run from the most painful to the most pleasing. In this three-part series, I will discuss some do’s and don’ts in strategy, engineering and design that I’ve assembled based on dozens of reviews:

Strategy

Decide up-front what space you want play in to win — and be ready to pivot

Device-making or device-curating? If it’s the former, do you have the engineering and design talent to make this happen? Or perhaps you’re thinking about launching a new platform instead of going with "works with [insert platform of choice]"? Can you get more traction with B2B2C, than with B2C? Some companies want to play various positions in the field — device-maker, platform-builder, retailer, data aggregator. You should get really good at one or two roles in the beginning, and let the rest of the ecosystem be filled by competent partners.

Establish a user-based niche as early as possible

In this increasingly crowded space, you must have explicit intent to solve at least one customer pain point very well. If you ask "what job does my customer want done?", you may realize your technology is not addressing that need yet. A start-up I assisted was vigorously trying to develop a set of fun functions using Hue bulbs and Sonos radios, when all its major business client wanted was a way for its customers to detect smoke and water leaks.

In this increasingly crowded space, you must have explicit intent to solve at least one customer pain point very well.

Choose your partners intentionally and carefully

Whether they’re suppliers, contractors or re-sellers, you want to ensure they’re in it for the long run and have the same operating philosophy. Do they align with your vision of how you want to serve your market or are their priorities different? Do they add value to your proposition in addition to filling the temporary potholes? Often, in desperation for going to market fast, firms will entertain discussions that appear to be promising but have little value in the long-run. I like to ‘test’ the relationship by seeing how well dialogue is maintained over time. If there’s regular communication — and I don’t mean every day or week, but certainly more often than once per month depending on the project — then I feel pretty good about it. This is not unlike any good personal or professional relationship you’re starting to cultivate.

Don’t forget the data

Regardless of where you are in terms of product development maturity, someone out there will value whatever ‘signal’ your devices produce. If you’re not thinking about this now, someone will ask you about that very soon. Creating the right data infrastructure now will save you precious time in the future. Could your B2B customer ever be interested in real-time, minute by minute data, or would a daily-average, batch file make more sense given your smart devices? It could also provide you with another revenue stream.

In the next installment, I’ll share some engineering tactics to help your connected product score with users. And in the final chapter, I’ll share thoughts on design tactics to help make your product an all-star.