Looking back on what was being said about home automation at the turn of the 21st century is enough to convince one that smart homes should be the norm by now. Twenty years ago, the most ardent fans of early home automation technologies were predicting that today’s homes would be automated in virtually every way. Reality says otherwise.
So what happened? Is it a matter of the technology not being up to par? No. The technology is there. Rather, it is a matter of a lack of mass adoption based on a combination of public perception and a misunderstanding of the consumer. Address those two problems and the smart home rules the day.
A World of Followers
Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in 2019 looked at smart home products, how they are perceived by consumers, and how they are actually used. Despite the fact that the majority of American households have at least one smartphone device, the HBR team discovered that most of the people who have home automation devices know very little about them.
According to HBR, just 25% of smart home consumers consider themselves early or lead adopters. Another 63% describe themselves as followers. In other words, they do what they see other people doing because they think that is the right thing to do. But they do not know what they are doing. As such, these followers are not likely to invest a lot of time or money in new products. They simply go with the flow as it passes by.
A Perception Problem
HBR researchers concluded that there was a perception problem among consumers. Your typical consumer apparently doesn’t see how home automation and smart home products can have any meaningful impact on their day-to-day lives. Sure, they know that a smart thermostat can save money by controlling the temperature in their homes, but they also know that their programmable thermostats do the same thing. Thus, they see no benefit to making the switch.
Talk to your average consumer about controlling home lighting by voice and you might notice some momentary interest. But in the minutes following that conversation, all is lost. Real life takes over and the idea of voice-activated lighting exits the mind.
Misunderstanding the Consumer
It stands to reason that there must be something behind the fact that consumers don’t see the benefits of home automation. According to HBR, that reason is a misunderstanding of consumers. Research indicates that device manufacturers and marketers do not understand the consumers they are trying to market to. Thus, they don’t put out the messaging necessary to get consumers on board.
HBR makes the case that manufacturers and marketers use customer personas – fictional customers derived from marketing and consumer data – to drive their decisions. This practice is fairly common throughout modern business. The problem is that customer personas in the home automation market are based largely on data provided by technophiles. Your average consumer is not a technophile. Thus, the customer personas the industry relies on are of little value.
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Meeting Them Where They Are
Viewed through the right lens, the HBR data suggests that device makers and marketers need to change their strategies. They need to meet consumers where they are with practical information they can use. Until that happens, nothing about public perception will change.
Vivint Smart Home published a post in 2019 discussing whether or not doorbell cameras prevent crime. The post is an excellent example of meeting consumers where they are. Vivint chose a topic that is near and dear to a lot of people, a topic that is on a lot of minds.
Crime is not something that is esoteric or intangible. It is real enough that the average consumer has personal knowledge of it. Many of us even have first-hand experience. As such, discussing crime offers a great opportunity to explain the practical benefits of a doorbell camera.
Smart homes are still not the norm despite an abundance of available technology. If HBR’s research is to be trusted, it all boils down to misunderstood consumers who have negative or neutral perceptions about smart home technology. When those two things change, so will the smart home environment.