When Amazon announced Dash — a series of branded smart buttons that will allow Prime members to simply press to replenish popular packaged goods as supply runs low (reorders are automatically fulfilled through Amazon, of course) — right around April 1st, people questioned whether the retail giant was treating them to an April Fool’s Day joke. Amazon quickly assured folks that the company wasn’t fooling, that Dash is indeed a real Internet of Things invention.
Whether or not Dash itself proves to be a success remains to be seen. But what is clear is that devices like Dash are only the beginning — early entrants in smart home technologies that add convenience, respond to and ultimately anticipate needs so that households never need to scramble for that next diaper, k-cup, toothpaste tube, or can of cola. The idea of having little branded buttons affixed to surfaces around your house might have limited appeal, but it’s just a matter of time before similar, even simpler, intelligence is built directly into the hardware of the home. As the Wall Street Journal reported:
“Whirlpool is working on a washer and dryer that anticipate when laundry supplies are running low so they can automatically order more detergent and dryer sheets. Brita is developing a pitcher that’ll order new filters at the right time. Brother is building a printer that can automatically order ink. Quirky is doing something similar with coffee makers, baby formula makers and pet food dispensers.”
Significantly, inventions like these may mean that the shopper in the household never pauses to ask herself, “When it comes time to buy my next package of this product, will I choose the same brand or opt for a different one?” While brand affinity might be more valuable than ever before, brand consideration could become a relic of an earlier style of shopping that goes out of vogue as everyday objects take on more of the heavy lifting.
New Dash users will order a set of pre-branded buttons, each bearing the logo of their preferred product — the net effect is likely to be a ‘loyalty lock-in’ that ensures that a brand chosen early will be a brand chosen often. Simplicity and ease of ordering take precedence over price and promotion. ‘Never Run Out’ beats ‘New and Improved.’
Taking this dynamic one step further, might smart appliances remove human consideration from the purchase decision altogether, as your machines simply stock the products they know you prefer? Or might the appliance makers become the ultimate arbiters of choice — removing human consideration from brand decisions as the machine opts for the products that best meet less fuzzy criteria like price, compatibility, availability or performance?
As questions like these hint, we aren’t simply in the early days of an Internet of Things but also in the early stages of a parallel shift in shopper behavior from active to passive — with certain aspects of consumer culture receding into the background, at least in regard to dozens of little every day purchase decisions.
Naturally, this all signals the need for a shift in priorities for marketers. Every packaged product has the potential — if not the obligation — to become a subscription service. The quality of an organization’s corporate partnerships must come to rival the quality of its consumer personas. And the intermediaries that control the data will also control the destiny of the brands that don’t. (Incidentally, I spoke about these same three themes at xPotomac a couple of years ago.) A brand’s ability to win in these areas will ultimately overshadow the importance of winning the war for shelf space and mind space when access to product is no longer dependent upon the act of purchase.
I once worked with a Chief Marketing Officer who bemoaned the fact that her products, though they bear a name and logo that is instantly recognizable to the vast majority of American consumers, are “no consideration” commodities. With inventions like Dash, “no consideration” may cease to be a pejorative term. It might instead become the hallmark of “mindless” consumption and a strategic advantage for the most mindful of marketers.