From Smart Homes to “Smart Families”


The so-called Internet of Things (IoT) has hit the technological world by storm, disrupting the traditional house, as we know it. Simply put, IoT is the concept of connecting any device with an on/off switch to the Internet and/or to each other. This includes everything from coffee makers to washing machines to wearable devices (Morgan 2014). One of the markets that seem to be in the eye of this storm is the smart home industry. 

Over the past few years, a number of heavyweights (Amazon’s Echo, Apple’s Homekit and Google’s Nest) have entered this market along with numerous start-ups, bringing the new industry into the limelight. The estimated U.S. smart home device shipments are expected to more than double to 193 million by 2020 (Meola 2016), with the global smart home market expected to almost triple to $121.73 billion by 2022, at a CAGR of 14.07% (Markets and Markets 2016). 

However, despite all the cool gadgets and the latest technologies, the smart home industry is still eluding widespread adoption ( 2016). Perhaps, it is in need of something “smarter,” especially in the form of designing a family customer experience.

Customer experience design provides the framework that the smart home industry can use to create, deliver and enhance the experiences of consumers, in particular families. According to Kevin Roberts’ (2005) book, Lovemarks, brands should ideally reach consumers’ hearts as well as their minds, creating an intimate connection that customers cannot live without. This especially holds true for homes, which are close to the heart of every consumer. In order to enable the widespread adoption of smart homes, addressing this emotional aspect might prove to be pivotal. How can this be achieved? 

Epp, Schau and Price (2014) address the issues faced by many families today due to technology advancements and show how families can retain their practices and rituals over long distances, after separation, through technology. These issues and the insights from their findings can be used by numerous brands in the smart home industry in order to gain a competitive edge over others. In addition to the current issues of privacy and security, companies need to consider building on the following dimensions as we step into what could be the age of the “smart families”: 

1. Create Material, Expressive & Imaginative Capacities: One of the ideas central to the research carried out by Epp et al. (2014) is “capacities” - defined as what components are “capable of doing when they interact with other social entities (DeLanda 2006, p. 7).” Out of the 3 kinds of capacities identified, material and expressive capacities depend on the brands, while imaginative capacities depend on individuals as well. Hence, smart home industry brands should focus on building effective material and expressive capacities in order to make it easier for the families of the future to get a feeling of togetherness through their smart home technologies even after separation. In addition, the individual family members need to develop their own imaginative capacities, where brands can help by providing any and all kind of support to stimulate this imagination. 

2. Mobilize A Technology Ecology: Another critical factor stated in Epp et al. (2014) is the important role that technology plays in retaining family practices over time. Although IoT has already made it possible to connect everything around an individual, it is of no real use if for example, the individual lacks the skills, the technology cannot function, it is not available everywhere, and/or it cannot be synchronized with other devices. Along the same lines, in the case of smart families, the experience gap before and after separation can be reduced if these issues are addressed by leading smart home brands today. Hence, reducing complexities might hold the key to designing a “smarter family,” as it will help families learn and adapt to technologies in a simpler and more efficient manner, making the experience more pleasant and increasing their affinity at the same time. 

3.  Help Retain Family Practices: We refer to the families that can effectively close the experience gaps of family practices before and after separation as “smart families” and the brands that can help them achieve that as brands focused on smarter living. The technology today allows the families living apart to connect easily, helping them retain the simple practices which can be reassembled over distances, referred to as “easy translations” by Epp et al. (2014). Similarly, families are able to reassemble “sacred practices,” which include activities that hold importance for every family member, very easily. This can also be attributed, in part to the effort that every member puts into maintaining these practices. However, “heroic quests” (activities that are very difficult to replicate over distances), “failed trials” (activities that families try to replicate but fail) and “no trials” (no attempt to replicate) are the activities that require the maximum attention. Epp et al. (2014) suggest the “Diagnose-Boost-Realign” model for these activities. While introducing new intermediaries, these cultures and rituals should be taken into account. At the same time, in order to boost the replication of these activities, brands need to make efforts to demonstrate how simple practices could become tech mediated and provide customizable guidelines for continuing elaborate practices remotely. And finally, to realign the practices remotely, brands need to deconstruct the practices and focus on the root causes for the experience gaps to determine which components capture meaning, and translate them to tech-mediated spaces. Practices can shift trajectories over time and distances, and brands need to incorporate that shift while coming up with new products in order to be successful!

The goal of the smart home industry should not be only on connecting devices and improving convenience, but on connecting families. Brands should help practices survive and the smart home industry can create a platform to facilitate these dispersed relationships.


Amber M. Epp, Hope Jensen Schau, and Linda L. Price (2014), “The Role of Brands and Mediating Technologies in Assembling Long-Distance Family Practices,” Journal of Marketing, 78 (May 2014), 81-101.

DeLanda, Manuel (2006), A New Philosophy of Society, New York: Continuum International. 

Meola, Andrew (2016), “How IoT & Smart Home Automation Will Change the Way We Live,” Business Insider.  

Morgan, Jacob (2014), “A Simple Explanation Of The Internet Of Things,” Forbes. 

Roberts, Kevin (2005), The Future Beyond Brands: Lovemarks, New York, NY: Powerhouse Books. 

Rohan (2016), “Press Release: Smart Home Market worth 121.73 Billion USD by 2022,” Markets and Markets. (2016), “Press Release: Early Smart Home Customer Experiences Prove Challenging in Report.”

This post was originally published at Fabian Becerra, Christina Canagasabey, Giulia Carassini, Basra Hassan and Anshuman Kapoor are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course.