Why Are Consumers Smart Home Skeptical?


Imagine you’re tasked with rolling out the Amazon Key’s smart door lock. You are worried that adoption might be slow. Market researchers predict that by 2021, only 10% of houses will be tech-enabled while 82% of new cars will be. For you to be successful, you need to beat these industry projections by a landslide.

Smart home technology proposes to change the way we interact with one of our most prized possessions and it comes at a time when our appetite for connectivity extends to almost all domains – except that is, for the home. To better understand why adoption has been so slow, we reviewed customer marketing campaigns by Nest, Ecobee and Sonos; analyzed Smart Home forums, Amazon product reviews and blogs about Smart Homes. We’ve identified four critical issues as customer roadblocks:

  1. Too techy – Consumers feel that it’s a product jungle with multiple competing platforms with limited interoperability of devices. Finding the right product necessitates a lot of research and the material is often inaccessible to lay users. There are way too many specifications, it requires often complex installation, which results in a overwhelming and unenjoyable purchasing experience.

  2. Too sketchy – Concerns have been raised about the privacy and security of the devices themselves. Bringing them into our home when they can always listen and providing information on your home to 3rd party vendors raises privacy concerns and increases potential avenues for hackers to exploit.

  3. Too costly – Standard doorbell at Home Depot: $14.00. Smart doorbell? $200.00 Many of the products currently on the market are upward of 10 times the price of their non-smart competitors. As such, prospective customers are deterred by high sticker prices that don't fulfill a need. Why do I need a digital doorbell when my old one works just fine?

  4. Too inconvenient – Users are required to install, set-up and manage these new devices. Then there’s the need to monitor for updates and patches while troubleshooting errors. Many of the devices need workarounds to work with certain platforms which can be difficult to accomplish. As with any new technology, mainstream users prefer to wait until early adopters work out the kinks and demonstrate how it actually benefits their everyday life.

Companies are missing the mark by emphasizing the wrong message. Companies emphasize the features, the payback period or better energy saving but are failing to emotionally connect prospective users and the technology.  With the roadblocks in mind, how can Smart Home manufacturers and retailers develop campaigns that address the challenge of building a persuasive emotional connection?

  1. Demystify: Speak clearly and concisely about the technology. Sites of customer engagement, such as YouTube, product manuals and product forums need to be clear, uncluttered and easily accessible to potential consumers. Enrol "everyday experts" on home improvement shows to enact how Smart Home technology benefits them. Homeowners can relate to celebrity contractors on HGTV who illustrate how to install and engage with smart devices.

  2. Love Letter & Identity Myth: Instead of focusing of product specs, the messaging should emphasize our love for our homes and the impact their products have on the comfort and safety of our families. Highlight how my connected home shows that I care about my family and the environment. Illustrate how I, the average middle-class homeowner, can become the King or Queen of my castle by installing smart devices. Quantify how smart devices benefit those with concerns over hackability: According to the Department of Justice, 31% of Americans can't remember if they locked their homes, while 56% of break-ins occur through unlocked doors and windows. Smart devices can ease your mind.

  3. Evangelize: Marketing managers ought to enlist social media influencers outside the technology blogosphere, particularly on Instagram. This propels this industry from being perceived as a niche for tech-geeks towards broader acceptance among mainstream consumers. Further, marketers should partner with developers to include their devices in show homes. As such, homebuyers can interact with them in a real-life setting and see for themselves how they upgrade the home experience.

  4. Make it fun:  Who can save more energy? Create gamified rules and build a platform for competition. Compete with neighbors, friends or with total strangers. Compete on Earth Day or Arbor Day. Create visual representations of the impact we’ve had as individuals and as a collective. Make it real for users, not an abstraction, make it something more than merely turning-down the thermostat.

Smart Home technology proposes to change the way we interact with our homes and we propose to change the way we interact with Smart Home technology. Amazon Key is another step toward building smarter, more integrated lives; but, to persuade customers to take that first step, we need to build a persuasive story that reflects the interests, goals and values of homeownership. We need to change the perception of Smart Home technology fostering an image of an integral part of homeownership, something we can’t imagine living without and certainly unable to remember a time before it.

This post was originally published at ama.org. Philipp Garber, Phillip Gingras, Paul Jonas Reitz, Hanxiao Li, Tivian Anthony, Michael Sutherland and C Ravitej Laxman are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course.