Almost everyone now knows what the Internet of Things means. But in late 2013 the term was in the ‘peak of inflated expectations’ in Gartner’s Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle. In B2B markets the more traditional ‘M2M’ (machine-to-machine) term appeared to be on the up-swing out of Gartner’s ‘trough of disillusionment’, possibly propelled in its awareness by the competing IoT term. The question was: would IoT survive its journey through Gartner’s hype cycle, would M2M emerge the victor, or would some other yet unknown term catch our collective imaginations?
The IoT term had been around since 1999, but only really picked up some traction in 2010. Sierra Wireless, as something of a ‘pure play’ in the field (at least, in cellular connected devices), had been ignoring IoT in their messaging and firmly positioning themselves as an M2M company, with considerable success. Timing was critical if Sierra Wireless was to make a change. Their worldwide annual sales conference was close, and competitors had not yet made a wholesale move to the term. But the stakes were high. Current customers were comfortable with using M2M and Sierra Wireless was recognized as a leader in M2M technology. The IoT term encompassed a much wider range of technologies and applications, and included the activities of much larger companies who were rapidly creating their own strategies and competing terminology – how would Sierra Wireless position themselves, clearly communicate their expertise and compete successfully?
Thus it was that in the spring of 2014 we received an email from Sierra Wireless requesting assistance to examine the use of the IoT term and, if it made sense, refresh Sierra Wireless’ strategic positioning and messaging in light of its growing popularity. Frankly, we had heard about the term years before but were no longer tracking its development. Our other clients at the time were not in the IoT space and had not been using the term at all.
Many of our client engagements begin with small, tactical projects and become more strategic as the client becomes more comfortable with our capabilities. While this is logical, starting with more strategic marketing work means that follow-on projects can be selected and guided by the strategic foundation that has been put in place. We were grateful that Sierra Wireless had chosen to begin our engagement with a strategic positioning and messaging project.
Framing the problem is the first task in any strategic engagement. There is no right way to do this. In fact, developing many different frameworks for examining an issue is beneficial. Much of this work exists only in rough form and is not seen by our clients, but it is built up iteratively as we assemble information and form a picture of the competitive and market landscape. It consists of 3D conceptual sketches, lists, impressions, early creative explorations, and possible phrases and terms. The framing and re-framing process starts as early as the first discussion with the client and continues throughout the duration of the project.
The next step is to ratify the assumptions and test some ideas. In this project, we were able to interview Sierra Wireless experts and key senior management, external experts and customers. We researched and explored many online resources and competitors. We compiled messaging from direct competitors, possible competitors, and from larger companies with wider purviews and global audiences. New sources emerged as the project progressed.
We then assembled our findings and suggestions into presentation format and used these in a series of exploratory discussions with the client. Finally, we developed polished positioning and messaging alternatives along with a few creative concepts to determine what best resonated with the client.
Consultants have a distinct advantage in this type of engagement: we do not have the ‘history’ that the client has and are thus able to bring fresh thought to the issue. This was a fundamental change for Sierra Wireless, but they have adopted the new positioning and messaging and are rapidly becoming comfortable with its use.