Making the Smart Home Smarter, Part 1

Since the dawn of products like the Nest Thermostat and Amazon Alexa a decade ago, we’ve seen new technologies and products rapidly evolve — expanding the horizons of what’s possible in every room of the home.

But for consumers, these innovations can often bring about confusion and uncertainty just as they can bring about convenience and delight. At Simon/Myers, we set out to help brands reduce the former and maximize the latter.

An overview

The core of any smart home system is the smart assistant upon which it’s based, with the three leading contenders being Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple HomeKit (Siri). To different degrees, each of these offer vocal commands, automation triggers, and device scheduling through routines for a whole new degree of convenient control. 

For example, a user could set up a nighttime routine that turns off all lights (accomplished through the use of smart plugs or in-wall switches), reduces the temperature on a smart thermostat, engages smart locks, and arms a security system — all triggered by voice, a particular time of day, or by simply tapping the appropriate icon within each platform’s accompanying app. 

Where confusion arises

For consumers, the smart home device purchase and setup process can often be anything but straightforward. Many are not fully interoperable with each platform. For example, Ecobee’s SmartThermostat supports Apple’s HomeKit, the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa — but the Nest Thermostat (produced by Google) only supports the latter two platforms. This means consumers have to do extensive research into each smart device purchased and whether each one is supported by the platform they’ve bought into. 

Over the past decade, consumers have often seen the devices they’ve purchased rapidly and unexpectedly lose support, reducing trust in the brands in which they’ve made large investments. A recent example of this is Insteon — a maker of smart plugs, switches, keypads, and sensors — abruptly shutting down their servers after running into financial difficulties, effectively “bricking” customer devices.

A better future for the home of the future

For players in the smart home space, there’s an abundance of opportunity to smooth out the process for end-users. Among the most prominent of these is the introduction of the Matter standard, supported by Amazon, Google, and Apple. Matter allows for full platform interoperability between supported devices. A future Google Nest thermostat could be controlled via direct Siri commands on an end-user’s iPhone, for instance. 

Another advantage of the Matter standard is privacy, as it provides for end-to-end encryption and local control.

Smart home device manufacturers must also keep in mind ongoing costs for customer support and server maintenance and upkeep. Subscription models can provide a continuous income stream to cover these costs when compared to an individual device purchase made just once.

Marketing & the smart home

As the smart home space continues to grow and evolve, it’s important to have a partner for communications and experiential activations that will help cut through the noise, reduce confusion in a quickly changing space, and get your brand to the forefront of customers’ minds. With cross-discipline expertise across the home improvement niche, the team at Simon/Myers is ready to help you succeed.

A Quantitative Researcher Braves the Wilds of Agency Life

Bringing my experience to a growing enterprise

For the first eight years of my career, I worked exclusively at market research firms, developing my knowledge of quantitative research at industry giants, small boutiques, and places in-between. 

But when the pandemic arrived, I was ready to try something new. So in late 2020, I accepted an offer at my first marketing agency, Simon/Myers. Little did I know at the time, it was exactly the change that I needed. 

Long before I joined, S/M had been tackling their clients’ business problems with a dedicated strategy-first approach. Fueled by quantitative and qualitative market research tactics (much of it provided by outside sources), S/M was delivering actionable solutions to their client partners. But when their workload started growing, they decided to bring these research tactics in house. That’s where I came in.

Early successes and challenges

As the agency’s new Quantitative Researcher, I was tasked with building out the department — no pressure, right? During my first year and a half, I developed a department roadmap, a menu of capabilities, and internal training materials. More importantly, I was able to grow S/M’s in-house strategic offerings. Knowing I’ve had a positive impact on the bottom lines of the agency and our clients is both inspiring and fulfilling. 

But making the switch to agency life has presented some challenges, the first being new technology and software. Upon arrival, I had only used PC computers. So in true ad-agency form, S/M gave me a brand new MacBook. For the first few weeks, I struggled with navigation. How do I use my mouse? Where did my window go? But it didn’t take long for me to appreciate the quality and user-friendly interface of Apple products. I may even switch my Android to an iPhone! 

Improved internal communications

While market research firms are using instant messaging platforms to communicate internally, they continue to rely heavily on Outlook. At S/M we use Slack. Like the MacBook, Slack has its own learning curve. But I appreciate not having an Outlook inbox overflowing with unread emails. Slack keeps me connected with all S/M team members, even those in other departments. It also allows me to share and access important documents easily, and in real time. 

Then there is “agency speak,” which is different from the language of market research. For example, many of my fellow S/Myers didn’t know that in the quantitative research world, “DP” stands for “data processing.” Meanwhile, I’m still learning the terms for all the different types of in-store displays. A challenge for sure, but it has greatly strengthened my communication skills — not just within the agency, but with vendors and clients as well. 

Different timelines, and more rewarding contributions

Generally, project timelines in market research are shorter than agency timelines. At market research firms things move quickly, with most projects lasting one to two months (unless continuous tracking is involved). At agencies, the research portion of a client initiative is just one piece of a longer process, with any given engagement spanning from several months to more than a year.

While I’ve had to adjust my thinking about project timelines, being at an agency means I get to see the impact of my work on the overall project, how it connects to the work of other departments, and ultimately, how it affects a client’s business. For these reasons and more, I’m thrilled that I made the switch. Now I just have to figure out this whole metaverse thing…

The One Trait That Elevates Phygital Communities

Last fall, Accenture purchased 60,000 Oculus headsets to start onboarding and training on VR experiences. Why not? After all, it’s the next “big” digital thing. And after this, there will be another, and another. 

Those of us who work in the digital experience arena know that every couple years there is a sea change in digital. Currently, it’s the metaverse. For context, we like Eric Ravenscraft’s real take on the metaverse in his Wired Magazine article.

Looking back, my generation (Gen X) has witnessed several big digital transformations. I remember when bank lobbies were a place where we met neighbors. I used to grab a cookie and free decaf coffee as my parents made transactions with a teller. Now, I do all my banking online and can’t remember the last time I was physically in a bank lobby. Of course, every generation has its own “I remember when” stories. We Gen Xers continue to adopt and innovate phygital experiences, and as digital natives, Gen Z simply expects phygital solutions.

One trait is valued over all others

But no matter how a phygital community is experienced, there is an indispensable trait that all generations demand: authenticity. More and more, consumers and trade partners demand it – and they’ll advocate for brands that can deliver. At S/M, we’ve been developing influencer outreach programs for our clients, with the goal of building communities authentically. 

What we mean by authentic is this: 

Get deep into the community’s needs

For interactions to be meaningful, we need to start with a deep understanding of where and how each community (consumers, trade partners, etc.) experiences the brand and its related content. Then we need to deliver content that they want to share, or that compels them to engage with their network, allowing them to build and grow the community for themselves. Members need to feel that engaging with the community is enriching and time well spent. 

For example, from our proprietary research, we’ve found that Instagram is a tool that many interior designers use to get work done. They communicate with other designers to get inspiration, with contractors to show updates, and with showroom associates to select products. 

Content and solutions should match expectations

Making sense means delivering content and solutions in channels (physical or digital) that a given community expects. It means that when I meet a fellow community member at an event, I can relate to them quickly because we share the same interests and have engaged with the same channels. It means that if a consumer can purchase a lighting fixture from an online retailer and call to ask for a replacement or return, I should be able to do the same as a trade partner. It means I can trust my community to have my back, and to provide me with helpful solutions and ideas — not just use me to promote products. Beyond providing content, authentic communities value networking. It simply makes sense, so plan accordingly.

Nike House of Innovation: Source:

Make it easy to be part of a phygital community

Easy engagement means members can connect with — and contribute to — a community whenever and however they want to, without any obligations or consequences. It means there are no membership fees or admission standards, just an interest in what the community has to offer. It means encouraging the universal desire to engage, to refer others, and to contribute. Nike has developed authentic phygital experiences by engaging with and learning from its sneakerhead community. Its apps and flagship stores, like its House of Innovation 000 in NYC, all integrate seamlessly. When Nike launches exclusive sneakers, the community literally lines up. 

To measure the success of our community development, we track both the organic and paid results of all content and events. While paid results provide us with a roadmap for increasing awareness of the community, organic results give us an understanding of how well the community is evolving and engaging within itself. Delivering authenticity requires an ongoing content and experiential strategy, delivered in both physical and digital ways.

One thing is certain: You can’t just pay for fans or influencers if you want to build an authentic community. In the end, the growth of a community depends on one genuine engagement and referral at a time. 

Want to know more about the path to rewarding phygital experiences? See Michael’s previous blog here:

Gen Z Marketing: A New Path To Purchase

While Millennials still hold the most purchasing power in the US, Gen Z is set to outpace them in the next decade (Business Insider), which makes reaching Gen Z imperative for marketers to succeed. Here at Simon/Myers, our focus is on helping our clients win at every stage of the consumer journey, whether physical or digital. While high-level Gen Z statistics abound, we wanted to dig deeper into every stage of their purchase journey to understand what truly makes them tick. 

It's why we conducted a proprietary study to understand where they’re purchasing, what matters most to them when purchasing, and what pitfalls marketers need to avoid. We performed a quantitative online survey across a sample size of 549 respondents, and also conducted qualitative video interviews with 15 respondents, all aged 18-25. While some findings were more surprising than others, one key takeaway was clear: successfully marketing to Gen Z is more nuanced than you may think.

Check out three of our key research insights below, and download our whitepaper for a deeper dive into our research findings!

Gen Z cares more about privacy than personalization

Personalization is a buzzy tactic these days, but for Gen Z, we found that they care more about their privacy being protected than receiving hyper-personalized ads. Highly sensitive to the data privacy breaches they’ve seen affect older generations, they’re concerned about how and where their data is being used, and many find hyper-personalized targeting invasive. 

Where to reach Gen Z depends on the product category

While emerging social platforms like TikTok are front-of-mind for marketers trying to reach Gen Z, we found that Gen Z is still researching and purchasing products across a variety of platforms. Ultimately, the best place to reach Gen Z is highly dependent on product category, with standard platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube still playing a significant role in some cases, and newer platforms like TikTok, Twitch, and Discord leading the way in others. 

Gen Z still cares about in-store shopping

Gen Z is often thought of as a generation of digital natives and online shoppers. While this is accurate, we also found that this doesn’t mean they don’t care about in-store shopping experiences. In fact, many Gen Z respondents indicated a desire to increase their in-store shopping coming out of the pandemic. They see in-store shopping as an opportunity to unplug, socialize, and find instant gratification, and marketers need to understand their preferences when designing in-store experiences.