In case you haven’t heard, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is upon us. Watson is protecting African rhinos. Cisco is connecting literally everything: trees, cows, shopping carts and guitars. GE is sharing data at lightning speeds, from shipping vessels to trains to power grids. The Internet of Things. Industrial Internet of Things. The Industrial Internet; digital transformation; Industry 4.0. M2M. AI. They’re all happening. Industrial applications are everywhere, so if you’re marketing in the business-to-business space, you’re either waist deep in messaging and strategies connected to IIoT — or you’re about to be.

Marketing IIoT Is a Challenge

As a business-to-business marketing professional, I can’t help but look at IIoT and get excited. Marketing wireless sensor networks, technology platforms, analytics, machine learning, automation, cloud, data security and artificial intelligence is pretty sexy. The technology is complicated and fascinating. The applications feel endless. But what makes IIoT exciting also makes it challenging.

  1. It’s huge. Huge means clutter. You need only to look at the players leading the global messaging on IoT to understand what’s at stake. IBM. GE. Cisco. Accenture. McKinsey estimates IoT could generate up to $11.1 trillion per year in economic value by 2025. When things get that big, everyone jumps in with their claims. And when that happens, compelling offerings and stories can get lost in the noise. It also means a lot of players with less-than-compelling offerings could join the party, inviting skepticism: just because you put a sensor on your widget doesn’t mean you’re delivering value.
  2. It’s still being defined. Yes, you can find hundreds of definitions for IoT online, but the reality is that fewer than 20 percent of consumers know what “Internet of Things” means (despite more than 70 percent owning an IoT device of some sort). While you might not believe the people who work in industrial and technical environments suffer from this same lack of understanding, there’s a good chance a chunk of the B2B market doesn’t really get it. Whatever that definition is, it’s comprised of as many as a half-dozen layers: the machine or object; embedded sensors and electronics; connectivity and communication; information routing; software and analytics platforms; and enterprise-level business systems. So, when audiences hear “IIoT,” what do they picture they’re buying? A sensor? A platform? A service offering? There’s an opportunity here (but more on that later).
  3. The messages are kind of awful. If you spend time looking at the IIoT landscape, you’re going to find a lot of sameness and a lack of specificity in how the value of IIoT is being communicated. The established playbook for communicating IIoT value looks like this:
    • Operational benefits
      • Make operations safer and more efficient
      • Harness data and measure performance continuously
      • Monitor health of critical assets
      • Make informed business decisions
      • Identify performance gaps
    • Business benefits
      • Transform how they work
      • Build a sustainable competitive advantage
      • Drive unconventional growth
      • Achieve breakthrough results

Looking for specific facts and figures on what IIoT can truly deliver is not easy, and only a small percentage of players seem to be able to communicate its potential value in real terms with the proof to support it.

Marketing IIoT Is Also an Opportunity

In a cluttered, noisy, skeptical, evolving market, what is the B2B marketing professional to do? The short answer is: what you’ve always done.

  1. Embrace your domain. Being able to clearly position your role to customers will make it easier for them to see how you might fit in their digital environment. In a gross over-simplification, you might break down the IIoT space into four categories of players:
    • The major players: They design the platforms and software and deliver solutions on a holistic scale. Think IBM, GE Digital, Siemens, HPE and Honeywell for starters.
    • The major influencers: They convince industrial giants to move in this direction, tell them how to get there, and help implement the solution (with the help of the aforementioned major players). Think Accenture, KPMG, Deloitte and other big players in the consulting space.
    • The niche players: These smaller or more specific businesses have developed IoT solutions for their particular product or market niche: service providers to vertical market segments and manufacturers of certain product types.
    • The component providers: The players who make the sensors, switches, communication devices, electronics, etc. which make it all possible.

Niche players with specific manufacturing and vertical market expertise have a great opportunity. No matter what IBM and GE say, they simply won’t bring the intellectual capital and know-how a niche player can for specific types of systems, processes and equipment. OWN THIS. You don’t have to operate on a cosmic scale. If your IIoT solves something specific that only a company with your knowledge can solve, make sure that connection is clear. Don’t talk about making “assets” more efficient and monitoring critical “assets.” Charles Schwab does “assets” too. If you have an IIoT or analytics offering that unlocks a new opportunity for a specific machine tool, compressor or material handling system, then tell your audience that in no uncertain terms. Don’t get seduced by the language and immense scale of IIoT. Embrace what you’re great at and talk straight.

  1. Know your audience. Your typical industrial decision-making dynamic is about to blow up if you’re entering the IIoT space. Engineers, maintenance personnel and other plant staff aren’t your target audiences any longer. The operations-driven buying process now gives way to an IT-driven process with a new set of players. Take the time to reframe your messaging for this vastly different audience set. I really like this SlideShare from Godfrey which explains this shift in more detail. (It goes without saying your sales approach needs to change as well.)
  2. Be specific. While phrases like “driving unconventional growth” and “achieving breakthrough results” look nice when you first write them down, they’re meaningless unless you can back them up. Take some time to understand what your IIoT offering can do for customers in very real terms. It might be worth being three to six months late to the IIoT party to have worked with some customers on what your true value really is. Go to market with numbers, not platitudes, and you’ll be able to garner some great attention. Consider the difference between:

“Make operations more efficient.”

and “See how a chemical processor saved $3,000,000 annually when they abandoned ‘fix when fail’ for ‘predict and prevent.’”

It’s YOUR IIoT. Market Accordingly.

Define your IIoT by the work it does and the specific value it can deliver for your customers.

With massive industry trends and over-saturation come marketing temptation and risk. IBM uses big words and communicates about big data and business transformation, so shouldn’t we all? No way. If you can’t communicate your position in clear terms with messages and proof points that resonate on a scale that is credible and meaningful to your customers — yes, that’s just B2B marketing fundamentals — you could end up on the sideline, wondering why your IIoT offering isn’t meeting sales projections.

If you operate in a niche, embrace it. Promise something specific and over-deliver. Create simple visuals in the forms of schematics and infographics which show how your company and its IIoT offering fit into your customers’ big pictures. Large enterprises have expansive technology strategies, so it’s imperative to be able to show how you “plug in” to their environment. You don’t have to look like you created the industrial internet; just show how you can help customers further exploit it for their benefit. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have your sliver of that $11 trillion pie.

And that could lead to some nice new assets.