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Appliances are getting smarter but is mobile marketing?

As home appliances get smarter so, too, must marketers, who can increase the relevancy of their messaging but should tread cautiously when entering this new sphere.

A number of brands such as General Electric, Dacor and Samsung have recently introduced new appliances to the market that connect with smartphones and tablets for smarter homes. This means that if a consumer is turning on a laundry machine via a smartphone app, a marketer could theoretically push a message for their laundry detergent, for example.

"Brands would need to be very careful about startling consumers who aren?t currently accustomed to receiving promotional messages in their kitchens,? said David Chang, managing director and senior vice president at Accenture Interactive's Acquity Group, Chicago. ?I do think there are interesting opportunities to provide branded and contextual content such as recipes or special washing instructions for a specific type of fabric. 

?However also remember that appliances are expensive pieces of furniture that enhance the design aesthetic of your home and many wouldn?t want their Sub-zero fridges flashing like Times Square,? he said. ?Also many parents will be sensitive to the advertising that their children get exposed to."

Smarter homes
There has recently been a burst in new smart appliances that enable exciting features like the ability to remotely turn on and off an oven via a mobile app.

Samsung announced a whole new lineup of products, including a laundry machine that can be turned on and off by the Smart Control app. Consumers can connect the washer to their Wi-Fi Network at home, launch the app on a mobile device and control the machine remotely.

Consumers can start the washer, select cycles, monitor progress and get notifications all via their smartphone.

General Electric came out with similar capability for its oven. The GE Brillion app is available for free on an Apple or Android device and lets consumers connect to the oven remotely.

Consumers can preheat, set the timer, check cooking status and receive timely notifications from any location via the app.

?Consumers are very busy, and their smartphones play a central role in how they manage their lives,? said David McCalpin, general manager for cross-product strategy and execution for GE Appliances, Louisville, KY. ?By enabling the remote connectivity of GE?s new wall ovens, a consumer can save time pre-heating their oven on the way home from work or grocery, check their oven timer or change the temperature to warm while working in another part of the house or yard, or check to make sure it?s turned off after they?ve rushed out for a soccer game.?

Other smart appliances are taking connectivity in a different direction.

Dacor has unveiled an oven that integrates a tablet into the device itself. The Discovery iQ 48? Dual-Fuel Range has a seven-inch Android 4.0 tablet built right into the front panel.

The tablet can run apps and control all the functions of the oven via the touchscreen and the included Discovery iQ app. The oven is currently priced at $11,999.

There is even a smart egg tray in the market called Egg Minder that can tell consumers the number of eggs remaining and which ones are going bad. This device is currently priced at $70.

Marketing opportunity
With all of the advances in smart appliances, the stage is slowly being set for branded messaging via the devices.

For instance, if a consumer is at a grocery store and remotely turns on his or her oven at home, a food brand could theoretically push a deal for their product with a message saying, ?Now that your oven is on, why not buy our product.?

However, brands need to be wary as always of overstepping the boundary from relevant to creepy.

Jonathan Collins, principal analyst at ABI Research, New York, believes that the potential in smart appliances is really in the appliance maker being able to communicate with consumers.

?Marketing potentials would really stem from the closer and on-going relationship between device owner and vendor,? Mr. Collins said. ?Information regarding the device, its operation and its use could be used to drive pro-active repair services, additional related device sales, integration with other devices and services.

?All would help ensure a closer relationship and drive additional sales as well as making existing devices and services more sticky,? he said.

?It?s not so much about sending messages through a smart oven but enabling communications related to the way the oven is used and in ensuring its continued use.?

Pricey setback
Another issue that may keep the marketing opportunity as a distant idea is the current price points of these connected devices.

With the Dacor oven priced at $11,999, the mass market may not jump to buy one immediately.

The prices will need to come down before marketers can attain a wider reach with messaging.

?There?s a number of challenges,? Mr. Collins said. ?One is pitching these at the price point for not just the high-end device. There is that need to develop these devices for the mass market not just for the niche.?

Price aside, these appliances are still likely to make a splash in the market.

According to ABI Research, 2014 will see smart appliance shipments grow at more than 300 percent over shipments in 2013. Shipments will reach 42 million appliances worldwide in 2018.

?There is a key reason why these smart consumer devices are at CES and why they are raising so much interest,? Mr. Collins said. ?Vendors have been examining the potential and showing prototype and specialist devices for years. The difference now is the growing consumer awareness and expectation of interaction and control from smartphone apps.

?This latest wave of smart appliances come into a market that can leverage a number of key foundations in place, to help drive adoption, where they haven?t been before,? he said.

?These are standardized Internet connectivity in homes, ubiquitous network coverage from mobile devices, lower priced and standardized connectivity that can be embedded within appliances and the ability to reduce the cost of an overall smart consumer device by leveraging smartphone and tablets as the device screen.?

Another issue that comes up with smart appliances is cross-platform compatibility. Meaning that if a consumer has an LG TV and a Samsung washing machine, these devices would still be able to communicate with each other.

"One of the things you see a lot of the brands that have these systems like Samsung LG, they?re really promoting their ecosystem of products so when you buy within that brand?s ecosystem you have all this connectivity and control across those systems," said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association, Arlington, VA. "I think that may be one of the challenges is opening up those systems so if I have an iPhone and I get an app for my Samsung washer, say, there needs to be some cross-platform compatibility because it?s just not realistic that everyone?s going to have a Samsung washer, TV, etc. There needs to be some more cross-platform compatibility."

"I think 2014 is the year where all of the pieces come together," he said. "We?re building toward that.

"I think we?ll see more and more of these home systems integrated and accessible and controllable from other smart devices like smartphones, so it all adds up to giving the consumer a lot of information, convenience and power over these systems where they really haven?t had before."

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York