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Speaking Sustainably

Safety concerns overshadow energy-slashing potential of smart homes

I’ve been closely following the movement toward connected homes over the past few years — particularly the potential impact of these technologies on energy consumption.

Because commercial and residential buildings account for nearly 40 percent of energy used (and CO2 emissions), there appears to be ample opportunity for a positive environmental impact. But like many others, I’ve noticed connected homes have not taken off as advertised.

McKinsey has projected an optimistic growth rate, but sales of new devices for connected homes have been considerably slower. A recent Gartner study finds that only 10 percent of households in the U.S., U.K. and Australia have connected solutions. It notes that part of the problem is that messaging doesn’t focus on the real value proposition: how the devices in a connected home can help solve daily tasks. And while that is true, it doesn’t address what I still see as the major barrier for connected home device adoption: security.

There are reports of hacking "smart" or connected homes dating back at least four years, and many of these issues haven’t been resolved. Recently, there have been instances of thermostat hacking for ransom money, as well as hacking security cameras and streaming images on public sites where anyone can see them.

It’s easy to get excited about home technology advancements and the benefits they can bring, but just as easy to get dissuaded when you find out the risk involved.

Part of the problem is that messaging doesn’t focus on the real value proposition: how the devices in a connected home can help solve daily tasks.

Concerns about smart technologies are mirrored in another recent survey about self-driving cars. A Deloitte survey found 74 percent of Americans don’t think driverless cars are safe. But what’s interesting is that the majority (54 percent) would ride in such an autonomous car if it were built by a brand they knew and trusted. That includes either a major auto manufacturer or a tech company. And so it may be for connected home devices. Perhaps the brand recognition for many connected home technology companies isn’t strong enough to alleviate security concerns.

A value proposition definitely needs to be presented to the consumer. While some of us want to know about the potential positive environmental impacts these devices could have, the main message to the consumer should be about the quality of life these devices bring, not the novelty.

Beyond that, messaging must also directly address security concerns. By combining a message of value and security, connected home devices might finally start to reach their potential.

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Shelton Group

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