Five Keys to a Strong IIoT Brand Story

Companies in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) find themselves at the nexus of powerful, future-defining trends.

McKinsey identifies nine settings where value may accrue, with a potential economic impact of $4-11 trillion a year in 2025: Factories, Cities, Health, Retail, Outside (logistics and navigation), Homes, and Offices.

As this market takes off, smart IIoT companies will begin planning now for how to maintain a compelling story in the face of intense competition, confusing technology, and evolving, non-standardized nomenclature.

Investors at every level -- from start-up to Enterprise -- will look for well-conceived business plans and well-branded companies. A clear vision will be essential.



Keys to a powerful IIoT brand story


1. Help prospects see a different, better future

Present a vision of how the world will be different and better, and how you can help make that happen. Already, nearly everyone in the category is promising essentially the same things--- smarter, more productive, more efficient, more agile -- to the same universe of prospects.

You will need a take on the IIoT marketplace that explains how your offering delivers IIoT category benefits -- intelligence, productivity, efficiency, agility -- in a unique and better way. Here are some things your brand must answer.

  • All marketplaces are viewed in context. What context can you set that resonates with prospects? What will make them sit up and say, “yes, this is exactly what we’re experiencing?
  • Within that context, what is your company’s worldview? How do you see the market, and what will you do to make things better? How does your worldview enable you to do things your competitors can’t or won’t do?
  • What’s the best way to describe the value of extracting, analyzing and applying data from the intelligent system you will create?

A strong worldview ties your brand message to urgent macro trends and helps you answer two key prospect questions: Why this? Why now? -- that your products and services are uniquely qualified to resolve.

What is new technology today will soon feel ordinary, confusing and hard to differentiate to prospects. Now is the time to take a leadership role in which your brand shapes the future rather than reacts to it.


2. Anticipate and address Data Boundaries (How and where can the data be shared?)

Depending on which “things” you are Internet connecting, you may or not be able to entirely own the data. These are your Data Boundaries.

You might be tempted to defer questions of data ownership and its implications to your CEO and General Counsel, but CMOs should politely insist to be included in those conversations -- especially at an early stage. You need to shape the kind of story that is possible to tell, and you need to be the voice of your customer in those meetings. Together, set the stage for data sharing in ways that maximize the data’s utility and monetization prospects.

Also, remember that you will participate in both an existing ecosystem of vital partners as well as extending and creating your own ecosystem around your ioT offerings. Consider how you will integrate with that existing ecosystem and enable others to integrate with yours. Your brand story needs to take all of this into account, especially as regards your capabilities across design, manufacturing, installing, monitoring, measuring, analytics, and refinement.

When considering your data boundaries, think through how you will manage them and the advantages and disadvantages that arise. A strong brand story anticipates -- and counters -- Data Boundary disadvantages.


3. Don’t just sell the data, sell how and why you make it useful

Data collection and aggregation is relatively easy, and if history is any guide sensors will get smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous.

True IIoT companies will need to build the right capabilities and a compelling story about how they transform raw data into robust and actionable analytics. There will likely be a market for pure data companies (for example, drones are already being used in the insurance business to vet claims), but the real power of the data will always lie in your ability to a) better predict outcomes based on past events; and b) recommend what to do next.

Consider what it is that you do that makes your analytics provably better. When you then sell the benefits of the data, you have the evidence to support why you can deliver those benefits better than your competition.


4. Build bridges to the future, don’t just leap there

In the 16th Century, Machiavelli wrote, “There is nothing more difficult to carry out nor more doubtful of success nor more dangerous to handle than to initiate a new order of things; for the reformer has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order.”

Tech companies sometimes have an unhealthy habit of showing disdain for the old ways of doing things (“those old-timers just don’t get it”) and assuming that what seems intuitively right to them will be instantly adopted. It’s important to remember that the nuts and bolts of the physical world are just as important as the bits and bytes of the digital world. Respect for institutionalized methods (correctly) runs deep and suspicion of unproven tech is high. And naturally, that goes double for employees who risk being displaced as new technology is adopted.

Rapid adoption is made more challenging the bigger or more complex the ecosystem in which your IIoT offering is to operate. For example, critical travel infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and airports are hugely expensive assets, difficult to improve without disruption, and highly interconnected. Taking on board any new technology can be seen as adding risk unless you can prove otherwise in a way that respects the established order of things.

Your brand story should seek to define the future as a smart path rather than a blind leap, and define the enemies of progress in a way that both new-tech and old-tech people can get behind. You’ll need to help people see why the future is better, how they fit into it, and why it is not as risky as it may appear. Include all the people who will need to recognize the value. This also impacts how sales talks to prospects, and how management talks to investors.


5. Shrink long sales cycles: create real urgency

There’s a lot of hype and curiosity about IIoT. So you may find it fairly easy to get meetings (“sure, let’s learn something new”) but surprisingly hard to get deals signed. There’s always someone who will be interested in the next new thing and the risks and rewards it provides. The trick is to make sure they bring their checkbook with them.

To avoid having lots of meetings that sound promising but go nowhere, we encourage IIoT CMOs and CROs to look at “The Challenger Sale” methodology, and especially the technique called Rational Drowning. Ideally, you want to create an ownable metric that helps prospects understand why they need to buy now.

If an accepted metric exists, you can build on it and provide evidence for why your brand is the best answer. If no metric exists, you may need to partner with a University or industry analyst to create them. You might even be able to name it (e.g. “The X Inflection Point”, or whatever). Prospects should credit you with bringing it to their attention, and should associate that metric with you when they invoke it later. So think carefully about the name and associated nomenclature.

The right IIoT brand story can help make the difference between closing bigger and better deals fast -- or being an also-ran.

We suggest you invest accordingly, and begin today.




About the authors

Tom Cunniff ( is a B2B brand strategy consultant who has worked with companies in IIoT, Data, FinTech, MarTech, BioTech and more. Tom has worked at J. Walter Thompson, founded and sold a successful early digital agency with clients including Unilever, spent 10 years leading global digital marketing as a client-side marketer, and wrote for the J. Peterman catalog in its Seinfeld-era heyday. He is former Chairman of the Digital Committee for the Association of National Advertisers.

Mike Cucka is a brand strategy consultant specializing at the intersection of B2B services and technology for IIoT, Data, FinTech, Professional Services, Energy and Technology companies. Mike has worked at Siegel & Gale, then founded a successful brand strategy agency with clients including Microsoft and Gartner. Twenty-five years experience bringing clarity and impact to B2B services and technology brands. MBA Fuqua School of Business.

Monoculture Of The Mind: How Social Media Makes Us Dumber

I originally wrote this as a blog post six years ago. The signs of us getting dumber were worrying then; they are far more worrying today. This is not a political post -- I keep politics separate from business -- but the political divide in America is, at least in part, directly related to how we conduct ourselves in social media.

Speaking of which...

An unsurprising fact about human nature: the people we find the most agreeable are the people we agree with the most.

These are exactly the same people who become our friends in social media — on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. But so what? We’ve always had friends with similar ideas. And groupthink has existed since the first group on Earth.


Two Significant Differences

Here’s what’s new. And the more actively you participate in social media the more important they are.

1. Our friends are omnipresent in a way they have never been before.

2. The biases and beliefs of those friends are polluting our information streams.



If you participate extensively in social media, your peer group surrounds you every day. Psychologists know that conformity is driven by “implied presence“ — even when others are not physically present.

And while there’s a lot of knowledge and comfort to be gained, it can breed naïve overconfidence: “everybody KNOWS (insert latest fad here) is the next Google.”


Social Media Pollutes Our Information Streams

Before social media, our info streams were relatively pure. We sought news out from a variety of sources, edited by people who mostly didn’t know our biases or cater to them.

But now with social media, our friends and colleagues send us links they think we’ll find interesting. The stream comes to us.

At first, it feels amazing. “Great article!” “Amazing data!” “Thanks, that link you sent really crystallized this! I’ll re-Tweet it to everyone!”

But eventually you hear the same things over and over again. What’s going on?



Despite good intentions, our friends are unknowingly polluting our information streams with “stupid juice”.

The links reflect their biases. Worse, their biases are likely to be so similar to our own that we won’t see it as bias. We’ll see it as “truth”.


Watch Out For Confirmation Bias

If we’re not very careful, we can begin to feel that our ideas are more and more correct. Why? Because we get more and more “unbiased” signals that our instincts are right and less signals that we’re nuts.



This can lead to confirmation bias, which can lead to “disastrous decisions, especially in organizational, military, political and social contexts.”

(Whatever side of the political divide you are on, if you are not worried about the fact that each side has an adamantine belief that they are right and the other side is hopelessly stupid, then you are not paying close enough attention.)


Eight Symptoms Of Groupthink

Irving Janis, a Yale research psychologist, listed eight groupthink symptoms. How many of these apply to the social media relationships you have?

  1. Illusions of invulnerability creating excessive optimism and encouraging risk taking. (Insert your own Bitcoin joke here.)
  2. Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group’s assumptions.
  3. Unquestioned belief in the morality of the group, causing members to ignore the consequences of their actions.
  4. Stereotyping those who are opposed to the group as weak, evil, biased, spiteful, disfigured, impotent, or stupid. (How many social media gurus have written about “big dumb agencies” and “clueless clients who just don’t get it”?)
  5. Direct pressure to conform placed on any member who questions the group, couched in terms of “disloyalty”.
  6. Self-censorship of ideas that deviate from the apparent group consensus.
  7. Illusions of unanimity among group members: silence is viewed as agreement.
  8. Mind guards — self-appointed members who shield the group from dissenting information.

A New Year’s Resolution: Detox Your Info Stream

Examine how much of your information comes via social media.



If more than 50% of what you read comes from social media, you have a seriously polluted information system.

Add diverse, dissenting voices to your stream. Identify skeptics and pay close attention to what they say. Ask, “what if they’re right, and the voices in my echo chamber are wrong?”

Ask “qui bene?” – who benefits? When you read a glowing report about the spectacular growth of some Blockchain-driven business, check who wrote it. If it’s by the CEO of a company that sells those solutions, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. But it absolutely does mean that the CEO wants to get you excited about it. And ask what the base was – it’s easy to show 500% growth when last year’s base was 2 people.

Lastly, unplug everything. Leave your mobile devices at home. Go take a long walk in the woods, or on a beach.

Let’s make this the year we react less, and think more.

P.S. Please share this article with all your friends. If their biases are anything like yours, you can be sure they will love it!

P.P.S. Technology is making our biases (and our thinking) worse. Check out this TED Talks video for more.


Art: Narcissus by Caravaggio.

Five Imperatives for Brands as Digital and TV Collide

Every once in awhile, it's interesting to look back at something I wrote years ago to see what I got right and what I got wrong. Here's an updated version of a blog post that I wrote almost six years ago, in December 2012. My hindsight commentary, based on what I know today, appears in italics.

What are the nine most terrifying words in brand marketing?

"We're about to make TV perform like the web".

The web has not been a roaring success for brand marketers. Promising to make TV as effective as the web for brands is like saying to a NASCAR driver "see that busted-up tricycle over there? I can make your car perform like that."

As Dave Morgan of Simulmedia - one of the smartest guys in digital and now one of the smartest guys in TV - said in Ad Age:

"The book on web banners capturing a significant share of brand ad spend is just about closed. This year, according to IPG's Magna Global, TV advertising revenue in the U.S. will grow faster than web display, on a base that's about five times bigger."

2018 hindsight: Dave Morgan remains one of the smartest people in the business. If I was writing this piece today the bigger news would be about the rise of OTT, the increasing power of ad-free options for content, the further fragmentation of mass audiences into a finer and finer mist, and the need for higher quality data that gets at both consumer intent and scale.



Why Is TV Growing While Banner Ads Flatline?

CMOs have made courageous investments in digital - even in tough times, and even when the results from their digital efforts have been vanishingly small.

Every single marketer I know is passionate about digital. Yet TV remains the primary engine of brand marketing.

In my opinion, this is true because:

1. To date, only TV delivers the scale that brand marketers require.

2. Consumer brands tried so hard to "be digital" that they forgot the fundamentals.

Brand marketers who sell through mass retail must drive fast turns at the shelf, or risk losing their biggest outlet for distribution. This makes the scalable reach that TV delivers as essential as oxygen. By contrast, too much ad tech has been anti-scale.

2018 hindsight: TV, which was once the sun, moon, and stars, is quickly becoming "just one more medium" in a way I couldn't have imagined 6 years ago. Yet the question of scale is as important (maybe more important) than ever. And yes, too much ad tech is still anti-scale. Also, the rise of direct-to-consumer brands and new retail formats from Amazon threaten the primacy of mass retail in ways I didn't foresee in 2012.



Digital's Promise of Smallness

Digital promises smallness: "the right ad to the right person at the right moment". This is in direct conflict with what big brands need: large numbers of new buyers entering the category, becoming aware of the brand, or switching brands.

Big CPG companies have billions of dollars in sales. At that size, efficiency - getting more for the brand's money - is good. But smallness - many efforts, each too microscopic to move the needle - is not.



The Smallness Trap

Where the storyboard was the primary instrument of analog, the spreadsheet became the primary instrument of digital.

Because digital is so measurable, brands enthusiastically adopted Direct Response metrics. We measured events (CTRs and conversions), ignoring the reality that brand preference is built over time.

We fell into what I call "the smallness trap".

Our focus shifted from consumers to spreadsheets. We developed disdain for big ideas in favor of optimizing to metrics, like the click through rate, that few still believe in.

As Peter Drucker admonished: "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all."

Keeping digital in perpetual test-and-learn mode was fun. The stakes never got too high. We could always ace our KPIs, because they were always fuzzy measures. The latest buzzword, "engagement", is wonderfully plastic: since it has no real definition, it can be whatever we need it to be.

But when TV collides with digital, there will be a lot more at stake. We can't wait on the sidelines and see how things shake out. And it's unfair to ask agencies to take the lead, because agencies take their signals from marketers.

2018 hindsight: My opinion on this issue hasn't changed much at all. The "Promise of Smallness" now actually delivers quite well for B2B – one of the reasons I switched from being a B2C marketer to B2B and tech – but it remains crappy for big B2C brands.

If we want our future TV performance to be better than our banner ad performance, now is the time to step up and course-correct. If we don't, the "smallness trap" will continue taking us in the wrong direction.



Five Imperatives For Brands As Digital And TV Collide

1. Return to fundamental brand metrics. Starting yesterday. DR metrics demand DR creative. This does not build brands, and fails to leverage what makes TV great: sight, sound and motion. We need to let TV be TV. Let's unshackle digital advertising and let it get creative. Let's tell stories. Let's entertain. In fact, let's demand nothing less.

2. Insist on meaningful scale. Let's escape "the smallness trap". Let's abandon the fantasy that we can squeeze all our darts into the dead center of the tightest ring of the bulls-eye. It's a big board; we can (and should) score points all over it.

3. Use Big Data the right way. Data, by itself, is a powerful but neutral tool. It's like electricity. Used correctly, it can provide illumination; used incorrectly, it can kill you. Our algorithms are only as smart as our inputs. Brand marketers know awareness and scale are critically important, and that brands are built over time. Our algorithms and data scientists need to know this, too. Let's use Big Data and AI to optimize to brand metrics, and to find the right kind of media efficiencies. There is enormous opportunity here, if we do it right.

4. Have a marketing strategy, not a digital strategy. "We'll do this in paid, we'll do that in owned, and we'll do another thing in earned" is not a strategy; it's a collection of tactics. Let's go back to fundamentals, and start with the consumer. A clear strategy makes choosing the right tactics easy.

5. Start from opportunity, not fear. TV is incredibly powerful, and now has the potential to be even better and smarter. TV is an entertainment medium. What new capabilities do we have to make advertising more fun and engaging?

2018 hindsight: I think these are still the right five imperatives. What do you think? What have I missed here that would be glaringly obvious if I revisited this post in 2024?

The changes coming to TV are a fresh opportunity to get digital right for our brands, and to reshape our marketing organizations for the next century.

Let's get to it.



About me

Tom Cunniff is a B2B brand strategy consultant and writer who has worked with companies in IIoT, Data, FinTech, MarTech, BioTech, logistics and more. Tom has worked at J. Walter Thompson, founded and sold a successful early digital agency with clients including Unilever, spent 10 years leading global digital marketing as a client-side marketer, and wrote for the J. Peterman catalog in its Seinfeld-era heyday. He is former Chairman of the Digital Committee for the Association of National Advertisers.

The Danger of "Best Practices", and the Genius of Peculiarity

In marketing and business, what's the absolute fastest, surest, most painful way to get your ass kicked?

Fighting the top brand in your category by trying to be just like them.

Here's how that "works". (Spoiler alert: it doesn't, but stick with me a sec.)

First, you pick a fight with the heavyweight champ.

Then, you ignore whatever boxing strengths you might actually have. Doing what you do well instead of what the Champ does well, from a Best Practices POV, is why you're a loser. The whole idea here is to fight exactly the way the champ does.

I should note here that the current unified heavyweight world champion, Anthony Oluwafemi Olaseni Joshua is six feet six inches tall, and has a reach of 82 inches.

Which is really just another way of saying:

  1. Mr. Joshua can knock your block off from more than two yards away;
  2. There's a good chance you won't see the punch coming because you'll be standing in his shadow.


But, you can take pride in the fact that in the few milliseconds it will take for Anthony Joshua to beat you into a coma, you will have been following Best Practices!

You'll have been boxing exactly like him, except for the part where they bring a Wet-Vac into the ring to clean up whatever is left of your shattered body.

In the history of business, I can't think of a single instance where copying the market leader enabled a company to unseat that leader. But I can think of many times when once-great companies lost their focus and derailed by becoming obsessed with being "just like" the market leader.

Fortunately, there are plenty of smarter, better ways to fight and win.

If your business plan requires you to battle heavyweights, then your best bet is to change the playing field. For more about what I mean by that – and how to do actually do it – read this. Always know what game you're playing, on whose playing field, according to whose rules.

But if your business plan doesn't require you to fight competitors who are impossibly strong, you have all kinds of freedom – including the freedom to get weird.


J. Peterman, Hammacher Schlemmer, and the Genius of Peculiarity

Early in my career, I was a freelance writer for the J. Peterman catalog for 10 years. Looking back on it I see now that I was being taught a master class in the genius of peculiarity.

My job was to mimic the voice of Don Staley, who created the catalog. So in my time writing for the catalog I learned how to write about peculiar items like burnooses (that's my copy in the banner image) and monocles (there's a fun story about that here) in a way that inspired normal people to buy them. At the same time, I learned how to imbue a nice but fairly ordinary jacket with 1930s-era intrigue.

“She pretends not to see the British agent coming, pretends not to notice his cologne. He bumps into her shoulder, hard. The only thing she feels is the envelope, thick with money, in her hand.

An hour later she emerges from a shop wearing a jacket she’d stared at in the window forever, the one she’d nearly spent the rent money on.

The next day she drank an exorbitant glass of champagne, and smiled. She had a ticket to Lisbon in her pocket.”

J. Peterman was peculiar in every respect. The writing was different than any other catalog. The product images were paintings. The shape of the catalog was different from any other catalog. It was so peculiar, in fact, that on May 18, 1995, a character named J. Peterman suddenly appeared on Seinfeld. Nobody knew about it at the catalog until after it aired –– including the real J. Peterman.

Any brand with courage and imagination can be peculiar in their own way. There's a terrific article in Chicago magazine titled "The World’s Most Peculiar Company" that opens with an intriguing question.

"How does catalog-loving retailer Hammacher Schlemmer, famous for such eccentric and extravagant products as the Navigable Water Park, continue to survive in the age of Amazon?"

Instead of going toe-to-toe with Amazon and getting bludgeoned (Amazon’s share of US e-commerce is now 49%, or 5% of all retail spend), Hammacher Schlemmer stayed true to their roots. They were, and are, the anti-Amazon – and that's a damn smart thing to be.

45 percent of the items in the catalog are exclusive to Hammacher Schlemmer; anything that's not exclusive is given a unique new name. Why? The company knows that if they use the same name, people will just search for that product on Amazon and buy it there.

The company is aggressively, strategically peculiar.


For Amazon to feature a $90,000 Killer Whale Submarine on their home page, Amazon's AI would probably first have to suffer a catastrophic stroke.

But Hammacher Schlemmer understands the value of surprise: the genius isn't in how many Killer Whale Submarines they sell, but the peculiar shock that comes from the idea that they sell one at all. (Does the cockpit's dashboard include an LCD that displays live video from the dorsal fin's built-in camera? Of course it does.)

I'm not saying you have to be as peculiar as J. Peterman or Hammacher Schlemmer to win against a dominant competitor when you're hopelessly outgunned. But your marketing strategy should begin with asking yourself some very simple questions.

"Can we really beat them at their own game?"

"Are we really different in ways that really matter to customers, and in ways our competitor can't or won't copy?"

"Are we thinking weird enough?"

Strategy is a creative act.