While it has chiefly functioned as a mobile and broadband provider, Vodafone now feels its future lies in the 41bn smart devices predicted to exist by 2027. After spending a number of years dabbling in the space, the company is on a mission to convince its consumers to get on board its smart tech journey – just don't call it the 'Internet of Things'.
“We want to expand what Vodafone stands for in consumers; minds,” says Pamela Brown, chief marketing officer, Vodafone Smart Tech. “It’s a significant step because we’re traditionally a mobile phone company.”
Despite years spent dabbling in the Internet of Things (IoT) sector, she admits there is a lot of ground to make up in brand perception. "I'd love this to have higher awareness than it does today. Analysts talk about these massive numbers like there will be 41bn smart devices by 2027. This is significant growth, and I believe Vodafone has a role to play in it."
Last week, Vodafone introduced the first of its ‘Designed & Connected by Vodafone’ range of smart tech products – Curve, a multi-tracking device that uses GPS, Wi-Fi, Cellular and Bluetooth to help its users to track inanimate valuables such as keys, laptops, bags, as well as keeping connected to loved ones or pets.
It's the kind of brand extension Vodafone has been gravitating towards for some time.
The company first hit the telecoms scene in the early 90s, as a mobile network provider, and with the proliferation of the internet, it soon got into broadband. Like its mobile competitor EE, Vodafone recognises ‘connectivity’ as its selling point. However, while EE was busy with 5G deals at the Baftas or its sponsorship of Wembley stadium, Vodafone was diving into IoT.
“From the B2B perspective, we’ve been offering smart IoT connections for over 10 years. We have 15 million connections on that side,” shares Brown. And then in 2017, it entered the consumer market with the launch of 'V by Vodafone' – billed as a simple system for consumers to connect and manage IoT devices, alongside a product range that included a car dongle, a 4G security camera and a pet location and activity tracker.
The problem is that the term IoT belongs more in a B2B book of buzzwords than in the consumer vocabulary. “Consumers don't know what IoT is," Brown says. "But they do know what smart tech is. We learnt a lot with the V by Vodafone range. The category is more embedded in consumers' mindsets, especially with the explosion of smart speakers.”
Brought on more than two years ago from the team that built Hive, British Gas’ smart home offering, Brown knows a thing or two about changing consumer habits and how to convince people to get on board. She has since pulled the brand out of the 'IoT space', as such, and hired a creative director, created an in-house studio and given the brand a full refurb that both aligns with Vodafone’s distinctive red, but also distinguishes itself apart from that side of the business.
“When you think of Vodafone, you probably think of a very red brand. Whereas the new visual identity is a more darker colour palette. We're trying to bring to life more of the desirability credentials of the device in the imagery and the marketing assets that we create. So we're using red in a more subtle way."
The first to be introduced this year, Curve will be followed by two more products which will utilise the same functionalities.
Beyond that, where does Brown expect Vodafone to be in five years' time? "I hope these products will become every day to people. So whether that's in-home devices or out of home, we want to use connectivity to help protect people and things that they love."