Smart Jobs, Smart Homes, and Smart Content

Data scientist and master storyteller are two of the U.K.'s "Hottest Jobs in Marketing," recently identified by Marketing Week. These two careers seem like polar opposites-one generating business insight through an extreme focus on data analytics and the other winning customers' attention through the creative engagement of emotions, interests, and desires. But they are both trying to make sense of a deluge of customer interactions, while translating the internet-enabled fire hose into memorable, meaningful experiences-one customer at a time.

All of this is complicated by the moving target that is customer behavior on the internet. Content consumption habits are continually evolving, driven by changes in technology, where your friends are hanging out online, and-let's face it-what's cool (or not).

An additional challenge for anyone wanting to target international content consumers is that rates of adoption and disruption vary dramatically between countries. The market for online news is a case in point. "Reuters Institute Digital News Report" examines the online news consumption of more than 18,000 consumers in 10 countries, including seven European nations, plus the U.S., Brazil, and Japan.

The report reveals fascinating variations in news consumption habits between countries. Looking at the popularity and range of online news formats, for example, "[p]icture stories and slideshows are popular everywhere except for Denmark (6%) while news graphics are especially well-viewed in Japan and Finland. Some countries seem to have taken faster to video content, in particular the U.S., and Brazil. Video is typically twice as popular as audio, with the exception of Denmark and Spain where it is the other way round." So good luck trying to build a content proposition that will easily and seamlessly translate across different groups of national consumers without taking into account some of these marked national preferences.

At the same time, the Reuters report notes that news sites such as The Huffington Post, BuzzFeed, and Upworthy are becoming popular across the world, with a fresh tone of voice that particularly appeals to young people. The Huffington Post, for example, offers 11 international editions, some of which are joint enterprises with traditional local news providers such as Le Monde in France.

In some ways, it's no surprise to find national differences in the consumption of, say, online news. But the phenomenon isn't limited to pure content plays. Smart home technology is a case in point. A recent report from forecasting firm Strategy Analytics predicts that one in nine U.K. households will have at least one smart home system by the end of 2014, with this number predicted to rise to more than 1 in 4 U.K. households in 5 years. However, with 11% of households adopting smart home technology this year, the U.K. will be well ahead of the global average (5% of households) but significantly behind the U.S. (17% of households). According to the study, U.K. smart homes will spend an average of £234 (about $397) each this year on smart home technology, compared to £517 (about $878) in the U.S. The market drivers differ too. In the U.K., smart home adoption is being driven by energy companies, whereas in mainland Europe, the telecom sector is leading the way.

Content strategists can be forgiven for thinking that increased demand for connected refrigerators may not be the most pressing challenge they will face this year. But let's say, as predicted in the report, that smart home penetration in the U.K. increases to 27% in 5 years-that's more than 7 million households. Compare that with tablet sales-according to market researcher YouGov, 32% of U.K. households owned a tablet near the end of 2013. And think of the content disruption-and opportunities-that the tablet revolution has brought in its wake.

A not-too-distant future in which connected devices embed appropriate content or social interactions at multiple touchpoints suddenly seems a lot less farfetched. And don't get me started on the opportunities offered by wearable, connected devices. Some futurologists are predicting that connected devices will become implanted in our bodies, so that we can interact directly with information without an intermediary device. Perhaps that will enable content consumption that truly transcends national boundaries.