Consumer and Object Experience in the Internet of Things: An Assemblage Theory Approach

Donna L. Hoffman and Thomas P. Novak, 2016, 16-134

The consumer Internet of Things (IoT) has the potential to revolutionize consumer experience. Because consumers can actively interact with smart objects, the traditional conceptualization of consumer experience as consumers’ internal subjective responses to branded objects may not be sufficient to conceptualize consumer experience in the IoT.

In this report, Donna Hoffman and Thomas Novak develop a new conceptual framework that provides a fuller understanding of the nature of consumer (and object) experience in complex, interactive environments like the IoT.

Their conceptualization is based on assemblage theory and object-oriented ontology and is anchored in the context of smart home assemblages. In their conceptualization, smart home assemblages are defined not only by their components, but by the way these components interact with each other. Experience is not the result of a single interaction event, but of sequences of interactions over time. 

As consumers and objects interact as parts of these dynamic assemblages, Hoffman and Novak write, “they will collectively achieve things none would be capable of doing on their own and entirely new consumer, and object, experiences will emerge.”

They introduce the idea that consumer experience, through its emergent properties and capacities, has two broad facets: extension experience and expansion experience. They develop a parallel conceptualization of the construct of object experience, arguing that it can be perceived by consumers through the mechanism of anthropomorphism, and that consumer-object relationships, and relationship styles, emerge from the interaction of their respective experiences. They note that brands’ marketing messages have begun attempting to convey this idea of object experience relationship styles through the lens of anthropomorphism. For example, LG markets the Rolling Bot and other products as “friends” which extend the capabilities of its LG G5 smartphone and Philips calls the products that are compatible with its smart lights “friends of Hue.”

Hoffman and Novak’s conceptualization of consumer experience in the IoT offers important marketing implications. A better understanding of experiences in smart home assemblages, from both the consumer and object’s perspective, may help marketers improve product design and development efforts and build better marketing communication programs that communicate the value to skeptical consumers.

Donna L. Hoffman is Louis Rosenfeld Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Marketing and Thomas P. Novak is Denit Trust Distinguished Scholar and Professor of Marketing, both at The George Washington University School of Business, where they are Co-Directors of the Center for the Connected Consumer.

Related links

How to Market the Consumer IoT: Focus on Experience
Donna Hoffman and Tom Novak (2017) [Webinar]

6 Expert Views on the Consumer Internet of Things (2016) [Article]

Marketing on the Internet of Things
Donna Hoffman (2014) [Video]


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