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Smart cities: What are they?

Report says that partnerships with brands and telecoms operators could be the way to drive innovation and increase awareness

An extract from the Posterscope infographic showing most useful smart applications
An extract from the Posterscope infographic showing most useful smart applications

Less than a quarter of UK consumers claim to be aware of the term ‘smart cities’, according to a report by out-of-home and location marketing specialists, Posterscope.


Smart in the City surveyed more than 5,500 consumers about their opinion on smart cities and their key features. Deeper analysis into the research report, however, shows there is more understanding and interest when respondents were questioned about specific initiatives.


When asked which smart city features were deemed to be the most useful, those initiatives that provide a real-life benefit that people can easily relate to were rated the highest: smart water (89 per cent), smart construction (85 per cent), smart energy (81 per cent) and smart health (79 per cent). Features considered the least useful were smart tourism and leisure (59 per cent), smart retail (57per cent) and smart finance (57 per cent).


The report reveals that consumers need to be able to picture the benefits of smart cities. For example, smart transport overall was rated at 71 per cent usefulness, but when specific transport initiatives were described in more detail, people rated them more highly, with smart traffic control (87 per cent), smart public parking (83 per cent) and real-time personalised transport information (74 per cent) deemed the most useful.


“People are interested and will embrace those schemes that they see providing a real benefit or making a genuine difference to their daily lives, such as smart utilities, smart transport and, of course, smart infrastructure that provides services such as free wi-fi or power,” said Nick Halas at Posterscope. “The appetite is there, but there’s a huge knowledge gap that needs to be overcome with increased awareness and education of consumer benefits.”


The research also explored consumer attitudes to brand involvement in smart city schemes and the results reveal positive outcomes for brands that support these initiatives, which may provide an additional impetus for driving innovation in smart city initiatives.


More than 60 per cent of respondents said they would be happy to see advertising or branding funding smart city schemes, while 52 per cent said they would think more favourably of brands that partner with organisations to provide smart city projects. Encouragingly, 42 per cent of those interviewed also stated that they would be more likely to consider buying a product or service from a brand that contributes to the provision of a smart city scheme.


Nick Halas added: "We need to combine the commercial commitment and awareness of big name brands, the IoT capabilities of telecoms operators and the infrastructure of councils and utility providers to create initiatives which help consumers understand and embrace the benefits that a smart city framework can bring.


“Our Smart Bench project in 2017 saw Cancer Research UK, Strawberry Energy and Posterscope’s community division Urban Partnerships come together to provide solar-powered benches with mobile device charging ports and free wi-fi access to consumers who could donate £2 to the charity using contactless payment technology.”


The survey also highlighted that data – and the use of it – will need to be given careful consideration in any smart city scheme. More than half (53 per cent) of respondents expect to have to provide personal information in order to buy or benefit from smart city services, while 42 per cent said they were happy to do so in turn for services that are useful to them.


Unsurprisingly, though, 79 per cent expressed concern that brands and corporations may not use their data responsibly. This suggests that brands and scheme operators will need to work hard for consumers to feel confident in sharing their data, and ensure scheme benefits far outweigh any data concerns.


Smart health also came high up the list of highly-rated initiatives as consumers’ recognise the future potential. The survey found that 20 per cent of consumers currently own a wearable device, with the most popular being smart health/fitness devices (14 per cent). However, of those consumers who don’t currently own a wearable, 55 per cent would consider buying one in the future, so it’s likely that wearables could become the norm, making smart health initiatives, such as linking wearables to GP surgery records.


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