By Claire Murray, Brand Innovation Supervisor, The Marketing Arm
January is a fantastic month. While many associate it with bitter cold and going back to work, let us not forget about the anticipation of a clean slate, the opportunity to reset, and the excitement of thinking about all that the new year will hold. Easily one of the best parts of January is CES, the Consumer Electronic Show held annually in Las Vegas.
Each year, the show centers on highlighting the newest, most innovative technology in the world and almost always sets the tone for technology trends in the new year. The fact that what trends at CES will in almost complete certainty trend in some way with consumers and brands makes it a marketer’s paradise, as well as a playground for the truly curious.
There are, of course, an overwhelming amount of CES recaps available. However, at TMA we like to approach things from a more creative and human angle.
Three leaders across the agency attended CES this year, all with different marketing specialties and client focuses, and instead of publishing a list of top tech or even a small trend briefing, let’s sit and listen to what they had to say about their experience at CES 2019. Let us introduce you to…
TMA’s Chief Innovation Officer and Head of Music and Sound Strategy
Director of Digital Strategy and Integration
CES first timer
Vice President of Business Design and Innovation
The conversations documented below merely scratch the surface of what these thought leaders experienced and shared. If you’re curious and want to know more, please reach out as conversation and collaboration are the building blocks to creativity that matters. Let’s dive in!
So, you attended CES this year! How would you best summarize your experience?
Larry: “My experience overall was overstimulation to the point where I just wanted more time. I was only there for 24 hours and so I had to really pack it in. I was most compelled though by the big conversation of usefulness. This year was about tech becoming useful rather than futuristic.”
Haley: “Overwhelming, but in the best way. It was so immersive. As a first-time attendee with fresh eyes, I found the experience very thought provoking and got my imagination going. Having that multi-sensory experience was so valuable especially because no one is trying to sell you anything, so you’re able to focus with the pressure off. It’s all about exploring and using your imagination.”
Jake: “This is my 10thCES. I would say this show, more than any other, had less bloat to it… I felt like it was a highly focused show, with high visibility around 3-5 key categories and 3-5 key companies. At its heart, CES is all about what is next – this year it did a better job than ever of bridging the gap between what is now.”
Based on your experience, what would you say was the main theme of the show?
Jake: “This year products and services had to show – more than ever – a level of utility, of usefulness that either appreciates, rewards, or enriches the time of the consumer.”
Haley: “This year, CES seemed to focus on how the existing technologies have evolved, rather than a grand reveal of something completely new. While Google really owned CES from a branding perspective, the general theme was about the evolution of existing technologies and how to apply them in everyday life.”
Larry: “We can call it usefulness or practicality. Common household products, like a bathtub for example, were improved and made more practical with these new technologies like AI and voice.”
Was there anything that surprised you? What was predictable?
Haley: “The possibilities within the connected home space were mind blowing. There is endless tech to make life easier, more efficient, and more customized to your daily needs. With faster automation and anticipation of needs, what will people do with the extra time? How will this change people’s level of patience?”
Jake: “Voice, AI, AR, and VR evolution and focus was all predictable… the brand that stood out was Impossible Foods. I love when non-traditional brands or campaigns land at CES – it elevates the brand. This year it was Impossible Foods. I think they nailed it.”
Larry: “I went to CES every year for 10 years and felt that it wasn’t better each year than the year before. Televisions for example, would get bigger, clearer, and thinner, but they weren’t necessarily answering a consumer problem. As a result, my observation was that crowds got thinner and excitement started to die down. This year I saw an upsurge in attendance, but also that the show seemed more hands on. I was surprised and delighted to see companies you wouldn’t expect to see have displays and prominent features. P&G for example had a large display area that showcased how tech is influencing relatively basic household products. I don’t remember companies like that having a footprint before which was a welcome surprise.”
Was there a particular consumer trend you saw represented through technology at the show?
Larry: “Voice, hands down. I give Google the credit. If you went to any manufacturer, there was a Google Assistant on premises to show how it integrated with the home. Calling it voice is simplifying it too much. It’s practicality, ease of use, it lessons friction.”
Haley: “Voice, especially from a Google perspective…they just had huge real estate. There were also some interesting panel discussions from brands like Hulu and Spotify about how brands are using data to transform the discovery process. Imagine our technology knowing us so well that it will know what we want to watch, listen to, or even eat before we do!”
Jake: “Voice. Voice was integrated everywhere and dominated by Google and Amazon.”
What did you feel was most applicable to your clients this year at CES?
Haley: “The consumer expectation of a hyper-personalized, hyper-relevant experience. Pushing ourselves and our clients to think about building meaningful experiences that add value and are truly customized to the individual.”
Larry: “Helping clients realize that they should think about solving human problems, making life easier instead of just focusing on their product. For voice, it’s about lowering friction, how is that product made better with voice being a part of it? Usability is so key. It’s all about being utility based or useful instead of innovation for the sake of innovation.”
Jake: “I think everyone should be progressing towards voice strategy. Voice is going to move very quickly and before brands and agencies know it, voice will have moved from fun skills where you ask Alexa about Jon Snow’s parentage to truly managing our daily lives (and spending) intuitively.”
After attending this year, do you believe it’s a good use of marketers’ time? Why or why not?
Jake: “Inevitably when you tell someone you’re headed to CES you’ll get the look… But to me, it is far too critical of an education to be missed. Nowhere in the world can you take the time to study what is next in trends, for client brands, competitive brands, media companies, and technology in one place.”
Larry: “I do think it’s a good use of time. Time being the operative word. You have to give yourself time to watch and listen… Marketers should definitely be there, but a lot of them go only to network and not to hit the floor to watch, listen, and act. I think as marketers, and as industry executives, we should put more time into exploring.”
Haley: “Yes, I do. Taking the time to intentionally focus on innovation and see the technology come to life in person was incredible. That said, going in with a game plan to prioritize your time is pretty critical because there’s no way you can see everything.”
What are some learnings or observations that you’ll carry with you from CES?
Haley: “Always keep your goal front and center and use tech when it makes sense to achieve your objective, but not just for the wow factor. For example, just as an ingredient is to a recipe, VR isn’t an idea in and of itself, but it could be an interesting tactic to achieve a larger strategic idea.”
Jake: “Focus on usefulness. Prepare to think outside the traditional toward extended experiences that enhance brand narratives through AI, VR, AR, and Voice.”
Larry: “Make peoples’ lives better, for them… not for you. From big tech to small tech (like health tracking), make life better. Ask the question, how does your product make the consumers’ life better?”
Anything else you’d like to share?
Larry: “I’m glad I was there as a marketer. It helped ground me in those core principles of being practical and solving problems. Personally, I was excited about the sound and audio elements – for example, Sony showcasing 3D audio. It made listening exciting again. People are listening now more than ever, but it’s somewhat passive and 3D audio could change that. It filled a small box and opened your ears in a way that hasn’t happened before. Technology being used to change how music fills a space… that was exciting to me.”
Top 5 Takeaways from CES:
- The main theme? Technology as useful and practical to make consumers’ lives better.
- The winning brand? Google. Mainly because Google has partnered their voice assistant with every aspect of consumers’ lives – integration at every touchpoint is their winning strategy.
- Having a sound and audio strategy is becoming an imperative part of a brand strategy. In 2019 and beyond, what does your brand sound like?
- Unlikely brands that show up at CES garner buzz and are set apart from competitors.
- As marketers, integrating curiosity, imagination, innovation, utility, and hands-onplay into great ideas is essential.