Leaving Las Vegas and Entering Reality, Here Are 6 Key Takeaways from CES

ces-2016-tech-companies-have-eye-virtual-reality-drones-smart-home-categories-grow-salesThe buzz surrounding this year’s Consumer Electronics Show was predictably ubiquitous and positive. Even the taxi driver who picked me up from the airport was talking drones and smart homes. Surely, when you have 170,000 people attending a trade show about the latest technology, you’re gonna get some press. So as I walked the exhibit halls, listened to panel discussions, chatted with peers and observed my mostly human counterparts in Sin City, I was on the lookout for trends and ideas that would help communicators. That’s right, you. There were a good number of PR folks attending CES on behalf of companies or clients and to trend-spot. Not to mention to gamble and catch a Cirque du Soleil show. Work hard, play hard, right?

You can and should read the news coverage of the hottest technologies coming out of CES – from smart refrigerators to 8K TVs (4K, we hardly even knew you). You will start hearing references to the automobile as the ultimate mobile device. And you might get paranoid that your new Wi-Fi-enabled light bulb could get hacked. You’ll be wowed by how interactive your television is, only to realize that it’s had those features all along (We humans haven’t caught up with the technology yet). Which brings me to some takeaways that we as communicators can apply to our business strategies:

Create products that are intuitive. As mentioned above, we have a lot of features on our TV (and phones) that have been there for years. We just don’t know how to use them, or they just aren’t that interesting and useful. We also have short attention spans. When you introduce a product or service, be sure to ask two simple questions: Will it be easy to use and am I improving my customer’s life in some way? Make it easy. Make it intuitive. Remove friction.

Know your medium. One of the biggest trends at CES this year was Virtual Reality and its counterpart, Augmented Reality. Where AR enhances reality, VR helps you escape reality. A lot of brands and many film and TV studios are tinkering with VR. It’s the new, new thing, and it can be an amazing storytelling device. Tread carefully, though. If your story is better told in 2D, stay there. Don’t waste time, resources and your stakeholders’ attention by jumping on the VR bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. If, however, an immersive experience is your ultimate goal, you’ll find nothing quite like Virtual Reality – except actual reality.

Connect = Integrate. Whether it’s the connected home (Internet of Things), wearables or smart cars, Connected now has multiple meanings in work and life. For communicators, it’s worth aligning the idea of different systems effectively talking to each other with that of complementary departments talking to one another, ie Marketing and PR.  Imagine a “smart” office in which marketing and PR were integrated, where all systems were aligned and the shareholders’ experience was improved because of it. Is there an app for that? No, but there are smart PR and marketing professionals working on the problem.

Choose your spokespeople wisely. I heard a lot of business executives complain that the companies exhibiting at CES staff their booths with people who aren’t educated about the product and aren’t empowered to do deals. While most of the deal-making at CES takes place outside the exhibit halls – as with most trade shows – it’s worth noting that if you are exhibiting at a trade show or conference, be sure you have educated representatives on hand who are empowered to at least jump-start a business transaction. And if you are showcasing technology, have tech-savvy representatives who can answer the technical questions.

Put it out there. If you’ve got an interesting idea and want to test consumer interest without breaking the bank, consider a crowdsourcing site, such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo. At a panel discussion hosted by our sister brand Cynopsis during CES, Christian Busch, vp of marketing at Indiegogo, said many brands are now turning to his site to source innovation (110 companies exhibiting at CES started on Indiegogo). GE, for example,  launched an Indiegogo campaign to see what consumers thought about a portable nugget icemaker called Opal. According to Busch, GE saved 75% on R&D costs by going straight to the people. A startup called Flow Hive raised $12.5m through Indiegogo for a product that allows you to harvest honey without opening the hive.  It’s good for the bees, and takes the sting out of beekeeping. Put it out there too see if you’re on to something.

Instant gratification is here to stay. CES keynoter and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings noted that "We live in an on-demand world and there's no going back." Netflix’s amazing comeback since launching just eight years ago is one of PR’s top case studies in reputation and pivot management. Consumer desire to have it now and have it all (ie binge-watching) is coming to an office near you.  Employees aren’t going to be as patient when an issue is not immediately resolved or if they are not recognized in a timely manner for a job well done. Customers tweeting a complaint now expect an immediate response. When it comes to entertainment and conflict resolution, instant gratification makes sense. For communicators managing  messages and reputation, too much might actually be too much. Better to be in-demand than on-demand.

If you attended CES, survived Vegas and have some options about the show, please share them here. 

— Diane Schwartz

@dianeschwartz