The Drum: CES isn’t about the hardware anymore

By Adam Gerhart

For marketers who have been enamored by the annual ceremonial unveiling of the latest gadgets, you might have missed a critical trend which has crept into the halls of CES: it isn’t about the hardware anymore.

Instead, it’s about the software, data, and the ubiquity of connection behind it all. Nine times out of ten, a new piece of tech that can’t connect to a larger ecosystem (or at least a larger brand campaign) won’t be able to do much for your brand.

That’s why it was exciting to see connectivity and infrastructure play such a large role at this year’s show. As we look at what opportunities are available to us now, and which will take a few years to manifest, these are the marketing trends to watch.

Voice control and the rise of incidental loyalty

Amazon versus Google was the big fight of the week. But equally important is just the sheer number of companies developing products for these two voice juggernauts. Based on today’s market share, if you’re a startup and voice is a selling point for your product, you need to sync up with Alexa or Google Assistant—or you’ve lost the game. That may change with Microsoft and Apple later, but CES saw Amazon or Google connections in everything from Nightingale (control your sleep environment with your voice), to Vuzix (voice-enabled AR glasses) to Project Nursery (a voice-activated baby monitor system where you can order diapers, wipes, and more) and more.

What’s next for marketers: test and learn with Skills and other light-touch activations, but it’s particularly important to keep your eye on the long game–the ways voice will eventually change commerce. If you ask Alexa for diapers or batteries or sheets, the OS doesn’t want to give you a full list of products – just two or three at most. So what happens if your brand is number four or five? Consumers will be more likely to order the same products over and over, not because they love the brand, but just because that’s what pops up first – and will continue popping up first the more often they order it. Prepare for the onset of what we at Mindshare call incidental loyalty, and assess your category risk in this new space.

The auto show and the importance of data

With more than 20% of the show related to automotive, in many ways CES has become the platform for auto exhibition. Competition is heating up for autonomous driving – not just for automakers and ride sharing companies like Uber and Lyft, but in the chip sector as well for Intel and Nvidia. Then there’s the broader connected car technology that was on display, incorporating voice and artificial intelligence to help with everything from temperature control to driver safety to information search and more.

What’s next for marketers: data is the watchword here. As exciting as much of this new technology is, it will take time to really build its infrastructure and scale up in the automotive space. But marketers today can already start leveraging data and insights from existing connected car technology to better target audiences. For example, we’re partnering with publishers like Pandora to reach listeners with tailored brand messages when they’re specifically in the car (versus at home or out elsewhere). Start there, and you’ll be better prepared when connected cars really do reach their full potential – a future where they may indeed become living rooms on wheels.

The proliferation of AI and EQ vs. IQ

AI software and machine learning proliferated the show floor last week, particularly within cars and the smart home. For example, Yummly’s smart recipe technology can push information to Whirlpool’s appliances; the Mars wireless earbuds offer real-time language translation; the AR4X camera promises facial recognition for security purposes. The list goes on and on.

What’s next for marketers: much of the conversation around AI thus far has focused on function – how to make things easier, faster, less manual, and safer for consumers. But it’s important to balance the IQ of AI with the EQ of brand building and emotional connectivity. As we work to meet consumers’ needs, we should focus on their emotional ones as well. For example, as AI-enabled devices integrate with our calendars, imagine a scenario where your device recommends a “cheat day” snack during your diet, because it’s been a particularly hectic day. Or that you splurge on a latte because you’re coming off a long early morning flight and you’re exhausted. The best brand stories will embrace AI, without the compromise of emotional intelligence.

Smarter content and content everywhere

In the battle between AR and VR content, the former has certainly taken a big lead – in great part because it doesn’t require cumbersome hardware. CES displayed innovations in both those mediums, but it also pointed to other options for new content experiences. For example, Keecker is a voice-enabled multimedia robot that projects 4K content onto any wall; 3 Pigs is a start-up that uses sensors on sports equipment and then leverages the data to provide personalized sports content. Ultrahaptics uses ultrasound to project sensations to your hand when you touch images.

What’s next for marketers: there have been successful brand executions in AR and enough buzz generated to know that that’s an area to test and learn in. But more importantly, as the media landscape continues to grow more fragmented in viewership, the opportunities to a) experience content everywhere and b) provide personalized content opens up a lot for brands. For example, marketers could partner on fitness content that gets streamed while consumers are working up a sweat, or leverage haptics to make digital out-of-home messaging interactive. What we need to do is focus on identifying the opportunities that make the most sense for our brands so that we’re providing something of value for audiences—not just more noise in a world where there’s content everywhere.

5G will be the bedrock – just not yet

Coming into CES, there was a lot of well-deserved buzz about 5G. Thanks to its higher bandwidth and low latency, 5G has the potential to power big advancements in smart homes and connected cars, and replace broadband cable services in service of streaming 4K VR/AR and 8K videos. But although both AT&T and Verizon plan to deploy some form of 5G later in 2018, speakers on the CES “Mobile Innovation” panel agreed that mass adoption is still quite a ways away – probably 2019 or 2020.

What’s next for marketers: continue to keep a close eye here, because while 5G may not have really hit yet, when it does, it could usher in a new era of digital connectivity across categories. Technologies that may seem far-fetched now can very quickly ramp up once the bandwidth is there. When 5G really scales up, the future will get here faster than ever. Don’t think about connecting seven billion people to 5G but instead, in the future, 70 billion devices.

Read it also on The Drum.