Unless you live in a bunker sans Wi-Fi, you know about CES (or the Consumer Electronics Show) that dominates Las Vegas each year in January. This year’s event was the largest floor in the show's history with nearly 4,000 companies in attendance and 2.4MM net square feet of exhibits dedicated to unveiling new products and services. Particularly noteworthy was the rapidly growing Eureka Park, the unique space dedicated to new start-ups which has exploded from 90 exhibiting companies since its inception in 2012, to 600 in 2017.
We’ve captured six key trends and implications from our experience, but two overarching themes were omnipresent this year, differentiating it from past events. The first is that everything (and we mean everything) is Wi-Fi- and/or cloud-connected. From light bulbs to washing machines to wearables, the potential for every product to collect data and communicate with other products or services isn’t just an episode of Black Mirror, it's our new reality. The second theme was Artificial Intelligence (or machine learning). Google, IBM Watson and Amazon each power their own voice-activated personal assistants (Google Assistant, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon Alexa), and the ability to verbally engage with these devices is fueling a fundamental shift in the way we seek out information (Gartner predicts that by 2020, 30% of searches will be made by voice alone). With each of these companies creating kits for simple integration with any capable product, AI will fundamentally change the way consumers engage with brands and products in the future.
With those two themes at the foundation of this year’s CES, here’s a roundup of the top trends of 2017:
Alexa was, hands down, the breakout star. Thanks to the recently debuted Alexa Skills Kit, designed for turnkey product integration, Alexa-integrated products were prevalent on the CES floor and spanned multiple categories, including smart home, robots, entertainment and automotive, giving it a substantial advantage over its rivals, Google Assistant and Microsoft’s Cortana. With sales of the Alexa-powered home assistant Echo reported at $14MM post-holiday, it now has scale worthy of marketers’ attention, and many advertisers are getting on board, creating Alexa skills, or little “digital errands” she can perform. There are currently 7,000 skills in Alexa’s library, reinforcing its potential as a marketing consideration.
Consumers are becoming accustomed to conversational interfaces. Whether it’s creating an Alexa skill or leveraging a Facebook Messenger bot as a customer service mechanism, incorporating conversational interfaces into products, services or marketing strategies should be top of mind for brands in 2017.
IoT (or The Internet of Things) first earned a spot on the innovation radar in 2015, but this year it was a driving force with behemoths like LG announcing all future products will be connected. The diversity of IoT products was robust, with the category expanding to fashion, health and beauty in a big way. Darlings included a smart hairbrush by Kérastase and Withings, which assesses the condition of a user’s hair and the effects of different hair care routines to recommend products, and Vobot, a smart alarm clock that enhances your rest by optimizing your sleep schedule through a sleep coach program. Healthcare wearables were also prevalent.
The volume of consumer data is growing exponentially. Brands who define their data strategy now will be best prepared for the boundless potential for matching data points and insights with personalized messaging in the future.
Driverless cars once again claimed a significant amount of real estate on the floor this year. Highlights included the unveiling of Faraday Future’s FF91, which reaches 60 mph in just 2.39 seconds (faster than the Tesla) and features facial recognition for keyless entry and autonomous driving technology to park itself. Another of the most noteworthy vehicles was Toyota’s new Concept-i UX car, which boasted its own AI personal assistant and can sense emotions through haptic technology. If you have trouble with road rage, this is the car for you, as it will override the driver whenever it senses anger or frustration.
While it was possible to put a deposit down on the FF91, it will be a while before driverless cars are a reality — many issues must first be resolved by insurance companies, the Department of Transportation and others, and predictions tend to hover around 2020 as the year they’ll be available for general use on the road. There’s no doubt there are big implications in the meantime. These vehicles won’t only contribute to the abundant amount of recorded data (one car on the floor boasted that the amount of data it collects from a single vehicle is the equivalent of 3,000 humans), they’ll also create additional media time for advertisers, opening possibilities to reach commuters through video platforms vs. audio only)
There was no shortage of unveilings in the VR category this year. Among the big trends was the host of new accessories designed to enhance the VR experience, for example, gloves that allow for kicking and punching through walls, and even VR sneakers leveraging haptic technology to simulate walking across different surfaces. Discovery Networks is addressing the solitary aspect of VR by developing social experiences where you can engage with your friends.
While equipment costs and content discoverability are still hurdles for consumers, there’s no doubt there is an increased demand for more immersive experiences. Entertainment brands are an obvious fit, but VR can enable brands in other categories to virtually experience products and services to elevate engagement.
Kid-friendly tech flourished at this year's CES. One of the most noteworthy products was Mattel’s Aristotle, which, in addition to reading bedtime stories, playing white noise and teaching second languages, can learn “with the child.” Other tech included a toothbrush that gamifies tooth brushing, making the activity less of a chore. Finally, smartwatches, which have been met with mixed reviews from adult consumers, are showing more promise among kids. JOY’s Octopus smartwatch has multiple educational capabilities, including teaching kids to tell time and prompting them to complete tasks or maintain healthy habits.
Growth in this category opens up new opportunities with data insights and life-stage targeting, although privacy laws and COPPA compliance will dictate what is allowed in regard to marketing to children directly.
Improvements to television are table stakes at CES and this year it was no different. Screens got bigger, thinner and more visually stunning. But one of the biggest highlights is that common interfaces will provide access to on-demand and live content in a single interface, replacing the cable channel guide. Hulu also announced the introduction of a live offering sometime in the spring, and Samsung announced its QLED universal remote, which will make it easy even for the non-tech savvy to navigate between streaming services and linear television.
Marketers need to quickly move beyond the TV spot and get comfortable with alternative ways of reaching TV viewers. Technologies like Samba TV that enable us to target nonlinear viewers on mobile devices and smart TV companies like Samsung that offer ads directly on the TV dashboard provide just two of many ways to reach viewers in the era of nonlinear programming.
Sometimes it pays to wait and be a second mover, letting others fail first, but in this case, first-mover advantage is crucial. Artificial Intelligence takes time to learn about your brand and its needs, so the sooner you start testing, the better off you are in the long run. Brands should look to test new deep learning or opportunities in text and conversational analytics through partners such as Google and Cognitiv, or through a DSP partner such as AdTheorent that deploys machine-based learnings in their bidding algorithms.
While mobile has had a tremendous impact on the search world in the past few years, forcing marketers to think about converting searchers in the physical world as much as on the web itself, as Amazon Echo and other personal assistant platforms become more ubiquitous, we’ll need to prepare for another pivot — to a world in which conversational marketing may be the message. It may also mean a new “search” world in which Google may no longer be king and more diversity in platforms becomes the norm.
Many marketers are still trying to catch up to the mobile-first, multiscreen world that we all now inhabit. But with the rise of AR and VR, and the addition of haptic and other immersive technologies, we not only need to prepare for a multiscreen world, but soon a world in which reality and virtuality overlap in a unique and personal way for every individual. To get ready for this world, marketers should, at the very least, start to bring data, technology and creative together as seamlessly as possible.