CES 2017: 4 Trends Marketers Should Watch

Don’t get distracted by random gadgets—here’s what really matters for marketers

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Today marks the start of the 50th edition of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held annually in Las Vegas. During CES 2017, which runs through Sunday, January 8th, brands like Samsung, LG, and Microsoft, along with more than 600 startups from 33 countries will show off their latest and greatest products in front of reporters and more than 100,000 attendees, providing a valuable look at new innovations and emerging technologies with the potential to disrupt industries and maybe even change the world.

There’ll also be a device that can supposedly record smells, according to the BBC. That’s the thing about CES; it’s not always clear in the moment which technologies are going to revolutionize things and which are going nowhere. So before things get underway, let’s take a look at four tech trends that marketers should pay attention to as they follow the stream of new product launches and announcements:

1) The ongoing digital assistant gold rush

 

Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo and some of its third-party integrations (Source: Amazon)

 

The rise of the platform economy is one of the big tech stories of the last decade. As companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Amazon, and others have grown, they’ve increasingly found ways to leverage their massive user bases by creating digital platforms that third-party brands can use to engage with shared customers (often at a price). You can see this trend across the digital ecosystem, from mobile devices (where Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS are the dominant platforms for brands looking to launch third-party apps) to messaging apps (where Facebook Messenger, WeChat, Line, and others are increasingly allowing other brands to communicate directly with their users). And there’s reason to think that digital home assistants might be the platform economy’s next frontier.

Following Amazon’s 2014 launch of its Amazon Echo (and especially in the aftermath of Amazon’s 2016 Super Bowl ad hyping the product), these voice-activated devices are increasingly becoming a major digital platform, providing a new way for customers to leverage the internet to make their lives easier. With Echo sales increasing 9x this holiday season, compared to 2015, and with Google Home emerging as a direct competitor, it’s looking more likely that these devices will become a major new platform for third-party brands to engage with their users (especially if rumors that the Echo will add push notifications pans out).

At CES 2017, expect to see startups and established brands alike rolling out devices to compete with Echo, and for some of these new devices to incorporate new functionalities and features in an attempt to distinguish themselves and win market share (the UK’s Emotech, for instance, is expected to release a home assistant that can recognize different members of a household by voice and customize their experience accordingly). In addition, watch for more brands to announce third-party devices that can work with the Echo and Google Home—GE and OnVocal already have.

While the Echo and Google Home are well-positioned, brands that pay attention to new technologies and developments in this space will likely have a major opportunity to leverage the audiences that these devices build when third-party integrations are announced.

2) Motion could be the new voice-recognition

Beginning with the launch of Apple’s Siri personal assistant in 2011, voice has become an increasingly popular way for users to interact with their devices—a trend that’s continued with the rise of the Echo and Google Home. But early reports about this year’s CES suggest that we may be seeing the emergence of an underappreciated communication medium—physical motion.

Spinali smart jeans

Spinali Design’s smart jeans (Source: BBC)

 

While mobile devices have long had the ability to vibrate to indicate that users are receiving a call or notification, there’s a new push to take fuller advantage of motion as a method of user/device communication. For instance, French startup Bixi is expected to announce a device at CES 2017 that lets users control their smartphones, smart home devices, and more with physical gestures, rather than by speaking to or touching them, while Spinali Design is reportedly showing off smart jeans that can provide the people wearing them directions by buzzing their left or right side to let them know which way they should turn.

Most of the technologies that leverage this sort of non-written, non-verbal digital communication are still very much in their infancy. However, their presence at CES does raise the possibility that brands may soon find themselves able to communicate with their customers—and respond to those customers’ physical movements and gestures—instead of sending written (or even spoken) outreach, potentially opening up whole new types of marketing.

3) VR gets touchy

Last year, virtual reality (VR) seemed due for a major coming out party. HTC launched its Vive headset; Google built VR support into its much-hyped Google Pixel smartphone. But after all that, virtual reality ended up being completely overshadowed by it’s lesser-known counterpart, augmented reality, thanks to the meteoric rise of Pokémon Go during summer 2016.

2017 could be VR’s year (though Facebook’s decision to forego a booth for its Oculus virtual reality division may suggest otherwise). But whether or not VR makes the jump from much-hyped technology to a staple of everyday life during the coming year, early signs from CES 2017 suggest that the virtual reality experience is poised to get a lot more immersive. Kickstarter-funded startup Fove is expected to premiere a VR headset that uses eye-tracking to allow users to control their virtual experiences, while Go Touch VR will be showcasing a wearable device that mimics the feeling of physically “touching” virtual objects. In concert with the rise of motion-focused user/device communication, it’s increasingly possible to imagine VR-powered brand/customer messaging that’s as unique as the virtual reality format.

4) Personalization takes over experiences

When it comes to reaching customers with involving, valuable messaging, personalization is one of the most powerful tools at a marketer’s disposal. And while this sort of individual customization has been a feature on many apps and websites for a while, this year’s CES could point the way toward an increasingly widespread embrace of device-based personalization among smart home devices and other technologies.

Petnet smartbowl

Petnet’s SmartBowl (Source: CRN)

 

During this year’s event, Petnet will be highlighting its SmartBowl, which uses data on each individual pet using it to ensure that each one receives the appropriate food and portion size, while Holî showcases its AI-powered alarm clock, which can adjust users’ wake-up times based on their local weather, projected travel time to the office, and more. As brands increasingly compete for users’ limited attention in today’s distracting world, expect to see more brands using AI and other emerging technologies to power these sorts of personalized experiences as part of their customer engagement and retention strategies.

Anything else?

CES is an experience. And while these four themes are ones every marketer should watch, the event ends up surprising people year after year. To make sure that you don’t miss any essential late-breaking developments or unexpected launches, check out our CES 2017 recap.

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