One of the most decorated companies at CES 2014 won’t have a booth. Fuseproject won several Innovations Design and Engineering awards this year at CES for its contributions to an often overlooked element of consumer electronics: image. This year, the company helped craft the image behind Game Golf, Ouya and August, adding to its consumer electronics credentials which include the Jawbone connected product suite. Fuseproject is not alone in this business, but its accolades support the idea that – especially in emerging consumer technologies – image is everything.
It’s hard not to reference Nest when talking about image, as its efforts in turning thermostats into a compelling and sexy consumer electronics trend are extremely impressive. From a marketing perspective, its success seems almost obvious in hindsight. Compare its elegant, vibrant design to the competing smart thermostat by Honeywell. The functionality of the Honeywell version is arguably as good – if not better – than the Nest. The biggest problem with it is that it looks like just another Honeywell thermostat, with a dated touchscreen interface. In the world of emerging technologies, such as connected home, that simply doesn’t cut it.
It isn’t entirely Honeywell’s fault. Frankly, there has never been a better time to be a startup. As more and more industries become connected, large corporations are forced to reinvent themselves to appeal to a new audience. Apple always had its edge because it always operated in an edgy industry. For companies moving from appliances into high-tech, the transition isn’t so natural. Meanwhile, younger companies are able to define their image from scratch, tailoring it to the specific technology movement with which they are trying to associate themselves.
Larger companies need to think outside the box to compete by creating new brands, changing their story and updating their image. Until they do, the road into emerging technologies will be slow, winding and clogged up with younger, more nimble companies.