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I work at an ad agency, and I went to CES with clients. As a strategist, it's safe to say I'm not necessarily the typical CES attendee. I'm much more intrigued by shifts in behavior brought on by tech than by its mere existence.
Things like drones, VR headsets and the Internet of Things are certainly cool, and I totally want one of those paper-thin TV's LG was showing off on my wall at home. But I look to CES not to see what technology is available to use for clients—Maybe we can create a virtual-reality simulation of our product being digested by a celebrity!—but more to see where technology is going and how it is reflecting and influencing consumer behavior.
So with that in mind, here are the three most important trends for marketers (and strategists) that I noticed at CES 2017:
Bringing sensuality back
From its beginning as an offshoot of the Music Show, CES has mostly focused on what we see and hear. But as technology gets ever more capable, faster, more powerful and ever higher def, we find that technology can feel kind of, well, cold.
More and more companies are focusing not just on how their products perform, but how they engage the senses beyond their primary functions. Car companies are planning interiors that use posture, lighting and even scent to enhance mood and health. Audio companies are using natural materials in tech products, and manufacturers are giving as much (or more) attention to how equipment feels as they are how it works.
What does it mean for marketers? We need to think about the entire experience we provide to consumers. Not just functional and emotional benefits, but how we can engage more of their senses—not necessarily to create a better product (or ad) but to create a more sensual, and therefore more human, experience.
Systems not products
We used to look to CES for the latest cool products that everyone will be buying (or envious of) soon. But as you look around CES now, you see that companies are focusing less on individual products and more on systems, or how various products and experiences interconnect with other products or aspects of our lives. You couldn't swing a drone at CES this year without hitting someone working with Amazon Echo to integrate it into a larger system.
It's important for marketers to understand that as consumers get more accustomed to different elements of their technology working together, they will have less patience for brands that don't become part of a larger experience. How can we find ways to connect our brands to more aspects of their lives or even to other products? Are we making sure that all of our consumer touch points are in sync?
Don't act, react
In recent years, we've seen many companies focus on the ways consumers and technology interact. This year was no exception. We saw robots learning to better interface with humans via speech, expressions and enhanced visual capabilities. Takes on AI were everywhere and baked into many a product and concept. But what's most interesting about these products is not how they act, but how good they are getting at reacting to us.
When so many of our devices get to know our preferences and respond to our actions and words, markets have to be be able to gauge how much tolerance we have for brands that do not do the same. How are we learning about what our consumers are thinking and feeling, and how are we responding to what we learn?
We all know new technology can disrupt old behaviors. But so often the experiences enabled by technology are what create a new set of expectations for consumers. New ideas about what is normal or expected begin to affect many aspects of their lives.
As marketers, it's our job to try to anticipate those shifts and apply that thinking on behalf of our clients and brands. Even if it's delivered by a drone controlled by Alexa.
Brad Alperin is svp of Strategy at 360i.