How Brands Can Stand Out From the Crowd at an Astounding Event Like CES

The more than 180,000 attendees and 4,400 exhibits provides an exciting challenge

Though it feels chaotic, CES provides many opportunities to connect with other industry experts and consumers. Doug Armand/Getty Images
Headshot of Ben Lamm

To state the obvious, CES is massive. If your brand is trying to make an impact at the biggest technology trade show on the planet, you’re not alone.

I’ve done the rodeo many times, launched products there with multiple companies and experienced all of the successes (and failures) of breaking through the CES noise.

So how does a brand stand out amid the chaos of over 180,000 industry and media attendees and more than 4,400 exhibiting companies, with many more working unofficially? How can you have an impact and get attention, especially when major brands still dominate the landscape and conversation?

There’s no winning CES

Being clear about what you need to happen will give you and your team the focus to accomplish it amid the constant distraction.

The first thing any brand needs to establish before going into an event like CES is what success looks like for them. Set your goals accordingly, usually by thinking less about quantity and more about quality. Is it showing off your product to press and influencers or making sure you’re meeting with the right potential partners? Are you looking to walk away with deals, media coverage or perhaps the relationships that can help get your brand where it needs to be in the next year? Being clear about what you need to happen will give you and your team the focus to accomplish it amid the constant distraction.

You are one in a million, and that can be good

Garnering media attention at CES can seem like being at a rodeo as the clown in the center of the ring waving flags. Unless you are one of the major brands with a well-planned announcement, it can seem like you’re fighting for scraps. But the press is looking for hidden gems at CES, even as most of their stories will necessarily focus on the big trends from the known players. Think about how you can fit into those trends but also how you are different. Give them an angle that ties into what they are looking to write about while still making clear how you differentiate or offer an alternative. CES isn’t just about you, so think about how you’ll set your brand in conversation with the larger event, especially for the press.

Capitalizing on the art of the hustle

Brands will be trying to get attention, but I’d encourage you and even implore you to think less about viral gimmicks and more about adding value. There are enough brands shouting slogans from the rooftops during CES. Instead, think about how you can contribute. What value is your brand adding to the event and its attendees? If you can’t answer this question for your marketing efforts, you’re only contributing to the noise and wasting your money.

That value doesn’t have to be in terms of swag or stunts, but if your brand is trying to work those angles, at least be sure to make them worthy of being shared, memorable and something that furthers conversation rather than shouting over it.

Go small

Private dinners or special experiences offer the chance to provide calm amid the storm and help make meaningful connections between people. This approach requires some clout and planning up front, but when done well it can create a valuable network.

Almost any CES veteran will tell you that any brand participating in the show needs to be a combination of well-prepared and flexible. If you know your primary goals, you need to plan well in advance to achieve them and set up the must-have meetings. Yet the serendipity of CES is what makes it special, and if you are well-planned, you can free yourself up to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. In other words, don’t pack your schedule; set up the essentials of what you need.

It’s about the follow-through

Finally—and it’s shocking how often I see companies fail at this—be sure to follow up after the event, whether it’s with press, potential partners or even customers. For most brands, it’s tempting to see CES as the culmination of a big campaign, but for the public and the press it’s the start and a preview of what’s to come. You need to know what your brand has planned and needs to accomplish after CES well before the event.

You don’t leave a business meeting without talking about next steps, so don’t leave a conversation at CES without a clear sense of what you’re doing in your follow-up. Don’t blow a great CES campaign by failing on the post-CES follow-through.

This story first appeared in the Jan. 7, 2019, issue of Brandweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@federallamm Ben Lamm is co-founder and chairman of Hypergiant. (Disclosure: Adweek’s parent company, Beringer Capital, is a minority investor in Hypergiant.) He is also a member of the Adweek Advisory Board.