CES Signals Even More Disruption From Connectivity

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CES 2017 attendees test new technologies.
CES 2017 attendees test new technologies. Credit: Courtesy CTA
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Advances in data science, inexpensive electronic components and ubiquitous wireless service have made it possible for intelligence to be built into just about any product, from industrial equipment, cars and homes to watches, clothing and medical devices. And with up to 50 billion devices set to connect to the internet by 2020, securing a strong competitive slot in the connected economy will challenge even the sharpest organizations. There's little question that the future belongs to those willing to work hard, even disrupt themselves, as they harness value from data, connectivity, smart machines and artificial intelligence (AI), which are all taking front-and-center stage at this year's CES. But how can companies prepare to compete in this new digital age?

In response to one of the most daunting -- and exciting -- CES shows we've seen in years, CMOs and their chief marketing technology officers (CMTOs) can build four takeaways into their plans to harness the power of change emerging from a smarter economy, as opposed to merely reacting to it.

Conquer complexity with integration versus point solutions. For example, Samsung's Family Hub refrigerator includes an integrated touchscreen controller designed to serve as the center of the family home, now with voice controls. LG's rival offer taps into Amazon's Alexa to play music upon command while its owner roams around the kitchen, as well as order groceries or set timers. Both products offer lifestyle solutions versus single-function refrigerators; they're great examples of how brands are using technology to improve customers' lives.

Get serious about frictionless interfaces. A new era marked by conversational commerce integrates AI, natural language processing and bots into messaging apps to offer seamless customer interactions. Amazon's Alexa provides a perfect example, shielding consumers from mountains of data and technology with simple voice commands. It's why Alexa's masterful triumph over 700 products solutions has made her this year's obvious star.

Become a clairvoyant marketer. "Solve my problem fast" is giving way to "Solve my problem before it exists." This is accomplished by understanding the larger ecosystem in which the business is competing. Take Mercedes' new in-dash prototype, which knows that when a driver enters her car at, say, 5 p.m. on a Monday, she is likely heading home from work, triggering the system to offer best routes based on traffic reports. On a Saturday morning, the vehicle knows she is likely headed to the gym for a weekly yoga class, and routes the trip accordingly.

As so many speakers and exhibitors explained at CES, knowing more about customers' location and habits gives brands a big advantage in determining how best to position products and services. But that information by itself can't fully inform marketing or product development. For that, organizations need to marry location with context, which together create the magical ingredient for making clairvoyant offers. When brands connect these types of dots -- for example, "The smart refrigerator you've been eyeing for the past few weeks is on sale at your neighborhood Best Buy" -- the result is an experience buyers will find irresistible.

In light of the technological developments seen at CES, what should leading CMOs do to future-proof their brand?

Adopt a consumer ecosystem mindset to extend the value proposition. Unprecedented levels of connectivity enable brands to shift their business models from product sales, to integrated service providers. Caterpillar used to sell tractors, but with connectivity, it now offers an interconnected agricultural management solution. Likewise, in the connected age, heart disease patients will be given a smart scale to capture and monitor changes in weight that, if left untreated, could lead to congestive heart failure. Most importantly, the added intelligence of the product doesn't impact the way users have been trained to use it, something we see in Samsung's Family Hub solution. Brands operating in the digital age must think beyond their initial offer and anticipate the needs and wants of the customer.

Understand the increasing importance of product design. Integrating the functional and emotional attributes of a product that is smart and fun to use, and has obvious intrinsic customer value, is the challenge of every marketer. Some will focus on the technology at the expense of design, while others will produce solutions that are too sparsely designed. Both will fail. Organizations that lack the history and skill for delivering highly functional, beautifully designed products that excel ergonomically should engage third party experts to help build their capabilities in these areas.

Start evaluating a new type of transformative partner, now. Business leaders will initially look to new partners and vendors as they begin to equip their internal teams with new skills and capabilities as they move from point solution to end-to-end capability. In the medium term, connectivity will stimulate new types of business models that position brands in a new type of connected ecosystems. The long-term impact, however, will disrupt businesses on a scale we haven't seen since the dawn of the Industrial Age.

Contributors: Jason Goldberg, Zachary Paradis, TJ Mcleish, Chris Cobb and Jeremy Lockhorn.

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