Now that the Consumer Electronics Show succeeded in attracting the attention of many of the world's leading brands, it might be difficult for the event to live up to marketers' expectations. That's because there are two things that don't matter at CES: the consumer electronics, and the show.
Consider the heart of the event: the Las Vegas Convention Center, a 3.2 million square foot facility that 's home to the biggest and loudest exhibitors at the conference. Walk through the Central Hall booths of Panasonic, LG, and Sony, and you see tens of thousands of square feet of space bursting with dazzling video from paper thin, high-definition 3D TVs; the sleekest new cell phones; and some fad of the year, which happens to be ultrabooks in 2012. What does any of this mean for marketers?
It doesn't mean all that much. Here's why:
The Convention Center is for pure technological sensory overload. Unless you're marketing consumer electronics products or are part of that value chain, it's not going to affect your job. TVs keep getting thinner with more interactive features and increasingly stunning 3D. There are upgrades to gaming devices, mobile handsets, cameras, printers, and telematics. All of it reinforces what most marketers already know: new technologies both drive and meet demand for consumers' increasingly digital lifestyles. A lot of the gadgetry is fun, but marketers generally get far more out of the show by walking the floor as consumers.
Nothing truly groundbreaking debuts at CES. In the past several years, the most important digital media devices – Microsoft's Kinect, Amazon's Kindle, Apple's entire product line – have launched elsewhere. Often, the most exciting products announced are concepts. Everyone I talked to at CES loved the latest 3D TVs, but no one had any intention of buying them. If you want to be the first to own a new ultrabook, travel back to 2008 and buy the first MacBook Air.
Keynotes are self-promotional performances with little to no impact. In light of the previous point, keynotes are almost always anticlimactic. This is true at other shows too, like South by Southwest. The biggest technology companies that deliver keynote speeches at CES save the best announcements for their own events when they completely own the story. At CES, keynotes are moderately fun for the water cooler conversations about which celebrity made a cameo appearance. Marketers can find out about that on blogs rather than spending hours traveling to, waiting for, and sitting through the actual address.
Meetings matter more than products. I learned quite a bit at CES that I can't mention here. It came from meetings with clients, often involving other digital media companies. Given the pent up marketer interest in the show, it was a good occasion to bring together groups of decision makers who weren't focused on their daily minutiae.
Follow-up meetings matter even more. Vegas can be so overstimulating that it's hard to think clearly there. One marketer told me that her team was so exhausted that they dozed off during Cirque do Soleil. With acrobats dangling from the rafters and practically falling into theatergoers' laps, that 's quite a feat. Marketers need to take good notes out there, decompress for a few days, and then clear enough time to follow up with their relevant colleagues, agencies, and other partners. It's the action plan after CES that determines whether the show mattered.
Marketers can get plenty of value out of CES. All it requires is staying focused on objectives, and ignoring any of the news from the show that makes the biggest headlines.