Opinion: Three cross-category trends from CES 2021 that marketers should embrace
When reflecting on emerging trends from CES, we tend to follow the exhibit categories laid out by the organizer and examine them one by one: Here are the biggest trends happening in the smart home space; this is the main story in digital health this year, and so on.
While this siloed approach is great for drilling into specific categories for insights, it often does so at the cost of missing the broader trends in consumer behavior and preferences, which travel among categories at the speed of consumer expectations.
Attending this year’s all-virtual CES, where the physical boundaries between different exhibits no longer exist, I found it much easier to identify the common threads that manifested across several innovation territories. Here are three key cross-category trends all brand marketers need to know.
2020 was undoubtedly a year where we reoriented our lives at home, and many have sought digital solutions to make our homes more comfortable and fun.
As a result, smart home devices had a strong showing at CES this year—especially those made for kitchens and bathrooms—but the efforts to cater to homebound consumers did not stop there.
For many, our homes are also doubling as offices and schools, which has led to a noticeable surge in gadgets made for remote work and education. Besides the sludge of new laptops and workstations, there are also a made-for-Zoom laptop with three webcams and a built-in ring light around its screen, as well as the Olly Day smart lamp, which promises to supplement natural sunlight and help boost productivity at home. The subsequent increase in connected devices at home also led to more WiFi 6e routers, which support a new WiFi standard that can spread bandwidth across a large number of devices more efficiently.
In addition, innovations that can bring typically out-of-home activities into our homes also received increased attention at CES. Home fitness has seen such a boost that Samsung has added a new Smart Trainer feature to its Q7-series TVs, which use computer vision to track your workout and analyze your form. Home gardening also saw a surge in interest and got fitted for apartment living, resulting in smart gardens that can fit on a shelf.
The shuttering of movie theaters around the country and the subsequent dissolving of the theatrical windows have inspired many people to upgrade their home theater experience. CES responded to this rising demand with two home-use projectors from LG, and Asus, both aiming to make the home theater system more portable and user-friendly. Meanwhile, Sony plans to bring theater-grade experience into the living room with a Bravia Core streaming service, which will allow owners of Bravia XR TVs to stream Sony movies at “near-lossless” 4K Blu-Ray quality, as well as two new wireless speakers that support 360 Reality Audio, which offers 3D sound in a compact form factor.
Taken together, the comprehensive home upgrades should serve as a reminder to brands that home is now a fluid, multifunctional space for many, and that most brand experiences should be designed with that in mind. Marketers need to recognize that, although we are slowly entering the pandemic recovery phase as vaccines become available, the at-home economy is not going away. To reach consumers at home, brands will need to clearly understand their needs and implement innovations that support new behaviors.
Digital health has been in ascendance at CES for the past several years, and this year it rightfully took center stage in response to the pandemic. Categories that were previously considered niches, including air purification and UV disinfectants, have become near-essential items grabbing mainstream attention. Smart face masks promised everything from air quality monitoring (AirPop Active+) to voice projection (Razer's Project Hazel) and Bluetooth-enabled hands-free calling (Maskfone), while new remote monitoring devices such as the BioIntelliSense BioSticker developed in tandem with the rise of telemedicine.
Of course, products designed to help consumers stay healthy and mentally well extended beyond healthcare tech. It showed up in spades in the smart home, as many device makers integrated digital health and wellness solutions into products. For example, the CareOS Themis smart mirror can check your vitals, run skin analysis and offer gamified hygiene solutions. LG’s new InstaView fridge can dispense water disinfected by UV lights. There is even a smart toilet from Toto that can analyze your “bodily outputs” for health and nutrition recommendations.
Of course, this pandemic reminded everyone that public health requires collective efforts, and every company now needs digital tools in order to ensure the wellbeing of customers and employees. Cue devices designed for public spaces, including the Airthings Virus Risk Indicator, which can detect the risk level of virus transmission in a building and provide actionable suggestions, or the LIFY-AIR, which can help detect pollen spread and prevent allergic attacks.
Overall, this CES showed us that health and wellness is a top-of-mind concern for consumers, and there is growing consumer demand for holistic solutions embedded in everyday life. Therefore, non-endemic brands should explore the possibility of integrating digital health solutions as part of the value they offer to consumers.
As we face increasing environmental challenges, evidenced by the terrible wildfires in 2020, more and more brands are making sustainability a top priority and eagerly leveraging new solutions to reduce waste and energy consumption, resulting in a definite undercurrent of sustainable products that caught our attention.
First off, the auto industry went all-in on EVs, as legacy brands doubled down to compete with the likes of Tesla, Rivian and other upstarts. For example, GM teased the release of 30 EV models over the next five years, ranging from Chevy SUVs to Cadillac luxury vehicles. In addition to consumer-facing EVs, GM also unveiled BrightDrop, a new logistics business unit that aims to become a one-stop shop for electric-powered first-to-last-mile delivery.
Besides the shift to EVs, sustainable cities are quickly becoming part of the conversation as smart infrastructure designed for sustainability starts to be implemented. Fibocom and Kipsum are two startups that design IoT chips for smart streetlights that can automatically turn on and off as needed to improve energy efficiency, while EDGE Next created a platform that uses IoT data to make office buildings healthier and more sustainable.
Sustainability is also happening at home. From simple things like Samsung’s solar charged remote control to innovative products including the Lasso automated recycling machine, consumers now have increasing amounts of digital solutions at their disposal to build a sustainable home. CES also featured sustainable systems including Schneider Electric’s Wiser Energy Monitor and L’Oreal’s Water Saver, which can educate and empower consumers to manage their homes more sustainably.
As sustainability continues to gain momentum across sectors, brands need to establish their commitment to the cause and align with the value of customers. Beyond simply making sustainability a talking point in brand messaging, brands need to consider supplying consumers with the products and services and empower them to do the right thing.