Why L’Oreal, Unilever and New Balance were looking for inspiration at CES

The Consumer Electronics Show is ostensibly a tech conference and a future-gazing one at that. A lot of the innovation on show won’t actually be in the hands of consumers for years, if ever. Yet a growing number of marketers from non-tech brands such as Unilever, New Balance and L’Oreal are in attendance.

Unlike events such as Mobile World Congress, Cannes or DMEXCO, CES is less about creativity, ad tech or the latest new products that will be in consumers’ hands. Obviously there are products getting launched at CES but the majority of the chatter is about the future; think automated cars, drones and virtual reality.

Yet despite this Unilever has a pretty big presence at CES, including its CMO Keith Weed. The company says its reasons for attending are all about staying on top of the latest innovations, understanding how technology is developing and how that will impact brands and marketers and how they engage with consumers in the future.

It fits in with Unilever’s wider strategy of ensuring it is at the forefront of technology. It already does a lot of work with startups through its Foundry initiative. CES is a way of seeing what some of the bigger tech players are planning for the future.

The same is true for L’Oreal. Speaking to Marketing Week, Guive Balooch, the global vice president of the brand’s tech incubator, believes technology will have a big impact on the beauty industry in the future making CES a big date in his diary.

“Innovation in all forms is key to the future of the beauty category. Our desire is to meet the beauty needs of all consumers.”

Guive Balooch, global vice president, L’Oreal tech incubator

Through the development of cutting-edge technologies and cross-industry partnerships that complement our scientific expertise, we’re bringing new experiences that add innovation to the industry.  Personalisation and connected devices help create stronger customer loyalty and engagement with our brands,” he says.

Yet L’Oreal is not just at CES to learn. It is also there to launch, specifically a piece of wearable tech, dubbed ‘My UV Patch’, that monitors UV rays hitting the user’s skin and notifies them when they should be wearing sunscreen.

L'Oreal's wearable UV patch syncs with a mobile device
L’Oreal’s wearable UV patch syncs with a mobile device

Balooch explains: “Research and innovation are at the heart of L’Oreal, as is a history of firsts for the industry. We want to show the consumer electronics community that we are here, working on beautiful products.

“Technology like this will help accelerate personalised product development, as well as putting place a platform to deliver innovative new products to market. Innovations like My UV Patch will help us measure the skin and understand changes over time, so they can ultimately help us identify and develop more products for consumers.”

L’Oreal believes technology has the ability to underscore its focus on innovation and commitment to helping consumers better understand their skin and adopt sun-safe habits. It is planning more tech developments to ensure it stays ahead of the competition.

Keeping on top of tech is also key to New Balance. Its CEO Robert deMartini has previously told Marketing Week that “disruption from any direction” remains one of his key concerns due to the huge amount of money in sport.

“Money attracts clever people coming up with clever ideas. Uber is stunning. They don’t have any of the problems normal businesses have. They are not without challenges but they’ve reinvented a whole industry. There are numerous models like that. We have to make sure another brand can’t come along and do that to us,” he explained.

new balance 3d shoe

And so New Balance is at CES to announce a new division dedicated exclusively to connecting consumers with technology that can enhance their athletic performance. The unit, dubbed New Balance Digital Sport, will focus on new digital experiences and wearable tech, starting with a smartwatch set to go on sale in time for Christmas 2016.

DeMartini says: “Digital technology has truly revolutionised, very quickly, this industry. New Balance wants to continue to be a brand on the forefront, arming our athletes with the cutting-edge products that will help them reach peak performance.”

For marketers, CES is about spotting the big tech trends that will impact their business in the future and ensuring they are in a position to capitalise on those. Or someone else will.

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