The big questions for marketers from CES

Every year at the Consumer Electronics Show, marketers try to find the answers to pressing questions about the future. But the questions they ask are just as important.

ces 2020Little more than 24 hours into the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) – the annual showcase for innovation in consumer technology – and people in roles like mine are supposed to be writing trends decks and knowing the answers to questions about the future. But the most valuable thing the marketing industry can do is ask the right questions.

Here are mine.

What should we care about?

CES is known for many things: silly gadgets that never make it from concepts; promising, profound, well-supported technology that slowly dies (hello 3D printing!); and a huge array of things that may change many lives but perhaps not those of marketers.

Has the plethora of e-scooters, drones or flat screen TVs changed our industry?

At CES, the main role is to balance what’s interesting with what’s relevant; what’s never going to happen with what’s about to explode.

We may have to accept the comforting reality that hardware is less important than software.

The discomfort that what we should really be focusing on, however, is changing business models and consumer behaviours.

Who should we learn from?

It may not be the hardest time to be a marketer but it’s definitely the most frustrating. Working for a massive holding company (as I do), our clients are almost without exception large, durable, expert, robust companies making great products, and showing quarter-on-quarter revenue growth and profit over many years.

Consumer Electronics Show
Hyundai shows off automated vehicle technology at CES

But a glance at headlines, a peak at conferences, a tour of Silicon Valley or CES, and suddenly we’re made to feel stupid for not selling our products over the internet to younger people; for not losing vast sums of money; for not showing rapid user growth; and for not being valued at the same price-to-earnings ratio as tech companies.

CES is a chance to see what large, medium-sized and tiny companies can make, to look at emerging business models like subscriptions, or explore what it means to make solutions not products. To see car companies slowly move to technology, technology companies slowly move to become device makers, and to see what we can learn from it all.

Is addressable TV ever coming?

Televisions equipped with 8K technology feature heavily at CES this year and the only way to get the content is via streaming not TV broadcasting. Already, streamed TV is more popular than broadcast for all demographics under the age of 53, yet nobody seems to have noticed.

But for advertising, streamed TV is at best the same TV ads put in a different pipe and at worst black screens with empty ad slots. This should not be the case. Streamed TV allows more accurate targeting, real-time ad placement, sequential serving, personalised messaging and dynamically created or optimised ads.

Streamed TV also offers interactivity, new ad unit lengths, different ways to measure success, new models to pay. And an entire industry has not moved an inch perhaps because it thinks this is ‘video’ advertising and, perhaps, because it is terrified.

Is 5G going to matter?

Few technologies have attracted as much optimism and doubt as 5G.

Often, those with the most expertise cite physics and economics as barriers. Some see it never being rolled out quickly and enthusiastically by market operators and think that the speediest spectrum – which uses millimeter waves – not being able to pass through buildings or, say, leaves, could be an issue.

Optimists think its insanely fast download speeds, low latency, lower power demands, increased security and greater commercial flexibility will change the world. But they are also yet to provide a use case that wasn’t also proposed for 4G (smart cities), already possible with 4G (remote surgery), or held back by other factors (self-driving cars).

It may not be the hardest time to be a marketer but it’s definitely the most frustrating.

For the time being, there is both the sense of a “build it and they will come” attitude that proved to be the case with 2G, 3G and 4G – where use cases were only clear in retrospect – and that we should just enjoy videos of speed tests.

What happens in the privacy paradox?

If people want privacy, they have a funny way of showing it. We’re plugging microphones into bathrooms, uploading pictures of our kids to social media, having our faces scanned by Chinese and Russian companies. Who are we to moan?

Questions about privacy yield entirely different results based on demographics and country, but by far the biggest factor is how the question is phrased. The only thing we like less than relevant advertising (that uses our data) is being served ads that are irrelevant.

Privacy will be a huge question for people this year. Who owns the data? How can we trust them? How can we opt in or out? What can we get in return?

Even better questions are in our world. What data do we really need? How much targeting is beneficial? What if we don’t want to have “one on one conversations at scale” with people because we just make amazing bleach.

Bigger questions lie under the surface. How do you bring up kids today? Will robots take our jobs? When will self-driving cars get here? Will the power shift to China? Aren’t podcasts just badly made radio shows available on-demand? What will replace the smartphone? Why did I buy a smart speaker? Will I always need to update firmware on a bulb before using it? And why does the card payment terminal make the exact same beep when my transaction is declined as when it’s approved?

All questions for CES 2030.

Tom Goodwin is head of futures and insight at Publicis Groupe and author of Digital Darwinism.