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IB@CES2016: Conversation Shifts to Tech’s Ultimate Utility

We shouldn’t just be seeking out what wasn’t here last year, but which technologies have been advanced, built upon, and really have the potential to change the way we live and work—and even help us manage the two.

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) has become pretty mainstream in recent years—it attracted over 170,000 attendees in 2016. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing in terms of the show’s relevance in bringing tech forth in ways that are increasingly meaningful to people and brands.

Much of the commentary around the tech and gadgetry at CES seemed to be that this was a year of incremental advances in existing technology, without much buzz around new or groundbreaking developments. Of course, drones and paper-thin TV screens continue to dazzle and delight, but it’s difficult for technology to keep pace with our expectations of novelty. Instead, maybe we need to recalibrate what impresses: We shouldn’t just be seeking out what wasn’t here last year, but which technologies have been advanced, built upon, and really have the potential to change the way we live and work—and even help us manage the two.

This year, the conversation increasingly reflected that tech developers, brand and business leaders realized just that. Away from the bustle of the show floor, the dialogue expanded in a meaningful way, not just around the latest hardware and software, but its utility in the everyday businesses of marketers and the lives of users it serves. Within keynotes, panels, and meetings, the talk at CES focused on how to support, integrate, and scale the technology being presented on the show floor.

Andy Markowitz, GM of GE’s Performance Marketing Labs, remarked during the Brand Reinvention panel, “brands are asking better questions about how to derive benefit from technology”—not just focusing on formulating a “strategy” for using the latest platform. This observation was illustrated at this year’s show by brands that demonstrated how certain technologies can offer viable, long-term solutions for individuals, communities, and businesses—but only if appropriately supported and invested in by the companies looking to employ them.

For Individuals: Expanding Wearables Beyond Fitness

Most CES 2016 trend-spotters highlighted the prevalence of wearables, and the tech in this space is showing increased potential to make a significant impact on individuals’ health and wellness.

Gareth Price, Technology Director for Ready Set Rocket, predicted that fashion will bow to function within the wearables market. “Everyone’s excited about Apple Watches and pendants, which are starting to look more fashionable rather than tech-driven,” he observed. “But really where this is going to become a billion dollar industry is in medical and education. I feel like that was pretty underrepresented in the media, but more present at CES. It gave you the full sense of the scope of that market and made clear how much they’re going to change the world and save lives.”

Even in the crowded fitness-trackers space, brands are moving beyond just stats to offer holistic wellness solutions. Under Armour, for example, introduced HealthBox, a wearables system that combines various hardware and software elements into an integrated, personal fitness-tracking ecosystem that aims to “measure, monitor, and manage the factors that determine how you feel.”

Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is also adopting a broader view of health and wellness for individuals and considering how to impact patient outcomes across the healthcare system. The brand has recently partnered with Google in the surgical space and adopted an IBM Watson-powered platform that pulls data from patient records and wearable devices. These moves are designed to offer individuals what Global CMO Alison Lewis calls increased “utility in managing their health”—and make J&J a clear voice in the healthcare conversation.

For Communities: Making the Case for Smart Cities

The interconnectedness of new technologies may mean big things for municipalities—but only if the proper frameworks are built out. AT&T, which has announced new Smart Cities partnerships with the cities of Atlanta, Chicago, and Dallas, invited Atlanta’s Mayor, Kasim Reed, to speak on a Smart Cities panel during the AT&T Developer Summit at CES. Reed was frank in asserting that businesses looking to partner with cities should have clear value propositions to support smart city technologies. Ideas “shouldn’t get mayors beat” in elections, said Reed. It was a politician’s joke, but the point was that if citizens aren’t shown the increased efficiencies or cost savings—or how technologies will improve quality of life—city governments will have a hard time defending decisions to invest. The value that brands are able to demonstrate will give them increased leverage to gain more direct attribution back to their brands within these public-private partnerships.

For Businesses & Brands: Identifying Viable Marketing Platforms

Brand leaders are also discussing which emerging technologies are most viable in terms of targeting audiences—and which ones miss the mark in their current iterations.

J&J’s Alison Lewis talked about how her company is focusing on mobile technology to drive activations such as sun-activated targeted ads for Neutrogena. It’s a simple example that shows the practical application of a tech capability. Lewis noted that data—derived from analytics platforms, as well as strategic social listening—is helping her brands become increasingly targeted and less reliant on a blanket, “peanut butter spreading” approach to engaging customers.

Another crucial aspect of tech integration for brands is figuring out when not to invest—or at least not yet. Brands’ swift adoption of hot technologies earned a closer examination at the show. For example, while some financial brands are exploring how VR may augment the traditional banking experience, we can probably assume that most banking customers are not currently clamoring for VR. Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JP Morgan Chase was open about the fact that VR’s role for the brand isn’t yet clear yet. Borrowing the business term “fast follower,” Lemkau said that JP Morgan is actively working to integrate many tech platforms across marketing and advertising—but that VR is not a current focus.

Figuring out how tech platforms can move the needle on customer experiences in specific ways—and how that will and deliver a return for your business—can mean passing on first- or second-generation iterations.

While drones and driverless cars continued to set the pace and vision for technology at CES 2016, the smart bets coming out of the show are on the companies that invest at the right times in the right technologies and make a case for utility. This focus will empower brands to engage audiences more meaningfully, deliver everyday value and, ultimately, improve how the world works.


Director, Strategy
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