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Seeing CES Again. For The First Time.

This year, I traveled to CES with a group of clients who were attending for the first time and I had the benefit of seeing the event through their fresh (and wide) eyes. I must admit that experiencing it alongside my clients, as a consumer might, was really enlightening.

Events in Vegas have to compete with the glitz and grandeur of the Strip itself, and CES achieved this, and more. Everything is over-sized: acres of blinking lights, walls of sound, whole spectrums of color, all amid the din of the almost 200,000 attendees; it’s as if the entire population of Richmond, VA came to check out what’s new in technology. With CES occupying several convention halls and practically every hotel room, it would easily overwhelm nearly any other place, yet the conference seems to seamlessly meld into the Las Vegas environment, both feeding and being fed from the city itself. It’s packed, but not “sardine” packed; to my clients, it felt rather like walking through Times Square, but with robots instead of Elmo.

As an experiential marketer, naturally I was keen to see just how the exhibits could rise above the noise and find ways to connect with my clients and the other attendees. With so much content and so many new products on display competing for attention, I found that simplicity, color, materials and scale attracted and inspired. Specifically, our clients were on the hunt for mobility solutions, energy innovations, and smart home technology (Hey, Google) and there was much for them to see and do in each of these categories. Together, we discovered flying cars, ball pits, Impossible Burgers, and miles of exhibits.

Innovation Nation

As you may have read, 5G was the main topic across the conference, with AI being a favorite subject, as well. Robots demonstrated new skills in balance, precision, and ping pong. You could fly like a bird in virtual reality, if you were willing to wait in a very long line in actual reality.

Though the technology impressed, some reviewers panned the quantity of innovation on display this year. To me, it seemed that there was simply less “pie in the sky” tech and more production-ready items poised to make a real impact. My clients developed several important business connections at the show involving such actual real-world products and services, which is what this (or any) trade show should be all about. Additionally, with an expanding array of industries participating, it feels as if CES is deliberately broadening its influence as the place where consumers meet innovation, across all platforms.

Things That Go

Mobility was a major theme of CES. Honda displayed an autonomous utility cart that carried supplies for fire fighters through the recent devastating fires in California. There were also fun mobility devices, including scooters, electric bicycles, and even powered skate shoes. Drones and other unmanned vehicles took on new shapes in the form of underwater fish finders and autonomous mobile companion carts that will deliver food and office supplies or follow you around the neighborhood when running errands. There were 11 automakers exhibiting and several opportunities to drive vehicles on test tracks, a VR rollercoaster, and there was even a yacht manufacturer there selling high-tech boats in the desert. Now that’s innovative!

Health for Humans

This is where people and technology most intimately intersect, and I found the offerings this year to be both practical and substantial. Several medical, biometric, and wellness devices were on-trend at CES, along with mobile health clinics, useful mobile apps, and diagnostic tech to evaluate stress using cameras and sensor pads. We’re not quite cyborgs yet, but there’s always next year.  

Content over Contraptions

Consumers don’t just go to CES to see gadgets: we go to hear what industry thought leaders have to say about where technology, and even humanity, are heading. On this front, it was encouraging to see discussions of inclusion, VC funding for women and minority-owned businesses, sustainability, resiliency, green power, and healthcare. This to me was where CES as an event demonstrated that it was not only on the cutting edge of technology, but on the forefront of environmental and social trends as well.

A big thank-you to my clients, who gave me the gift of a “second” first time at CES. Whether you’re a first-timer or an old pro, we’ll meet you at the show next year.


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