If you’re a marketer who is not in the consumer electronics industry and attended, or have been following the highlights from, CES, you’ve probably had your fill of bigger and brighter TV screens and gadgets that solve yet-to-be identified problems.  Yet among the hype, and the 20,000 some product announcements, we’ve found three relevant trends that will power marketing in 2018 and beyond.

Planned Obsolescence as a strategy is now Obsolete
What has been a running joke at CES is now a firm reality: everything is now either Smart or Connected.  Gartner predicts that in the next two years, 95% of new products will have some sort of IoT technology.  This means a world where suitcases will need to be paired to your phone, shower heads will require wi-fi and pillows will need firmware updates.  It’s crazy.

Back in the early part of the last century, GM pioneered a strategy where if you wanted the newest and the latest features, you had to buy an entirely new automobile.  Consumers in this century flatly reject that approach.  Why?  Because software has made it possible to continually evolve products.  Tesla deftly set the bar very high in 2015 by issuing a software update over-the-air called Ludicrous Mode which improved the acceleration of the Model S.  Alfred Sloan would be shocked.

And consumers eagerly expect these updates.  Have you noticed how quickly your iPhone’s App Store icon shows you have 20, 30 or even 50 apps that need updated?  Behind each of these updates is a set of Release Notes.  These are no longer just highlights developers share with each other internally.  Because companies know how closely they are followed, it’s very common to have brand guidelines specifically for tone and voice of their app’s Release Notes.

A common response we heard this year when inquiring about product features was: “that’s not quite available yet, but we’ll have it in the next update”.  Which undoubtedly will be true.  To consumers, frequent updates reinforce a product’s value and improves brand affinity.  Modern software is built on three-week release cycles.  Similarly, product marketers will need to think the same way in how they communicate with consumers.

The Domination of Voice Interaction and Search
Speaking of voice….  At CES 2017, nearly everyone was caught off guard at the explosion of devices proudly displaying the “Works with Alexa” badge and featuring demos with an Echo in their booth.  It was quite a coming out party for Amazon despite having no official presence on the show floor for the device.

This year, it was more or less expected that every device would have integration with the voice platforms.  It was also a very visible arms race between Amazon and Google to outshine each other in advertising and booth presence around product integrations.

What has been seen the past few years as a niche device for early adopters has quickly crossed the chasm to be a mainstream product.  In Amazon’s final earnings call of 2017, Jeff Bezos opaquely acknowledged that more than 20 million Echo devices had been sold.

CES this year showed that voice control is moving beyond the smart speaker.  On the floor of the Central Hall (where the likes of Intel, Nikon, Sony and Panasonic all have major presences) we saw that nearly every manufacturer of a television screen had embedded one of the voice platforms in their TV.

The combination of broader penetration and increasing usage means that this is the year brands have to get serious about SEO for Voice Search.  It’s a quickly evolving discipline to manage what will be returned when people ask about your products in a voice search.

It’s also a big question of brand safety.  Remember the Burger King stunt where they said “Ok Google, what’s inside a Burger King Whopper” at the end of their commercial?  Pranksters online quickly edited Wikipedia so that the response was “100% medium-sized child”.

One of the first steps to take is building a voice lab with every relevant platform and regularly checking the quality of your digital presence to understand how it is represented with voice searches.

How can Marketers harness the hype around Artificial Intelligence?
There were four musical notes played at the end of advertising in the 90’s that were instantly recognizable as meaning “Intel Inside”.  Intel was an ingredient brand–many people didn’t know what it did, but they sure heard a lot about it.

Artificial Intelligence at CES is not much different.  It was explained as the secret ingredient that did everything from making TV pictures look better to controlling your mattress so you get a better night’s sleep.

It’s trying to go from Creepy (think HAL 9000 or Skynet) to Empowering.  These same advances in cloud computing that are powering the AI in consumer electronics can also be applied to the discipline of digital marketing as well.

Companies like IBM with Watson Advertising are demonstrating their growing prowess at tasks like copywriting.  This is going beyond the Mad Libs style of content production that machines currently perform and uses machine learning against large volumes of existing content to produce unique and relevant copy.  Adobe, with a product called Sensei, will analyze your marketing and advertising data in real time to identify patterns and anomalies that may indicate fraud or new audience segments to target.

AI is going to be the fuel for competitive advantage for marketers in the years ahead because of its ability to uncover new and unique insights and automate repetitive tasks for a quicker time to market.

The Year Ahead
Back in 2011, Marc Andreesen presciently that “software is eating the world”.  In a world where millions of webcams can be hacked so they can take down Twitter and Amazon, that’s certainly true.  But as we saw at CES this year, consumer-obsessed organizations can also use software in powerful ways to better understand and respond to what our customers need.

Author: Tony Bailey, SVP/Technology, DigitasLBi