Adjust, don’t derail, your CES plans

This year's CES may be virtual. But don't scrap all your in-person planning.

Getty Images
Getty Images

It may still be summer, but in my line of work we're already well into discussions about January and that typically includes the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Many people in my world have a love/hate relationship with the annual pilgrimage to the crown jewel of consumer technology trade shows. Personally, I love CES. Always have and always will.

Yes, it's a grind, but I find myself energized every year by the people at the show: the clients and colleagues, reporters, and analysts. Amid the soulless technology and the beeps and blips heard throughout the city, there is quite a bit of humanity at the heart of CES.

During a normal year, planning would be well underway by now. But of course, this isn't a normal year, and for the first time in history CES will be virtual.

Many brands use the show for product launches and announcements. The good news is much of what you do to ensure a successful launch is still very much doable. And for what isn't doable, all you need is a little creativity. Here are a few ideas:

Respect the media. The swirl of news at CES is a blessing and a curse. Gems of true innovation are ever-present for those able to sift through the non-news masquerading as something more. As a brand with a product to launch, your mission is to make life easy for the reporters digging for those gems.

Tell your story honestly, clearly, and early. Your pre-brief strategy still works regardless of the new virtual format. If you do nothing else this winter, please brief the media ahead of your announcements.

Get creative about demos. For years, I've preached the gospel of deploying an immersive, interactive booth. But that advice doesn't hold this year. The physical experience, usually a crucially important part of the story, will not exist. But rather than give up, get creative.

If you believe in your product, offer individualized, contactless, possibly outdoor demos with sterilized products. Offer video walkthroughs. Bring an outdoor demo experience to the media and analysts. Offer a white-glove experience that keeps the needs and interests of your most important stakeholders in-mind ahead of the January launch.

Maybe you shouldn't scrap your booth plans. The booth experience may not exist at CES 2021 in the way we've grown accustomed to. But if you've already mapped out blueprints of your booth build, consider pressing pause before you scrap it entirely.

Integrating technology — especially video, high-quality audio, and a strong WIFI signal — with a remote booth experience provides an effective alternative to the in-person booth tour. And all those voice control devices you've never been able to demo effectively because of background noise at the convention halls? You can finally demonstrate how it works without thousands of conversations happening all around you.

Suspend your agenda, to a degree. Admittedly, it's impossible to fully suspend your agenda when it comes to product launches. After all, the goal is fairly straightforward: Get as much attention for the news as possible. It's disingenuous to suggest otherwise.

That said, it is possible to successfully launch a product while taking into consideration what makes a story interesting for the media. No one wants to participate in a one-way dialogue. So ask questions and be curious.

How has the reporter's job been changed by the pandemic? What do they need from brands to be successful? Sometimes, the only way from point A to point B is a circuitous one. Listen carefully, adjust course, and reevaluate your approach.

Embrace video conferencing. Not everyone loves spending their days on video. That said, consider how video might fit into your CES communications strategy as you aim to connect with reporters.

CES 2021 may be virtual, but that doesn't mean we need to strip away the human element that makes the show worth attending. Your face-to-face encounters just need to migrate to digital formats. And luckily, there are several high-quality video conferencing resources available to make meaningful connections.

Use, you know, technology. I'm amazed that VR hasn't taken off amid the remote life experiment we're all enduring. CES is an excellent opportunity for tech companies to bring people closer to the physical experience without the actual physical experience. Consider investing in tech that can bring your brand and your news to life in interesting ways.

Recreate the extracurriculars. Concerts, parties, and brand experiences are always hot after-hours tickets on The Strip. As the world grows comfortable with virtual experiences and entertainers learn to connect in new ways, there are plenty of chances for brands to surprise and delight via unique virtual experiences. These are the times when first-of-their-kind innovations are born.

The past few weeks have cleared up the uncertainty surrounding the show. If you start planning now, you'll be ready for the first virtual CES.

Chip Scarinzi is an SVP and deputy technology lead in the U.S. for Hill+Knowlton Strategies San Francisco.

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