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What Happens without Vegas: How to Navigate a Year with No CES (IRL)


Mordecai considers how global innovation and inspiration will thrive (or not) without a physical CES event in Vegas in early 2021

What Happens without Vegas: How to Navigate a Year with No CES (IRL)
Hen dos, and other visitors to the city, frequently issue the warning “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas”. But, as CES 2021 goes digital, marketers won’t be doing a whole lot there this time around. Those of us used to weaving together technology, media and brand, will be required to visit CES virtually, with just log-in details for access. So, how will we navigate?  

CES is the most important conference of my year. On average I’ll clock 30,000 steps a day. It’s a tactical sport, and an inspiration minefield. I’m often coach, escorting clients around the floor to explore the latest thinking, sourcing cool “It factor” items, and tech that I wish to see implemented in the business. In total, the annual geek fest generates half of my group’s quarter one agenda, and continues to thread through the year.  

Across this year I’ve challenged my team, colleagues, and clients to stop asking “What Now?” and start looking to “What If?” So much of CES is a space of quick fixes and latest must haves, hacks and hive minds, but there are also diamonds in the rough. Gems at a web-based CES will be difficult to capture, and there are three key areas CES 2021 will struggle to replicate.

Random Inspiration 

Eureka Park, the hub of start-ups and innovation experiments on the floor, is aptly titled. Last year, at Samsung’s C-Lab booth, I found my favourite product of CES 2020 in SelfieType, which engages the camera of your phone to map finger movements to the phone’s keyboard – providing a keyboardless keyboard. A few steps away I learned all about cat cardio (yes that’s treadmills for cats) from a founder who’d won their government’s innovation award. 

Among the best parts of Eureka Park are the founders who get giddy to discuss potential use cases of their products, and strategize potential verticals to go to market. Beyond a chat roulette new product showcase (a dating app “swipe” platform would be smart), the CES organizers will be hard-pressed to find a solution here. Additionally, while I’m well versed in weaving through 1,000 founders in the basement of the Sands, being “locked” on a video meet and greet actually sounds painful. 

Global Connectivity & Influence

Last year alone, over 180,000 people attended CES from more than 150 countries. As a global marketer, CES is the place I can walk my Korean clients around the floor, meet with an Israeli green tech partner, have dinner with the UK’s investment minister, before experiencing a sponsored Diplo DJ set twice over in one night. I’ve watched the increasing impact of China on the electronics market via the growing footprint Chinese companies have on the Tech East show floor. A unified global vision of the future of our cities is best shown through the amalgamation of multiple floor experiences, last year from Hyundai x Uber’s presentation and HERE Technologies’ Urban Mobility tech.

To reduce CES to programming produced by organizer the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), is impossible – it seems to be the least engaged-with aspect of the conference. Last year, speaking at CES’s equality lounge, female leaders from across the globe connected with me around the message “Imaging The Unimaginable”. We were able to share space in tackling career firsts, and inclusion as investment. Yet the panel I spoke on was one of only two I attended, and I’ve yet to know a single brand or marketer that attends more than a couple of CES-programmed events. You?

First Looks

All over Vegas, suites provide private meetings and “first looks” at big name technologies and large media opportunities that will never make it to the floor or the press. On average I will visit five to seven suites each day of CES to explore these offerings and showcase them to relevant clients. This is invaluable to the year ahead, with many of these “backroom” deals being the greatest draw for high level executives.  

I’ll miss this opportunity. But where there is disruption there is always hope. I’m challenging my teams to look back over the products and concepts we’ve seen aisle-by-aisle, year-by-year, products we viewed for a world consumer that is now forever changed. I’m urging them to explore the evolution of these products and then scrutinize them on the official CES 2021 digital floor. Even from a click away, ask them “What If?”  

Innovating in 2021 is solving for 2022. Not actioning from “What Now?” alone, but “What If?” towards our future. In 2020, we’ve watched products be accelerated as much as others have become extinct, and new solutions are called for. 

In terms of CES 2021, the digital show will make headlines with announcements and speakers to move the needle. But for those 180,000 people normally on the ground, and all those that read the reports of the event after – CES 2021 is Dead On Arrival. But, like blowing out birthday candles on a cake, I do hope we’ll be able to go back to it soon.

Photo credit Christa Holka @christaholkastudio

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