CES may put in many strictures to keep those not anointed of the consumer electronic business at arm’s length, but more than any other show, CES is a populist event—and it should embrace those its serves most directly. CES’s sprawling, slightly organized event would do well to spend time introspectively examining its near-Hydra-headed attributes.
In my recent trip to the electronics Mecca that is Las Vegas in early January, I identified four clear and distinct purposes that CES serves, each of which could be housed in different locations, or even distributed across multiple cities. CES needs to be redesigned so it can serve a wider audiences, while maintaining an “intimacy” for certain segments of its audience. The dissolution of a centrality to CES could complicate admission and control, but that could easily be balanced by CES investing a little in its own technology and credentialing process that is even more archaic than would be supplying Apple Genius Bar staff with clipboards.
The Industry Showcase. As manufacturers seek to create hype about new products, CES offers a single place in time and space to make announcements. Some argue that the Internet and modern marketing has eliminated the need for a “launch events” that bring people together to see new products. For large companies like Apple or Microsoft, who can manufacturer press or consumer events, that may be true. But even for big names like Sony, LG and Samsung, CES offers much greater reach than any in-house-cultivated event. CES also offers many industry insiders the ability to take in the breadth and depth of the industry in one fell swoop and declare it naked of innovation, but that observation itself may be worth the considerable investment. If events like CES are designed to celebrate innovation and innovation turns up as an underwhelming undercurrent, then the event may spur the industry itself to examine its future, which can be good for the industry at the strategic level. It is very hard to pattern match in a distributed information world. CES creates an industry focal-point that highlights the successes and failures of the industry as a whole.
Distributor Meet Supplier, Supplier Meet Distributor. Only at CES can start-ups from China and India interact with the black-hatted Chasids of Brooklyn and their more non-descript competitors from the Midwest. As attendees stand dazzled beneath giant 3-D television screens real business is taking place between manufacturers and order takers. And it needs to, because as a hardware reviewer, I can tell you, pictures and specifications don’t take the place on a hands-on evaluation. But commerce doesn’t need to co-exist with PR-stunts like tablet-covered models or synchronized remotely control helicopter dance troops. CES should facilitate the matchmaking in a more deliberate and professional way.
Giant Social Platform. I almost ran into actor Richard Dreyfuss at the Qualcomm mega-booth as he was actively engaged in a conversation about mobile entertainment, or at least that’s what I hope he was talking about. Although the number of iPhone cases on the various show floors probably outnumbered the attendees by an order of magnitude, the physical aspect of a show like CES remains important, even as they unveiled their big-screen Social Media Command Center. (Question: if you are an industry insider event, why do you care what it being said on Twitter?) There is goodness in manufacturers to actually reach out and meet customers, and I hope they afforded themselves the opportunity to listen as much as they talked – and the CES/CEA does the same.
Fashion Show. The team at Cellairis shared that they now routinely supply fashion magazines with blingy iPhone cases sporting brands like Bieber and Elle & Blair, to complement photo shots. “I need a pair of Manolo Blahnik Vulgara pumps and a Elle& Blair Zebra Rouge iPhone Case to match.” Not only should Manolo be taken aback, so should the organizers of CES, who are missing a huge opportunity to transform part of their show into the technology equivalent of Fashion Week. I can see the tagline now: Fashion Week is about clothing your body, CES is about clothing your stuff. Fashion Week, after all, strives to connect designers to distributors, and that too fits a CES goal. CES could make that experience better for those concentrating tech fashion by creating an event that highlights their Spring collections.
To some degree, CES needs to get over itself and realize that it is a Gathering or a Happening and like Comic-Con, it has already been commandeered to fit the needs of those who imagine what it can be, rather than those who try to keep it within some arcane set of design constraints. Despite the tight controls on attendance, the show celebrates breaking attendance records, facilitated by letting the part-time night warehouse technician at Best Buy in Issaquah, WA qualify. And well she should, as should you. Consumerism drives three-quarters of the US economy, without the consumer, the C in CES has no purpose. CES will always include the self-gratulatory industry insiders handing out plaques to celebrate their cool new IP-based thingy, or loud-mouthed pundits saying yet again that a new technology, like 4K television, is too expensive and has no content. But CES also needs to get closer to the consumer.
CES should become multiple shows that may co-exist in time, but serve its different constituencies with meaningful experiences that matter to each uniquely. Let everybody into the runway experience. Have a huge, open forum for exploring next year’s holiday wish list, and let the insiders do the insider thing on the inside. CES can learn a few things from the fashion industry. Fashion Week distributes its brand across the US now to accommodate a bigger industry connection. Find ways to let the consumers enjoy the party, and not only will the party keeping rocking, but it will become a bigger, better party as those who the industry serves create a deeper relationship with brands and people in that industry. That’s what a 21-century trade show should strive to become.
Photo source: Daniel W. Rasmus