CES 2021: tech with purpose

In a pre-pandemic world, vendors, marketers, and business leaders from all over the globe would kick off the new year together in Las Vegas for the world’s largest trade show, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES).  Buzzing through halls of trade booths to the main stage and back, we would be swept up in the electric current of 175,000 fellow innovators and thought leaders, all eager to witness the latest gadgets and breakthrough technologies in action.


This year, however, the world went virtual – and so did CES. The Global Stage for Innovation was entirely digital for the first time in its 54-year history, and instead of jetting off to Vegas to be wooed and wowed, we experienced CES like never before: from the couch, from the kitchen, from our double monitors, and (when we really got crazy) “on the big screen” in our living rooms.


But beyond this inevitable shift in venue, we also witnessed a notable shift in the overall sentiment at the event.


Where previous years touted buzz-worthy gadgets and futuristic “tech for cool tech’s sake,” the Coronavirus pandemic and overdue racial reckoning that we witnessed in 2020 highlighted a need for practical solutions to real consumer human problems, setting a new tone at CES 2021: Tech with Purpose.


Dozens of virtual sessions later (raise your hand if you burned a hole in your blue light glasses…) we identified the top five trends that we believe are ushering in this new wave of intentional innovation:


1. Homebody Economy  As our time spent is more and more within our homes, our money spent is reflective of that. Consumers are spending more discretionary money at home or on the home, looking for ways to help break up the day-to-day monotony while staying safe. As we learn to quickly adapt to using digital channels and finding products to accommodate the new normal, we expect brands to do the same.



2. (Still) Can’t Touch This  Most of us are still itching to avoid germs, leading to an embrace of cleaning gadgets and clean tech that avoid touch altogether. The rise of contactless last-mile services and touchless payment in 2020 is a trend that is expected to continue into 2021 and beyond.



3. 5G is Here (for real this time)  2021 is the year 5G finally arrives in experiences we can access. Fifth generation technology uses faster speeds to process a higher volume of data in a shorter amount of time, enabling more impactful, personalized consumer experiences.



4. Cut the BS — Jesse Angelo of Vice Media Group wins our favorite one-liner of the conference: ‘’Millennials have a BS detector, but Gen Z has a BS flamethrower.” The point? Young consumers crave authenticity and will invest their money into brands that “put their money where their mouth is.” Consumers can see through performative brand actions and will even punish brands see showing up inauthentically.


5. Every Brand is an Entertainment Company  The lines are become increasingly blurred between traditional entertainment and digital media channels. Consumers will not respond to brand messaging when it’s an interruption to their entertainment, therefore, brands must become the entertainment by showing up seamlessly across all dimensions of their lifestyle.




The Marketing Store’s Takeaways:


After a year like 2020, there’s no going back. In this new digital-first reality, the consumer-brand value exchange has never been more critical. Consumers expect brands to authentically represent their values and create a more-than-transactional relationship that is highly personalized.


Here’s what brands and marketers need to do to hold up our end of the bargain:


Let Purpose Drive Digital — Authentic representation of brand values — like safety, sustainability, and inclusivity — is important to consumers. Brands must amplify the intersection of brand values with customers’ values as they continue to build digital experiences.


Take it Home — As customers increasingly rely on digital spending, brands are playing a more direct role in consumers’ daily lives. As customers invite brands into their homes, brands must create a more-than-transactional relationship that seamlessly integrates into the customer’s lifestyle.


Get Personal — With the arrival of accessible 5G comes the increased expectation that brands will deliver highly personalized, relevant experiences. The challenge for brands lies in balancing data-driven, real-time brand interactions with consumer trust and transparency.

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