An LG keynote at CES 2019

Despite the chaos, excitement, swirl and hyperbole, it doesn’t always feel like the pace of change is that fast at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which I visited earlier this month. Maybe it’s the long hardware development cycles, maybe it’s that we’re on the edge of what’s possible in material science or perhaps it’s just a lack of ambition and imagination.

This year didn’t feel much like a display of pushing boundaries and developing new things, as much as new combinations of existing things. It was refinement within a paradigm, making sense of what we have, it was new blends and convergence, when it’s divergence that gets the headlines. CES is a wonderful festival of hardware in a world moving to software and services, if you doubt that then just look at the most valuable companies around these days.

It’s time marketers learn from all this.

Put marketers back in control

Marketing in the industrial age was always the last part of the manufacturing process. Look what we’ve made, now go find a customer. These days we are told near constantly that we’ve data driven insights, we can track consumer demand, we can see trends and consumer intent faster, more precisely and richly than ever before. Well, have we thought about making stuff people want?

CES is a showcase for what can be made, it’s what happens when you empower scientists in white coats to compete with each other. It’s R&D budgets, not imagination, it’s the best attribute not the greatest benefit. It’s a festival of ‘we can do this’, but never ‘this is what we found people wanted’. The boundless enthusiastic and perfect production of entirely stupid devices is a cathedral to engineering but a remarkable stab in the heart of marketing.

CES has not once been where EVERY SINGLE KEY DEVICE that has changed our lives has been debuted. Smartphones, tablets, smart watches, eScooters, connected speakers and voice were never launched there. CES has brought us stupid Fitbits, dumb drones, pathetic 3D printers, silly brain analysers, awful smart shoes, painfully curved TVs, silly 3D screens and nonsensical AR and VR headsets. It has been a vast waste of energy and talent.

Let’s observe and listen to people; let them pull, let’s not push what they don’t want. I would love marketers to finally get in the front of the making process, to use data, creativity, imagination and empathy to inform what we…