Deborah Malone's Commentary

After the Frenzy of CES, Marketing & Technology's Inextricable Relationship...

By Deborah Malone, The Internationalist

The first week in January always jolts us back to reality after a year-end break. This year's CES swirl of product launches, news alerts, discussions about the presence and absence of various industry giants, and predictions for how we will work, live and play have taken center stage in media and in conversation. (For one full week, over 5,000 official members of the press reported, recorded, blogged and tweeted from the convention floor of the Consumer Electronics Show.)

A keynote from former President Bill Clinton on gun control, a Wall Street Journal article questioning whether CES matters as some tech companies exit, trade stories about CMOs flocking to Las Vegas for a look at the future are all set against the backdrop of a surreal city, whose infamous Convention & Visitors' Bureau slogan -- "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" -- has stimulated imaginations, entered popular culture, and prompted a myriad of copycat associations—the ultimate mark of success in a viral, social age.

Of course, consumer adoption of technology is driving today's breathless pace of change, and it is also altering the way we interact with all communications, especially commercial messages. "Consumer Electronics" products now deliver extraordinary smart technology and play a larger role in how we view advertising -- whether paid, owned, earned or shared.

Marketers are now challenged to be at the top on their game when embracing digital channels, technologies and devices to more effectively engage, transact, acquire, retain, monetize and support their markets. With customer experience frequently dependent on personalized interaction, content relevance and timely response, marketers have to be more adept at teaming with IT to innovate and improve web sites, call centers, social media, mobile touch and point-of-sale or service transactions. And that's just the beginning...

This year's CES showcased innovations in 3D, facial recognition, and the fluidity of content from device to device. Semiconductor companies and automakers were present, while HiSense, a Chinese state-owned white goods and electronics company, took over absent Microsoft's premiere exhibit space at the entrance to the show. CES underscored the blurring between hardware manufacturer and software programmer, while showing how marketers can act as media owners in a new content-conscious world. Plus, it became clear that the next smartphone you purchase could actually be more powerful than your current laptop. If mobile phones are the device of preference for young people, and there are over 5 billion mobiles around the globe, could this be the marketing holy grail for Millennials?

Digital leaders like Wayne Arnold, CEO of the award-winning Profero whose campaigns for Mini and Smirnoff have changed how we think about social media, believes that marketing, media and technology are the tripartite for brand success when navigating today's new world.

According to Irwin Gotlieb, Global CEO of WPP's GroupM, the inevitable melding between media and technology has been underway for more than a decade. Gotlieb, who conducted six CES floor tours over an estimated 15 miles of exhibit halls representing 3100 companies, regularly talks about how media and technology have converged, and emphasizes that marketers can't distribute messages unless they understand technology.

Starcom MediaVest Group CEO Laura Desmond has stated that "CES is about more than just technology." Her agency views CES as the Consumer Experience Show, and believes that those marketers and brands who understand their role in enhancing human experience will help lead change.

Eamonn Store, President of Global Solutions at MEC, is interested redefining the role of the media agency of the future. He sees relationships "beyond media" as critical to his business practice and is intrigued with strategic partners who own hardware and other assets that bring depth beyond their content offerings.

Rob Norman, Chief Digital Officer—also of Group M, has blogged post-CES that "we are in the midst of a continuing explosion of formats, interfaces, device form factors and within each of those a sea of technical standards offering capabilities and features that are hard enough to enumerate let alone act upon."

Others believe that the success of products from Apple to Nike underscores how design may rival technology when brands need to differentiate themselves in the physical world—that one beyond screens. They will argue that the look and feel of a device matters more than the (often hidden) technology that powers it.

Certainly, we've all heard the prediction from Gartner analyst Laura McLellan that by 2017 CMOs will buy more technology than CIOs in their increasingly accountable world. Not only does this forecast acknowledge that marketing will increasingly become technology-based, but it underscores how mastering Big Data will be a key competitive advantage for brands while suggesting that marketing budgets will grow larger than IT budgets.

Two decades ago, our industry made distinctions between "broadcast television" and "cable" (cable & satellite outside the US). Viewers ultimately saw TV shows on any network as "programming." Perhaps current notions of media delivered via 2nd screen devices powered by the latest underlying technology represent a similar scenario. Today's consumers naturally accept that media, devices and tech are inherently integrated as they interact with the screens of their tablets or smartphones while viewing, participating, sharing and multitasking. In the midst of this usage, should semantics matter?

Yes, semantics do matter. Marketing will always be about strategy and meaningfully communicating brand value. However, technology is a great enabler for marketers as they strive to connect with consumers. Yet, all marketers must understand how to build preference in a world increasingly populated by new devices, native advertising, shared content, and brand advocates (and detractors). CES makes us viscerally experience how the loud, fast-changing, smart and sexy world of "electronics" continues to revolutionize society and reshape the business of marketing. It's the job of today's marketers to innovate as fast as the past of change.