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CES 2019: Three takeaways marketers can’t miss

The Consumer Electronics Show last week created as much buzz around the future of technology as it ever has.

Voice AI was one of the more talked about subjects at the show in Las Vegas. However, a lot of the chatter was too heavy on the excitement around items like $8,000 smart toilets and too lean on what value voice adds to the user experience.

Indeed, brands should zero in on user experiences that represent “must-haves” instead of “nice-to-haves.”

While many products looked futuristic, developments in voice AI show the future is, in some ways, already here. And consumers already know it—consider that more than two-thirds of people (69 percent) anticipate AI will handle the majority of brand-based communications in the next five years.

With that in mind, marketers of all stripes should note a few important themes that emerged from 2019 CES.

Here are three big CES takeaways for marketers:

1. New data shows the promise of voice AI and ads

One of the more intriguing business questions about the emergence of voice AI is what role advertising plays in this customer experience.

Toluna, a consumer insights company, shed light on the subject with a CES-minded report that included the following stats:

  • 19 percent of smart speaker users said they’d actually be more willing to use their device if it included ads
  • 23 percent said ads wouldn’t affect their behaviors one way or the other
  • 16 percent said they were not sure what impact ads would have on their smart speaker usage

All told, close to 60 percent of smart speaker users are at least open to the idea of voice ads.

Like with online search engines, consumers who are making stressful or important purchase decisions—think insurance, mortgages, vacations, auto shopping—will probably do extensive research before settling on a brand.

They may not buy an insurance policy through a smart speaker, but they are likely to ask Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for help throughout the buying process.

The potential for effective advertising—especially for brands that combine data from phone calls and digital sources to target customers—will be extremely lucrative.

Because of that reality, while no one right now knows what these ads will cost, we can expect the CPM rates to be on the high end.

Other stats at CES show that the voice revolution is more than hype.

For instance, Amazon announced before CES that 100 million Alexa-equipped devices have been sold.

It’s an exciting time for voice-powered devices and IoT overall—especially considering how 5G-powered internet speed is arriving in the U.S. cities. But it’s important to remember that while we will talk to devices in new ways, the voice conversation—whether on a mobile phone or a video screen—isn’t going anywhere.

2. The smart home boom is real

CES showed that the technology behind the smart home is picking up steam, and it’s taking conversations to different parts of your abode.

For instance, GE Appliances announced a 27-inch voice-activated smart screen that’s designed for kitchens. It can walk you through recipes and make video calls if you need person-to-person guidance.

It’s going to cost between $1,200 and $1,400, which is comparable to what many people are accustomed to paying for home computers.

Separately, Moen has created a voice-activated showerhead that lets you time and pause your showers. Called U by Moen, it’s a conservationist’s dream and costs $1,125, which may be low enough for high-end consumers to make a marketplace impact.

Meanwhile, Whirlpool introduced a voice-activated smart oven. Called Smart Countertop Oven, it takes commands via Google Assistant and Alexa and—with image-recognition software and a camera—recognizes food and sets cooking times and temperatures accordingly.

The oven connects to a mobile app through which it sends notifications to help phone-carrying chefs avoid burning their meals while multitasking. It costs $799, which many consumers could find reasonable given all of its wow factors.

These products’ designers should be proud. Not only are they realizing the dream of the smart home, but they’re also keeping the user experience central to their development and creating voice-powered products that everyday consumers can utilize. The products aren’t cheap, but they aren’t only for the super-rich.

3. Avoid gadgetry for gadgetry’s sake

In contrast, consider a standout at CES: the Kohler’s Numi 2.0, a toilet that comes powered with Amazon Alexa and costs up to $8,000. With voice, you can flush the toilet and command different music selections like using a Sonos.

With the average toilet installation costing $370, Numi’s price tag is not reasonable for most consumers. Moreover, people are generally fine having to hit a button or press down on a knob to flush their toilets. And while we all love music, a tunes-playing commode isn’t central to the bathroom experience. It’s gadgetry for gadgetry’s sake.

CES 2019 was as rich with interesting statistical research and physical products as it has been in recent years. At the same time, more than usual, the highlights and lowlights taught marketers that keeping the customer experience in mind should be priority No. 1.

Focusing on the customer experience will be incredibly important as voice ads inevitably roll out and as voice-powered devices extend beyond speakers to our kitchen screens, ovens and shower heads. Because the voice data will be rich, it’s an opportunity we best not flush away.

Julia Stead is the SVP of Marketing at Invoca.

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