The Forgotten “Consumer”

Observations & Opportunities from CES 2015

The world is getting smarter—and evidence of this abounded at the biggest tech show of the year, the Consumer Electronics Show 2015. Smart watches. Smart kitchens. Smart cars. Smart dresses. Never-ending booths and gadgets put the innovations of the moment on full display, but which ones will become fixtures in our future?

Every year, CES provides a perfect snapshot of the innovation landscape at that particular time. The Ready Set Rocket and Interbrand teams were once again present for this year’s cavalcade of technology, and the message was clear: Innovation is alive and well, but maybe a little lopsided.

We believe innovative products fall into one or more of the following categories: Technology-driven, Needs-driven, and Vision-driven. This year’s conference was flooded with tech-driven, “because we can” products (albeit some quite stunning). However, there were fewer examples of brands successfully solving a real need or creating an irresistible vision for a connected future.

Comoditized

Heavy on electronics and show, this year’s CES seems to have lost track of the piece that matters most: the consumer. This means that huge opportunities exist for brands that put the consumer first in 2015.

As we sat back to consider the rise of the #Mecosystem and what it means for brands, makers, and marketers in today’s convergent landscape, new ideas started to emerge, pointing the way to major growth in the coming year.

Here are the 10 we’re most excited about, in no particular order:

1. Solutions in Search of Better Problems

CES featured plenty of razzle-dazzle, but few of the thousands of flashy devices and shiny objects on display seemed geared toward solving humanity’s bigger problems. The tech bubble is oftentimes disconnected from current events and issues, and that’s a huge miss. We believe the brands that choose to elevate their stories by addressing cultural issues through innovation will be the most successful.

2. Batteries Not Included

While form-factors continue to evolve at a phenomenal pace, from the impressive (monstrous curved screens) to the invisible (sweat-sensing shirts), the systems that power them struggle to keep up. Battery and charging technology may be getting better, but isn’t getting the attention it needs to support the flashier form-factor explosion happening around it. Huge opportunity exists for brands that make strides to free us from the nagging need for a recharge.

3. The Currency of Attention

From smart stoves to connected cars, the success of “smart” devices may hinge on how they perform on what we call the Attention Test: “Does it require more of my attention or will it let me focus more on the things I care about?”

Attention

As we become more connected, attention will become our most valuable currency. According to a May 2014 study by Internet analyst Mary Meeker, the U.S. population spends an average of 7.4 hours daily staring at screens.* Imagine how much more we will be able to achieve when technology is taking care of the mundane details of our lives, freeing us to do more of what we want to do and less of what we have to do.

4. Commoditized Tech and Branding Opportunity

This year’s biggest trend could be summed up in one word: Saturation. Instead of creating categories, many products this year expand on existing ones, creating an almighty struggle for differentiation even within relatively new categories like sensors and drones. To succeed in the marketplace in these competitive times, products across all categories will need to figure out how to tell a story that’s authentic and compelling. Brands and marketers that do this successfully will see huge potential for share growth, leaving competitors battling over the scraps.

5. Inevitable Invisibility

Last year’s trend to produce fashionable wearable technology has come and gone as brands determine new ways to omit societal barriers by making the devices seemingly invisible. The industry as a whole can agree that Google Glass never really took off because the device is so socially obstructive. In order for improved adoption, wearables must provide true utility and appear less like a device and more like a natural extension of oneself.

6. The Low End Theory

Leading consumer electronics brands have set the precedent that you have to pay (a big price) to play. New devices, their associated data plans, accessories, and upgrades have made keeping up with the newest gadgets an expensive habit. In the future, we see an opening to provide cutting-edge technology to consumers on a budget. But questions remain: Will brands continue to need a high-price point to communicate quality? Would affordability automatically limit the allure of your product? In our opinion, no. We believe that, in the word-of-mouth driven Mecosystem economy, utility and value will drive growth without sacrificing brand perception.

7. Ingredient Brands Tell Their Stories

Many of today’s best products are born from collaborative efforts comprised of multiple players. The brains behind these products, brands like Intel, Qualcomm, and Beats, are now facing a challenge: How do I tell my own story? While there’s a major value proposition in being an ingredient brand, they must be selective and align with the right opportunities. The smart ingredient brands will know when the time is right to develop their own products.

Ingredient Brands

8. Smartening of the Familiar

One exciting trend we see is brands that are choosing to incorporate the benefits of connectivity seamlessly into otherwise familiar or analogue form factors. Beautiful, understated examples, from stereo systems to jewelry (and more), point the way to a future of cornerstone devices that forego flash and focus on simply making our lives better.

9. The Hybrid Storefront

“Fintech” is this year’s biggest buzzword as financial brands begin to seek dominance within the innovation space. With the advent of new-and-improved services like cardless transactions, the persistence of showrooming, and the rise of partnerships with unlikely contenders (think Snapcash), we’ll see purchasing trends and habits begin to shift. The lines between online and offline shopping are becoming blurred and that means brands have the unique opportunity to create seamless experiences that crossover from the virtual world to the physical, and vice versa.

10. Democratized Innovation

We can all make nearly anything now, or so it seems. Development, design, and manufacturing processes that used to require a lot more time investment, specialized tools, and professional training are rapidly becoming accessible to nearly anyone with a good idea. While this can lead to a flood of mediocre products created by amateurs, it also provides an exciting opportunity for communities that have traditionally been outside the tech world to express themselves through innovation. Smart brands will keep an eye on what’s being imagined and built by the public to inform their plans for the future.

Conclusion

This year’s CES was bright, a tad bloated and, at times, underwhelming. But as the noise in the electronics space continues to increase, the opportunities for companies to build visionary things that people want—and to communicate that story clearly—grow even greater.

* KPCB Internet Trends 2014 –http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends

 

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