5 PR lessons from CES 2020

The Consumer Electronics Show dazzled with prototypes, applications and innovations, but inspiration from the annual event isn’t limited to those in the tech space.

A toilet-paper-toting robot, a flying taxi and personalized sex toys got people talking at the 2020 Consumer Electronics Show.

Tech fans readily embraced the more than 4,400 organizations exhibiting and speaking, but communicators might easily dismiss the show as outside their wheelhouse. However, there are many insights to glean from Consumer Technology Association’s forward-facing event.

Here are five lessons for any communicator to consider:

1. Embrace the goal of artificial intelligence.

By focusing on personalization, Samsung’s Ballie showcased the human component of artificial intelligence and other technological advancements.

The robot—along with innovations such as smartwatches and fitness trackers that measure your heart rate, chatbots that answer customer queries, and tailored recommendations at the touch of a button or voice command—make consumers’ lives more enjoyable and efficient.

Samsung’s co-chief executive, H.S. Kim, called it the “age of experience.”

CNet reported:

The idea is that tech, while becoming smarter and more complex, will also become simpler and more personalized. Instead of wanting to buy things, consumers are seeking out experiences, he said.

“Who we are is changing,” Kim said Monday. “Who we take care of is changing. Where we live is changing. And the way we will live our lifestyles is changing. But at the center is us, people. The way we interact with our world is what drives this evolution. It’s not about what you possess. It’s about our individual needs.”

Don’t think of artificial intelligence or automation as a futuristic concept with which only tech companies can experiment. Instead, find ways to implement existing solutions or create new ones that help your audience meet their needs more quickly—or that help your employees to be more productive and efficient.

2. Find your life preserver in a sea of data.

Companies including Google, Facebook and Amazon focused on alleviating privacy concerns with new features and tools that enable consumers to control how their information is shared.

CNN Business reported:

For example, users can tell Google Assistant to forget what it just heard if it was activated accidentally by using the new command: “Hey Google, that wasn’t for you.” Users can also ask “Hey Google, are you saving my audio data?” to learn more about their privacy options and change their settings. The company also gives users the option to delete data using their voice by saying: “Hey Google, delete everything I said to you this week.”

There is so much to measure—and measuring everything can quickly drown you in data instead of helping you evaluate which campaigns and strategies are working along with what are not. Instead of being data-driven, aim to be data-informed.

Responsibly select analytics that truly matter to your goals and objectives without violating privacy laws or regulations. Understand and then explain what the numbers are telling you about both your communications efforts and those you which to reach.

3. Use creativity and humor to make a splash.

P&G’s Charmin stole attention and favor with its inventions, which included a robot that delivers toilet paper, a sensor to warn you of a stinky bathroom before entering, and a virtual reality headset that enables you to enjoy a concert or sporting event from the event’s restroom.

The quirky concepts sparked social media conversation, headlines and even a joke on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.”

Charmin’s social media team took its CES success in stride with bathroom-related quips on Twitter—something it’s well-known for online. The humor of its messaging and its innovations enabled it to stand out from the crowd and cinch a PR and marketing win.

You too can stand out with creativity and humor, whether it’s by suggesting an alternative use for your product or service or by hopping on a trending hashtag with snark. Though you should make sure that your efforts fit your brand voice and affirm your goals and objectives, don’t take yourself too seriously. Your audience will appreciate you for it.

4. Get comfortable making the taboo a conversational norm.

Charmin wasn’t the only organization at the show talking about taboo subjects. “SexTech” was a hot topic at CES, in large part due to a controversy from last year’s show.

Forbes reported:

In 2019, the Lora DiCarlo Osé personal massager was selected as a CES Innovation Awards Honoree in the Robotics and Drone product category. However, in a case of what the CTA giveth, the CTA can also taketh away, Lora DiCarlo was stripped of the award because the CTA deemed the entry “to be immoral, obscene, indecent, profane or not in keeping with CTA’s image.” After a great deal of public outcry that called out the role of gender-bias in the decision, the award was reinstated. Since then, Lora Haddock DiCarlo has worked to enlighten the CTA as to the role that SexTech can play in our overall wellbeing.

“The biggest thing we’re excited about is continuing that social mission of changing the conversation and bringing it into the mainstream,” DiCarlo told CNN Business.

Perhaps your products and services focus on subjects that aren’t commonly accepted conversational topics, or your organization might struggle to adopt sustainable and meaningful diversity and inclusion goals that elevate your company culture. You might also face the challenge of balancing your organization’s brand voice and image with employee activism and social media policies.

Whatever the tough subject or stumbling block, approaching it directly and with listening in mind can help you more easily overcome obstacles and make your efforts soar. Don’t be afraid of addressing sensitive subjects. (Just make sure you’re not doing it brashly.)

Take risks in your messaging and with purpose-led communications. Often, communicators must lead the charge for change, both within their organizations and their industries.

5. Innovation is the new black.

Hyundai and Uber teamed up to introduce an electric air taxi that could alleviate road congestion in the future. It doesn’t exist yet, but it could, someday.

In a press release, Hyundai said its CES display highlighted its “mission to achieve ‘progress for humanity’” as well as the company’s “openness to progressive thinking.”

Stuff.tv reported:

As ever, a lot of the best stuff on show doesn’t exist yet, bar in the minds of its creators, or in showfloor prototypes that may never see the light of day in your actual house.

Instead, these organizations showcased their prowess for innovation, highlighting the ability to offer creative—and sometimes quirky—solutions to solve their audiences’ challenges.

For products and updates that will become available for purchase months after CES, competition and consumer pressure to meet promised deadlines can be fierce. A post-show article by Forbes’ Ewan Spence carried the headline: “Microsoft faces immense pressure after CES success.”

You don’t have to create a technological innovation or a new product concept to jump on the innovation bandwagon. As a communicator, stay current on growing and cutting-edge trends both within and outside your industry.

Challenge statements such as, “This is the way we’ve always done it,” and be willing to take risks to surprise and delight your audience. Doing so can quickly help you realize the power of innovation—and can help you capture hearts and headlines in the meantime.

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