When the lights went out for 75 minutes on Day 2 of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, there was no sense of panic. Instead, total strangers found themselves talking and sharing stories of what they’d already seen while moving towards the sunny sidewalks. It was an unforgettable networking moment, perhaps worthy of the Guinness World Records and an electrifying reminder of the importance of connecting with people even while browsing connected devices.
Among those in attendance was Shelly Palmer, whose company The Palmer Group, has long tamed the beast that is CES, reducing the 2.7 million square feet of exhibit space to an intelligible size. In our interview, Palmer sheds light on why this show is not just a window into the future for consumer brands but also a must-see experience for business-to-business marketers.
Why should just about every marketer care about CES?
CES is a unique crystal ball into the future. You can see 12 months out the stuff that’s being sold. You can see 18 to 24 months out stuff that is just getting ready to be sold, the chipsets that are just now out of development, and you could see about 36 months into the future — which are the chips in pure concept or the concept demo. So, understanding what’s already in a consumer device, what’s going to be in a consumer device, and then what may one day be in consumer device, gives you a lot of stuff to think about.
CES is attracting more and more B2B companies. Why is that?
There are so many B2B companies coming now. They make stuff that makes your stuff better. For example, Aptiv makes all kinds of OEM stuff for car manufacturers, and every major car manufacturer goes to CES. They’re there to support the executives that are their biggest clients. I think it’s important for B2B companies to understand that all human beings are consumers. Too often, when you’re having a conversation with a marketer or senior executive at a B2B company, they disregard the actual things that real people use. Everybody that you’re going to sell to has a smartphone, has a certain amount of empowerment from that technology, has a behavior shift that’s going on in the way they consume media and the way they consume information. That should be critically important to B2B marketers. In practice, we’re all people. You’re selling to a human being on the other side. You’re not selling to a building. We’re seeing a lot more B2B businesses at CES to make real connections with others in their industries.
If you were a B2B brand that wasn’t exhibiting at CES, but was going to attend, what kinds of things should you keep an eye out for?
The first and foremost is what’s actually real and what’s just in the hype cycle. You can tell by the size and the amount spent to talk about products. People who are prosperous generally will come in force. You get a sense of how many people are in a part of a given industry at CES because so many different disciplines are represented. So, whether you are looking at drones or wellness tech, or wearables or TV sets, you can gauge how much certain companies and countries are involved. If you walk through central hall, you will have an opinion on the other side of it.
I see CES as playpen for innovators, a place to spark all sorts of new ideas regardless of your industry. Do you agree?
If you go to CES with intent to understand various marketplaces and how they might impact your business, you can come out with new areas where your business could potentially supply things. CES is a great opportunity to tap into the thousands of experts in attendance. Many people make introductions and follow up.
Some think they can just read the reports and stay home. What will they miss?
Everybody reports as well as they can for their audience, but here’s the problem with just relying on reports: By their very nature, they’re not what you need to know. They’re going to be about a bright shiny object or something that will get your attention. When you actually go there, you have a different experience. You meet the people, and you also get a sense of what’s real and what’s fake. You then own those insights personally. You then have an opinion that serves as a gut check for yourself during the year when people pitch things to you. It gives people a wonderful bit of empowerment. Getting a sense of where technology is going at CES is visceral. You have to physically walk the floor to see it.
Is there anything from a B2B standpoint that marketers should be looking for at this show versus past years?
There are so many technologies at CES that are really B2B but look a little B2C-like. That’s what B2B marketers should look for — the crossover technologies. This show has almost nothing to do with consumer electronics. The consumer technology business where consumers are going to make decisions is getting smaller every day. The spaces where B2B marketers make decisions is expanding rapidly. These are the people that build houses for a living, people that do renovations, people that plan smart cities, people that are thinking about identification versus identity safety security. At CES, there’s a broad base of business to business technologies represented that ultimately will end up in a consumer’s possession, but not necessarily only consumers’ possession.
How should B2B businesses decide whether or not to attend CES this year?
The ROI at CES is very individualized. You can think that you’ll learn about it after the fact through reporting, but to experience it comes with its own set of values. I think if you are in a business where human beings interact with your organization, where they’re empowered by technology, where their behaviors are impacted by technology, you owe it to yourself to understand what’s coming in the short-term future. If you don’t, by the time you read about it in the paper, you’re not going to have a lot of time to business plan for it. If you decide to go, you can plan an agenda, and make sure to go with an ROI in mind.
Drew Neisser is the founder & CEO of Renegade, the NYC-based strategic boutique for B2B renegades. He is also the host of the #2 podcast for CMOs, Renegade Thinkers Unite and author of “The CMOs Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing.”