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Fear and loathing in Las Vegas - CES 2020




We live in a world in which culture moves at the speed of technology. Each big advancement – the internet, search, mobile, wifi – has liberated us from what had been holding us back.

CES offers marketers a time to sift through the noise and find the signals pointing to how people are feeling and how behavior may change in the near future.

So how are we feeling? Well, it appears we’re more than a tad mistrustful.

The optimism of tech is being overshadowed by its darker side – an increasingly complex algorithm that divides and perpetuates bias; social platforms that allow falsehoods to pose as truth; screens that foster an aversion to making actual human contact.

We don't need to attend CES to know this. What I did take away from CES is that our mistrust extends beyond tech to the world around us. Ironically, we're turning to tech to protect us from the ills we sense in society.

The home and health categories, in particular, conveyed interesting signals about how people are feeling as seen through the lens of a range of consumer segments and brands.

If I were to write the movie trailer for CES, it might read like this: “In a world that feels dangerous, dirty and difficult, a world in which people no longer trust institutions to solve problems, heroes are taking charge to make their world better.”

Here are three signals I observed:

The world feels dangerous, but my home is my personal fortress.

We've all heard the old saying that "my home is my castle." Tech brands are helping us create crocodile-filled moats around our castles. There are more and more “smart locks”, all following the path paved by Ring, featuring key codes, security cameras that can be accessed on our phone, even fingerprint readers.

Tech is also protecting us from “porch pirates.” The Danby Parcel Guard is package locker for our front door, enabling FedEx to place the package in a box that can only be accessed by the homeowner with a personal security code.

Our anxiety around personal safety extends beyond home intrusion and theft. Climate change is is hitting closer and closer to home, with near constant news footage of flooding, hurricane force winds, and fires. Woodside Homes showcased new houses that can better withstand natural disasters through new building techniques and materials. 

A very real anxiety is increasingly felt by an aging population that is confronting the perils of getting old while living alone at home. AddisonCare is a virtual caregiver that monitors activity in the home, medication intake, reads biometrics to create a “safe-health” home. Welt introduced a smart-belt that can anticipate and help prevent falls among older adults.

The world is polluted and dirty, but my home is my personal clean-room.

Clean-tech was everywhere. In-home air purification was a major theme, ranging from wearable air purifiers to a lamp that purifies air in the home.

BreezoMeter provides personalized, hyper-local air quality assessments to give people information to make better decisions about going outside and reducing exposure to polluted air.

Technology is also rescuing us from the bacteria lurking on the many things we touch throughout the day. HomeSoap is a very stylish box that uses UV-C light to disinfect kids toys, TV remotes, etc. Another of their products, PhoneSoap, is a 10-minute phone charging box that also uses UV-C to disinfect the item we touch most during the day. 

Life feels difficult and time-starved, but the world inside my home is easy.

Most of us have experienced how voice assistants make the complex feel effortless. This same effortless living is being enabled by a wide range of technologies. For example, ViaRoom uses AI to learn behaviors and automate the home environment, including appliances, climate, shades and lights.  

Looking well beyond web-connected kitchen appliances, Samsung is designing kitchen counters with robotic arms to help chop and prep, and also applying AI to help plan meals and monitor nutrition.

Activities that require us to spend time driving somewhere else, e.g., visiting a doctor, can be done on our schedule from home. EyeQue provides vision exams through your smartphone. MedWand enables your doctor to provide physical examinations over the internet.

And in the battle against a stressful world, restorative sleep seems to be our new weapon of choice. Sleep-tech had a huge presence at CES. Philips showed a deep-sleep headband. Sleepace can measure our heart rate, breathing, movement, and ratios of light vs deep sleep to optimize sleep through lighting, smart beds, etc. All of this follows in the footsteps of Sleep Number.

So what should a marketer do?

It has never been more timely for marketers to earn trust from the customers they serve. 

Research has been showing a growing mistrust of many institutions, including government, tech companies, social media and some forms of organized religion. This was on full display at CES. 

But we also saw a way forward. Companies can earn trust through genuine empathy backed by real solutions – human-centered products and services that empower people to take matters into their own hands to create a safer, cleaner and easier world for themselves and the people they care about.

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