Six Marketing Mistakes at CES 2012

I've spent the week in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where billion-dollar companies unveil multi-million-dollar products looking for mainstream popularity, and where startups unveil ideas, looking for angles and angels.

And everywhere you go in this gathering of the smartest people in the most exciting business category on the planet, there are marketing mistakes being made. It's fascinating, really: most of the products and ideas shown here are tremendous — it's the showing that is generally awful. The engineering of electronics has never been healthier, but the quality of the marketing lags far behind. To wit:

All the focus is on the features, not the lifestyle. I tell my clients that if they want to create consumer evangelists, they must begin by painting a picture of lifestyle improvement. Show the consumer what their life will look like after using your device for a while. Sure, it's an industry show, and the press here understands technology, but how do you think they will communicate about your product if all you give them is tech specs?

For example, you don't make a video-distribution technology. You let people enjoy their favorite movies and shows, from any device, on any screen in their home.

You don't make wireless Airplay speakers. Rather, you liberate music from the confines of a hard drive for families to enjoy together.

Be bold, be shameless. There's too much matter-of-fact, borderline defensive messaging here. Technology marketing needs to be shameless. It's not a coincidence that the most wildly successful marketer on the planet, Apple, is also the most shameless marketer. Don't worry about turning a few people off by being over-the-top. Instead, worry about not capturing the market's attention by being ordinary and plain. Tell people what's amazing about your product or service, as descriptively as possible. Back to our examples:

You don't make video-distribution technology. You bring joy and entertainment to people.

You don't make speakers. You bring beautiful music into people's hearts.

Marketing is no place to be modest.

The people at the booths are not helpful — to attendees or to exhibitors. Many exhibitors build small cities for booths here, and they contract trade show "professionals" to "work" their temporary town. Some of these people are half-naked. Some color coordinated. All are trained in three or four talking points on the product they stand next to. And none of them are helpful. They can't answer any questions. What if a new buyer happens upon them, or, God forbid, a reporter? You solve this problem by bringing your employees to work the booth. Your HR people and administrative assistants would be far more informed than the folks representing you currently.

There are too many agencies doing a bad job at CES. This is a year-long problem in the industry, but it's especially pronounced this week. For example, one PR agency rep sent six press releases about one client in the days leading up to the show. The client, a smaller company, did not know this was happening, and learned through communications from angry recipients who felt they were being spammed. Ask yourself: do you know exactly how your agency is representing you, and is it helpful?

Unforced errors abound. So many harmful mistakes in consumer electronics marketing are self-made. It's the same at CES: look at the list of marketing issues above. These problems are entirely avoidable: Get smart people into the booth. Know your agency's activity. Focus on emotion and lifestyle. Not doing so is voluntary harmful behavior. The electronics industry is difficult enough; why not avoid putting obstacles in your own path?

Too much ego. Be careful here. Does the world really need another pair of headphones? Or another streaming content box? Do people really need another small video camera, even if it is waterproofed? And if so, what do you need to say about it to energize people not only to buy it, but to tell each other about it? If you're not asking customers all about this before you invest significant resources in the development of your product and marketing, then you are just guessing from a conference room. You don't know better than your market. So, you better know what your market thinks. Not knowing and plowing forth is ego. And there was too much ego at CES this week.

If the thousands of companies here would only innovate their marketing as aggressively as they innovate their products, the consumer electronics industry would generate billions more in revenue. Billions.

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