Consumer Electronics show - that's a wrap
Jeremy Katzon 09 January, 2014 at 11:01
Mind the Gaps
Surprise! There’s a massive gap between consumer behavior and the actions of brands and advertisers. Our mobiles are positively stapled to our foreheads at every moment, and yet they only account for 5% of advertising spend. But we’re not the only deluded ones. Consumers may claim to ignore mobile advertising, but Deloitte found that 30% of them have acted on an ad in the past year. It would seem there are some gaps in how we understand mobile—as an industry and as individuals. We need to define it, or, as Audi would have us do, redefine mobility. They brought out a bunch of laser dancers and cool cars and sotto voce asked us to think of them as a technology company as much as a car company. That’s quite a challenge, given the gap between auto engineering design lifecycles and tech industry standards. The former is 7 years. The latter is 7 minutes. But they brought their new partners—AT&T and Nvidia—on stage to make clear that it could be done. Tech iteration comes to automotive! The auto is the most complex, most expensive, and most impressive piece of consumer electronics that any of us owns. Shouldn’t it be the most connected as well?
Open and shut case
In a supposedly open world, we’re subject to the whims of Google and Apple. In the mobile world, they control access to the app ecosystem. Is it appropriate to put so much power in their hands? One of them claims not to be evil. The other riffed on 1984 in the most famous ad of all time. Maybe we need to remind them of that. Plus, how does your content become scalable when you are tied into a single ecosystem? We can’t compete with them in the content of the apps we create, and we can’t break free of them when all of our consumer electronics are in their world. It’s a beautiful, sparkly jail.
Self-replication is the norm for any data. Snap a photo and it can be copied and pasted a billion times. Each of those is another cell of data. As a marketer you’ve got to be on guard for data cancer—the moment when the consumer sees the data that you’ve built up about them to be a threat to their being rather than a benefit to their life. Build up your brand’s data immune system. Let the data self-replicate naturally, unencumbered. When we all play together—when the data streams from the sensors multiplying around us merge—the system will become self-regulating. When data converges, it becomes a product in an ordered marketplace. Keep it walled off, and the consumer will perceive you as a creepy predator, and your knowledge of them will be seen as an noxious invader. Dude, don’t be HAL.
The New 80/20 Rule
Just because we can act in real time doesn’t mean we should. Our goal ought to be the delivery of content that feel relevant the moment it is consumed. The challenge isn’t reacting fast; it’s figuring out what the hell to say. That’s why Anne-Marie Klein proposed a new 80/20 rule. (Ok, she didn’t call it that.) Spend 20% of your time reacting to the marketplace and 80% of your time planning so that you have material that sounds right in-the-moment. Here’s a little heresy to confront: maybe a few of those media dollars—say 20%?—need to go into that content planning and creation. We don’t think of content as working media, but maybe working media isn’t really punching with the same force it once did. Good content works for you, travels, and has a higher referral value.
From brand persona to brand person
It’s not what your brand stands for anymore. It’s how your brand stands. Hands on hips? Canted on to one leg? Those characteristics are part of how humans recognize each other. We communicate not just with the content of our conversation but also with our gesture and tone. These are parts of basic human nature. We used to look at brands as ancient heroic archetypes—the quester, the hero, the mentor, the trickster, the shape-shifter—but technology enables us…no, requires us…to turn turn them into fully fledged real people. What is your brands gesture and voice? What is its speaking style? What is its character? These are no longer metaphors. These are descriptions of entity you want to be and the tactile form the consumer aspects you to inhabit. Maybe we’re wrong. Ask Siri what she thinks.
Yes, but Would You Want to Wear It
With all the talk of wearable tech, you could be forgiven for thinking that fashion week had merged with CES. Until you looked at some of it, at least. Form follows function sounds grand when one is pointing at the elevation of the new building you’re developing. It’s less appealing in reference to something that’s going to reside on your face. A few clever folks have tumbled to that and are figuring out what people will wear with pride and only then working out how to cram all the tech in there.
Fashion quibbles aside, wearable tech is booming. Fitness wearables alone are on track to crest $1 billion in market size in 2014. The quantified self is no longer an abstraction, but we’ve got to figure out how to irrigate our lives with this data stream. Better, more contextual recommendations is the stock answer, the one on every tech thinker’s talking points, but the cool stuff happens when the friction between the data streams is washed away. Wearable tech prompts modified behavior. Data, as Mark McClusky of Wired maintains, is one of the few things that will reliably push us to change. We’re voluntarily submitting ourselves to monitoring and behavior modification. And isn’t changing behaviors exactly what advertising is all about? We’ve got a place in this world, but we had better tread lightly. This is intimate territory.
Integrated data streams is exactly what Ford is working on. They’re looking at wearable tech as a means to monitor what Gary Strumolo from Ford called, “driver workload.” With enough biometric data, the car could decide whether or not to put through an incoming call, for example, based on how much current and cumulative driving stress you’re under. Or, for people with diabetes, the car could connect with continuous glucose sensors to prompt the driver to attend to his blood sugar before he becomes unsafe behind the wheel. How about not being behind the wheel at all? Audi’s piloted drive, introduced last year, has shrunk to a chipset the size of an iPad. Google’s racked up tens of thousands of miles without a major accident in it’s self-driving cars. The autonomous vehicle is being buzzed about even if it’s still quite a way off, but the rest of the automotive tech is here right now. It’s made the automobile the largest and most complex piece of mobile technology we have, and, as Rupert Stadler of Audi said, it moves the car company from “refining the auto to redefining mobility.”
Internet Almost Everywhere
Cisco told us that the internet is everywhere. Everywhere except at CES, that is, where a solid signal was rare, even when you cough up a Benjamin for the premium shi*t. The grand promise of the internet of things depends on uninterrupted connectivity. So, yikes? Still, as everyone who was not an ISP or telco maintained, internet everywhere isn’t about connectivity. It’s about the systems that tie it all together to create a seamlessly personalized and incredibly unsettling world. Skepticism aside, there is real value in systems that eliminate the allergy to interoperability that so much of our connected tech suffers from—so long as these systems converge data in a way that benefits the end-user. Which means, as John Chambers puts it, “just in time data to just in time arrival to just in time to the right device to allow the person or machine to make the right decision.” If that happens and we really do eliminate the middlewearman, then Chamber’s bold prediction—that the internet will be five to ten times more influential than it is today—just might come true. When (let’s be optimistic) that happens, we’ll reap a global $19 trillion to the public and private sector in additional profit and savings from internet everywhere’s increased efficiency.
Making Sense of the Chaos
Done right (which means, in Cisco’s argot, that IT is “simple, fast, seamless, and smart”), the internet of things will ease our path in the world, allowing us to shop for clothes without agony or find a movie on Netflix without a feature-length decision making process. Until then, we’re stuck with today’s chaos. The user experience still lags behind the underlying capability of the tech. As content proliferates, our systems for curating and discovering what’s worth our time haven’t kept up. Brands can help. As Keith Weed of Unilever said, we erect filters to keep out the barrage of messages headed our way every second. “Brands,” he continued, “depend on breaking through that.” They break through to us not to interrupt our passage but rather to simplify our path. At their best, they “engage us with content we value and help us make our way through the welter of fragmentation we confront.”
The March of Progress
Humans are driven toward progress, toward changing our environment, and the smart home will simplify our domestic lives, like the vacuum cleaner and the light bulb did about a century ago. We won’t have to think about turning on the lights, preheating the oven, or minding our shopping list, and that will free up our time. Past reductions in domestic workload had profound effects on society. What social changes will the smart home engender? The smart home is inevitable. It is possible, and since it is, it will happen. It just won’t be next week. The experts think the smart home is around a decade into the future. Today’s point products, each controlled by it’s own app or interface will soon start to work together in little clumps, connected by third party software. Eventually, standards will develop or default technologies will emerge. Then the smart home will be plug-and-play, and that’s the point at which real mass adoption will occur. The user experience will be simple and attractive, just like a smartphone and the home will go from being smart to being conscious. A conscious home can incorporate the data from the whole sensor net surrounding you, learning to react to your behavior and patterns in context. Just imagine all the data that will throw off.
It’s ok to love data, but we’re loving it a little too much. We’ve got campaign and marketing data, social listening, and now here comes a buffet of biometric and intimate data from wearables, connected devices and cars, smarter homes and everything else that has an input and an output. We’ll all need to loosen our belts a notch or two, but real infobesity is bad for your corporate health. Stop and think about what kind of data you really need based on the goals you—and your marketers, IT pros, analysts, and product managers—want to achieve.
We need to be conscious of more than just the quantity of data we ingest. We will soon need to be quite sensitive to what we do with it. It’s one thing to send the wrong message to someone—the 50 year old male who gets a tampon ad on his fantasy baseball site is just going to ignore your message with no harm done. But just as the consequences of marketing missteps are amplified in social, the fallout from data disasters will become toxic. Mishandling a customer’s web data is bad; mishandling their intimate personal and biometric data is egregious. Consumers resent having to think about data privacy, but marketers, manufacturers, and consumers need to come to a consensus on what is an appropriate level of data sharing. Wall it off too much and the real promise of a connected life will always remain a promise. Open it up to much, and your house may turn into Clippy on acid: “According to your smart wristband, you’re getting busy. Would you like to sample the greatest hits of Barry White?”
Investments Gone Wild
We can learn a thing or two from the venture capitalist culture. Not every investment that a VC makes will pan out. Companies fail, markets are smaller than anticipated, founders screw up. So what makes a successful investment? Yoav Tzruya of Jerusalem Venture Partners believes that it’s as basic as this: a successful investment is an investment in differentiated technology that is sustainable in the long run. Whenever Tzruya found himself with a failed investment, he found that even though the startup may have shown initial traction in the marketplace, he could not explain why. We should be wary of the same phenomenon. We should ask ourselves Tzruya’s question. Why will your startup, your product or your brand be better than the competition—now and in the future? And if you can’t answer that, figure it out or pack your bags and go home.
Here’s another question: Why is rampant sexism still ok at CES? Doc Brown reappeared for a promotion at Gibson, but did the rest of CES get sent with Marty back to 1955? The people walking the show floor are still overwhelmingly male—that’s a problem right there, but it is larger than just CES itself—and the exhibitors pander to them with sex. A phone case manufacturer gave away bags decorated with a nude female silhouette and the words, “Don’t let your phone go naked.” A camera maker which will go nameless surrounded a trophy car with pouty, alluring models just so that convention goers could try out the camera. There was a good crowd of guys snapping photos. It may have worked, but was it right? Booth after booth was staffed by models in coordinated, revealing outfits ostensibly there to demonstrate the product. Few of them knew much about the products; they were there as part of the booth’s decoration. The problem didn’t vanish once you walked out the doors of the exhibit hall. Many of the panels had only one woman on them, often sitting in the center, and just as often getting ignored or even talked over. A cab driver heading over to the show on opening day brought it all into focus with one line, “Man, CES must be crazy. It’s the only show where they have to import strippers from LA.”
Apple TV. Roku. Chromecast. And every other tech player out there trying to build a better OS for the TV. One of them is going to crack the interface design and finally link up our online content and big screens in a seamless way. Maybe we’ve been looking at the problem in the wrong way. Maybe we don’t need a better Apple TV or a superior Chromecast or a less kludgy dongle. The right solution isn’t a better linkage between your computer and your screen. It’s a better linkage between any computer at any time and your screen. If our big screens are to be as useful as they can be to us, they need to become processor agnostic. Otherwise our screen agnosticism may give way to a clear preference to the one in our hand over the one on the wall. Airtame gets this. Airtame is a startup making a wireless dongle for your laptop that works in any ecosystem. It doesn’t matter where your media is stored; as long as you have a screen, you can stream. It’s backend processor agnostic. And we like that.
Passive Wearables to Active Wearables
Who you calling passive? Our Fuelbands and Fitbits of the world are actively synching with our mobile devices, helping us produce better insights about our daily lives. That seems awfully active, but in reality the wearable itself is a passive device strapped to our wrists, our face or other areas of our body passively recording our activity. That’s no longer the only game in town. We’re about to see a movement into active wearables—wearables that act on our bodies. They’ll send pulses through our system, act as an extended neural network, train our muscles, or coach our movement.
3D printing certainly has a wow factor. Home models have dropped to the price of a good laptop, and with one you can make your very own custom candy dish or bobblehead. Ceramics studios around the world are, no doubt, bracing for the coming disruption. Even though the idea is alluring, the printers themselves are still rudimentary. They’re at the same point that the first home computers—which were the 4-function calculators of the 1970s—were at when they were introduced. But as prices come down and sophistication goes up, 3D printing will become more than just a curiosity. It has the potential to usher in a social shift not seen since, you guessed it, the internet. The internet disintermediated content creation, taking it out of the hands of an elite, and giving it to anyone with a sliver of bandwidth and a feature phone. All those newly connected people, in turn, decided to remake global society. The story of 3D printing is not about rapid prototyping and on-the-fly product change. It’s about disintermediating the entire manufacturing model and supply chain. As 3D printing or autonomous weaving or any of the other closely-related robotic production techniques become significantly cheaper and better, they enable consumers to make their own stuff, whatever that stuff may be. What’s the role of a consumer goods manufacturer in that world? Does that brand become a seller of information, blueprints, and brand experience—content, in other words? Maybe manufacturing doesn’t make it into the home for any number of reasons. But does it then become widely distributed and as local as the mall? If you want a pair of new shoes, you scan your feet and customize your shoes. Then they get loomed, printed locally, and sent your way (in a self-driving car, perhaps), thus reversing centuries of industrial centralization and even some of the effects of globalization.
The Privacy Fallacy
Folks are worried about data privacy. We wonder what Facebook or Twitter or Google is going to do with all the information they have on us. The truth is, we’re worried about the wrong things. Those concerns—even the more nervous-making concerns about the data from wearable tech or smart homes—are going to seem quaint once we have to grapple with dirt cheap genetic sequencing. It took years and cost millions to sequence the first human genome. At the close of last year, it could be done for a grand. That cost will continue to go down until it’s just pennies. At that point, DNA sequencing is a mass commodity. Any DNA you leave behind from your hands, your mouth, your hair, even your exhalations can be sampled to find out who you really are. Our personal blueprint will become public. When genes are that easy to read, they’ll be just as easy to write. As genetic and epigenetic medicine evolves, we’ll have to decide where the line between treatment and eugenics falls. So go ahead an opt in on that app. Save your energy for the big decisions to come.
Wait, You Mean the Singularity Really is Near?
All that seems impossible Buck Rogers—absurdly far in the future. That would be correct were technological advancements proceeding at a nice linear pace. That’s the speed we all anticipate says Rob Nail of Singularity University, but technology proceeds at an exponential growth. It may look like a new technology is just creeping along only to explode overnight. That’s what seems to have happened with 3D printing, but in fact, the technology is decades old. It’s been plummeting in cost and growing in sophistication ever since then; it’s just taken this long to get to the cusp of mass awareness. Now that exponential growth curve will take it to places we can only imagine. That’s not the only technology at that point right now, Nail asserts. Mobility, sensors, and artificial intelligence are all at about T-soon on their countdowns, and when they all converge, we’re in for a hell of a disruption. We’ll be able to age at home longer and more securely given that personal sensor nets will monitor not just our vitals but also our habits. Paired with sophisticated computing, they’ll be able to tell something’s wrong long before we know it, thereby keeping our elders living independently deeper into old age. Healthcare can evolve to shift the cognitive burden of medicine onto an AI and away from the doctor, who is then freed up to provide insight, intuition, and relationship. As IBM’s Watson has already shown, AIs will be able to out-process us, and if the exponential growth in computing continues (and it shows no signs of slowing), they’ll be able to do it soon. According to Nail, twenty-five years on, a $1000 laptop will have the computing power of all the human minds on earth. They won’t replace us, though, or nanny us into a dystopian, WALL-E future. Nail believes they’ll sit alongside us; we will be enhanced and empowered by AI. Human plus machine will always be superior to machine alone. It’s a fantastic version of the future…and one worth being terrified of.