I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, which means we’re entering the warmest months of the calendar year: A late summer after the cool ocean breezes and heavy fog of June, July, and August. However, that doesn’t mean the mind shouldn’t drift toward the winter months. In fact, if you’re planning on making some noise at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January, the clock is already ticking.
The world is different now than it was a few years ago, as much as we’re all “getting back to normal,” more or less. And while CES 2023 drew a smaller crowd than we had all grown accustomed to prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was no small step forward that more than 100,000 people returned to Las Vegas last year. One more year removed from the worst of things, all signs point to many more adding the largest consumer products showcase in the world to their calendars in 2024.
So, with that in mind, it’s time to start acting on your most ambitious CES aspirations. As you begin the planning process, here are a few things to keep in mind to ensure your next visit to the Las Vegas Strip is your best yet:
Tap into key CES topics of note.
Every year, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) settles on an overarching theme for CES. In 2024, and for the second year in a row, they’ll emphasize the collaborative campaign, Human Security for All (HS4A). Emerging from a partnership between several organizations including the CTA, the initiative focuses on the role technology can play in improving the human condition. There are many ways of interpreting this purpose, but brands participating in CES this year should consider what role they or their products play in making life better for all—be it access to healthcare, food security, personal safety and privacy, or otherwise. There will always be value in aligning your CES strategy with key themes, but making an authentic (that part is important) connection with the theme of doing good for humanity is something we should all probably give a bit more thought.
Lean into CES’ reputation as a new product show.
After all these years, CES is still very much a new product show. So, what’s new within the walls of your company? While it’s best to announce products that will, at some point, be made available for purchase, don’t be afraid to pull the curtain back a bit and share some under-development product innovation that may still be a bit further away. CES is an opportunity to showcase innovation—both in the here and now, as well as what may yet come.
Immersive, hands-on experiences often deliver the goods.
While you will surely do a lot of talking at CES, it’s best to let your CES story and products speak for you. How? As your team begins to map out the brand experience at the show, consider how you might be able to give booth or suite attendees—especially media and analysts—immersive, hands-on time with your product(s). It’s one thing to tell someone you have a great product, but another thing entirely to let them experience it for themselves.
Consider a surround-sound content strategy for your brand, not just your news.
Every year, a few brands will dominate CES media coverage simply by virtue of their reputation for innovation. However, a little creativity and rigor around content development can go a long way toward ensuring success for your brand. For example, carve out time and structure for your teams on the ground at the show to embrace the broader CES experience. Set them loose with a smartphone and a well-organized plan and turn them into roving content creators. While many brands focus their energy on securing media coverage, briefing analysts, executing a few strategic social posts, and meeting with partners and customers, there’s broader opportunity for exposure with a little creative will and permission to roam. One cautionary note: Make sure to set clear creative guardrails so those smartphone videos shine vs. embarrass.
Start everything early—earlier than you think.
We all know the dates of CES—why put anything off? I’ve always advocated for deploying a far-reaching pre-brief media strategy because I find it’s the absolute best way to set product launches and brand experiences up for success while easing the burden on reporters who will undoubtedly be pulled in a million directions as the show comes into focus. If you’ve waited to pitch the media until launch day, it’s too late.
Don’t forget the folks at home.
If the virtual CES of 2021 taught us anything, it’s that it is entirely possible to build a winning CES program—and from a media perspective, cover the show—from the comfort of home. And while many reporters returned to Las Vegas in 2023 (you may recall that 2022 was a bit of a washout in terms of media attendance due to a COVID-19 surge), media outlets sent fewer reporters than in pre-pandemic times. I’d expect that this will continue, though I’m sure we’ll see a few more reporters roaming the halls on tired legs. Still, the brands generating the most attention will be the ones who create positive experiences for those covering the show from far afield.
And finally, yes, ask yourself if you have an AI story.
There's no avoiding the inevitable AI spotlight at CES 2024. The various permutations of Generative AI has been the topic of the year and it will surely be on the tip of everyone’s tongue at CES 2024. How is AI impacting your brand? How has it impacted product development, if at all? Consider what might be possible to say about this burgeoning technology that has carved out sizeable real estate in 2023 tech conversations and will only continue to grow in influence and impact. But don't just force an AI angle because it’s all the rage—make sure your AI story is authentically yours and maps honestly to your product narrative and brand value.
The beauty of CES is that there are a million ways to run a successful program. And every year, it’s fun to do a bit of tinkering and try new things. How will you approach the show this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts and, in a few months’ time, hope to see you in Las Vegas!
Chip Scarinzi is head of technology at Ruder Finn.