CES And The Fragmentation Conundrum

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(By Buzz Knight) Nowhere else in our country is the blur of messaging so apparent than in Las Vegas. To suggest that there is a lot of marketing noise would be an understatement. Brand differentiation must be a major obstacle within every product category.

On every corner and with every billboard comes some form of messaging, offering bigger, better, louder, more, free, sexier…and that’s not even including the hotel and casino marketing! If you are in charge of product marketing in Las Vegas, you better figure out how your brand is going to stand out or else you’ll be drowned out like a bad lounge singer serenading a casino audience.

So, hot on the heals of my visit to the Consumer Electronics Show 2017, I’m here to reflect on what I feel is happening within many sectors represented  at the show and how it has created a fragmentation conundrum.

I love the show for all of the spirit and enthusiasm that is evoked around every category and brand that is represented. The attendance by members of the radio community is definitely growing every year. Every one of us must be focused to improve our innovation process within our organization. This show is more than a friendly nudge in that direction. It’s actually a smack in the forehead!

However, just as it often happens in our business, the show can be a representation of a “me too” or “follow the leader” approach to marketing and product wizardry. The automotive sector is a prime example of that.

For instance, Ford was the first automotive company to make a big splash at CES some years ago and they began the transformation of automotive companies evolving to technology companies. They have certainly experienced some trial and error that has led to improvements in safety features and dashboard infotainment systems, evidenced by their Ford Sync product.

I ran into our old friend Jim Buczkowski (Ford’s Director of Electrical and Electronics) on the display floor and he proudly touted their partnership with Amazon, along with the Alexa product. They are providing access to shop, search, and control smart home features on the road. This partnership was in the infancy stages last year at CES. I believe it’s the type of product differentiation that allows Ford to stand out from the automotive marketing noise.

Other car companies like Honda and Toyota are trying to pursue breakout strategies in the midst of the fragmentation conundrum, that utilize artificial intelligence to appeal to a diminished interest in cars by millennials. With auto transportation of the future clearly in flux, particularly with the drumbeat of autonomous driving, they are developing concept cars that are “empathetic,” by memorizing and storing information about passengers.

For example: Did you have a lousy day at work? Your car will play soothing music and adjust the car temperature to make you feel more at ease. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my car knowing enough about me that it starts diagnosing my mood like a shrink!

Due to the growing fragmentation conundrum, these companies feel like they have to come up with wild and innovative selling points to stand out from the crowd.

There is no doubt the autonomous driving wave will produce more automotive brand fragmentation in the coming years. And yes, it is coming quickly.

I met the head of the Intel Automated Driving Solutions Division on the plane ride back from Vegas. She feels that we are three to four years away from both individual and fleet (Uber) autonomous driving in our country. It might be sooner in some European countries.

Virtual reality was everywhere you turned at the show. It feels that we will begin to see more mass appeal adaption to a product line still in need of refinement.

As the wave of product lines were showcased at CES, it was hard to distinguish the difference and the unique selling point of many of the VR products.

Samsung stood out in this category at the show, as far as I could see, but not as much from a category breakout as it was from their presentation and showcase skills. They had a massive setup that we engaged in that had multiple moving bleacher seats that vibrated and moved while you wore the gear and took in the experience. The headsets were somewhat big and clunky and the visual wasn’t crystal clear. But, I recalled Samsung. Why? It was because their setup was bigger, louder, and more memorable.

TV continues to experience a tremendous fragmentation problem both from an individual program content standpoint, and from a device point of view. Netflix and Amazon have been disrupters on the content side and products like Sling TV have sliced the category on the consumption side, making both audience measurement and brand differentiation a great challenge. Their fragmentation is a massive test case for how and why some brands can break out while others don’t.

So where does this leave radio in the audio business? We have some tried and true points of differentiation and priorities to still battle fragmentation in our sector.

As the folks from Ford and Intel both pointed out, they are fans of radio and of the original and local content we provide. Our living and breathing local engagement matters more than ever in a loud and disruptive content world.

We have to embrace that fact and continue to grow and shoot for the stars to stand out.

Because fragmentation and short attention spans produce more rapid rejection, and in turn trial of other brands or audio products, we can’t waver on superior execution in the moment. It’s critical we don’t take our audiences for granted because they have many options and chances to go elsewhere.

We also have to emulate the great technology companies such as Google to make the user experience of all of our platforms of the highest quality. All of the details matter, including those little tweaks. That, merged with our strength for understanding great customer service, is a powerful force to combat fragmentation.

Lastly, we must never forget what radio means to our local communities.

It’s never been more important to touch, aid, and inform our audiences. This must happen through good and bad times in our local markets,  so we may continue to be a shining beacon of light that audiences of all ages can respect and trust.

Buzz Knight is the Vice President of Programming for Beasley Media Group. He can be reached at [email protected]

5 COMMENTS

  1. I submit the “trust” to which Buzz refers is going to have to be re-earned.
    Radio has been treating its audiences and advertisers like so many tenured, indentured servants for decades.
    And THAT is going to take a whole new attitude on the part of ownership and management and a whole new set of communicative strategies for the talent and in creative.
    As mentioned earlier: “Good luck to us all.”

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