CES 2021 — The Lowdown


(By Buzz Knight) There are always many story lines that unfold at CES that provide valuable insights, no matter what business you are in. Here is a breakdown of the show to date…

The CEOs And Their Messaging
It’s always an insightful part of the Consumer Electronics Show as many of the exhibitor CEOs lay out important priorities for their companies, new product lines, and key leadership themes.

CEO Corie Barry from Best Buy is at the top of the list for her authentic messaging as a new leader during a pandemic.

As Barry said, “Everything accelerated when the pandemic hit, and we needed to realize, as far as our customer base, that the customer is in control as far as where they want it, when they want it, and how they want it. Personalization of service is key, and the consumer is in control.”

In her view, the pandemic accelerated what the future of retail will look like, and things that would have taken weeks or months to create and act upon had to happen immediately. Iteration became an important trait for Best Buy, and it was critical that they had an excellent feedback loop with their employees and customers so they could adjust accordingly.

Purpose-driven leadership became equally important to double down on, and Barry believes more than ever that leadership should consist of inclusive traits such as vulnerability, empathy, courage, and grace.

Lastly, when asked what she has learned during this time, she said, “Embrace that there is no playbook for so many scenarios that crop up.”

Verizon Chairman/CEO Hans Vestberg presented his company’s mission for the various currencies of 5G and what they will bring to consumers and business stakeholders in the years to come. He spoke about how 5G will advance the future of “smart cities” and how Verizon is partnering with UPS to improve efficiency in the delivery business. Additionally, he highlighted the “Pay it Forward Live” music series in conjunction with Snapchat, made possible by 5G technology, with a special guest appearance by The Black Pumas.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra focused her presentation on her company’s major commitment to electric, with an aggressive playbook for multiple car brands.

A common theme for many brands at CES is personalization, and Barra talked at multiple moments about “the focus on you” as GM deals with the changing face of the car consumer.

As companies have been challenged with advancing initiatives during the “new normal,” Barra brought out Kyle Vogt, co-founder and CTO of Cruise, GM’s partner autonomous-car company, to talk about the previous year of evolution.

The encouraging story line is that Cruise grew significantly during the pandemic as its autonomous pilot programs in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, continued to evolve. Cruise has a delivery partnership with Walmart in the works, and GM has also diversified its portfolio with a vertical called BrightDrop, which will be a logistics-focused electric-delivery unit.

Brand Messaging
So what are the key brand messaging themes we are hearing from CES 2021?

First and foremost, of course, the pandemic. As Fred Jacobs put it in his excellent Virtual CES tour, “The pandemic pivot has been on the mind of many of the brands here on display.”

Samsung has branded the company as “Better Normal for All”; Kohler, when talking about its smart home technology, says, “We want to make the consumer’s life simpler and easier”; and LG says “the meaning of home has changed.”

Another big brand messaging theme has been artificial intelligence/AI. The best description I heard around consumer technology came from tech guru Shawn Dubravac, who accompanied the Jacobs Media Virtual Tour and said, “AI is about making prediction cheap.”

As digital health care has been an exploding category during the pandemic, we are seeing numerous AI applications in that world, like:

Axir Engine, which comes from Axion Research and is the first AI-powered disease-risk engine and early cancer-detection technology.

Imedisync, an AI-powered digital mental health care platform provider.
And Nuralogix, which has an AI-powered product called Anura, an app that positions itself as a personal wellness app and can measure all of your vital signs.

The key question for all of these significant advancements is whether they will get FDA approval to help their go-to-market strategy.

CES is all about pushing the boundaries of innovation, and it is great to see so many companies have been tremendously active during lockdown.

I expect CES 2022 to showcase even greater advancements in our technology world to improve life and solve business problems.

Buzz Knight is the CEO of Buzz Knight Media and can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]


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