CES 2021 is in The Books. Here Are The Takeaways


(By Buzz Knight) The Consumer Technology Association has just wrapped up CES 2021, and the event couldn’t have come at a better time for many of us associated with the show.

Every year we look forward to the trek to Las Vegas to see the future, and the CTA deserves immense credit for making the first ever virtual happening a success. CTA made history as the event became the largest virtual tech-industry event ever, with almost 2,000 exhibitors participating.

To say the event has evolved over the years, especially during this “pivot” year, would be an understatement.

Back in 1967, when the event started in New York, there were 14 exhibitors.
Last year in Vegas there were 4,000 exhibitors and over 170,000 attendees.
CES always plays a pivotal role in helping us see the cutting edge of the future. That’s why we love the event so much!

The ’70s at CES brought us an innovation called the VCR.
The ’80s brought us the camcorder.
The ’90s brought us the DVD.
The 2000s brought us the Xbox.

Just to put the more recent times in perspective, it was at CES in 2008 that the Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates laid out his company’s roadmap for something called “the cloud.”

What a journey it has been.

So where did the journey take us in 2021, and what were some key takeaways for us to take back to our teams?
Let’s break it down:

Resilience was a key theme the technology business should be incredibly proud of. The unexpected occurred, and innovation pressed forward in so many dynamic aspects of the business.

“Pivoting” became one of the most overused words during the pandemic as entire industry categories needed to evaluate the strategies they had locked into place some time ago.

Julie Sweet, the CEO of Accenture, coined the term “compressed disruption” as she pointed out the need for leaders of today to have “the courage and willingness to rethink their game plan.”

Key executives and CEOs of major companies find their leadership skills being pushed to the brink during this crisis, and it’s valuable to note some key examples of success that have brought businesses together to survive and thrive. CTA CEO Gary Shapiro is a great example in his role of bringing a global force together for CES this year and making the experience valuable and worthwhile.

Corie Barry, the new CEO of Best Buy, is another great example as well. Her quote on leadership says it well: “My job is to create conditions for other people to be successful.”

And there are many others.

Social responsibility is always a theme at CES, but this year it seemed to take on new meaning.
For example:

Bosch is committed to making a difference with the immense challenge of climate change and states that reducing CO2 emissions in its factories is a priority.
Samsung spoke about sustainability and doing what is right and better for the planet.
General Motors is all-in on electric vehicles and zero emissions.

It seems when the pandemic first hit, most brands pushed hard on the notion of a purpose-driven message, and the hope is that this is truly a long-term commitment to making our world a better place.

Personalization of the customer experience is always front and center at CES, and this year is no exception. This is a key area the radio business as a whole has still not figured out how to attack, while other industries have made it a priority.

Some specific examples are: Ford, and the personalization involved with its voice technology that allows for more conversational speech patterns; Mercedes-Benz and the MBUX Entertainment system, which has a fully intuitive user interface; and Samsung, with the various ways it allows you to customize your living space and personalize its services.

Iteration has always been a part of the innovation roadmap, and the necessity in the last year for brands to incorporate this into their operational processes has been key. Some trial-and-error to see what works helps break new ground for success, and leaders need to have their sensors ready so they can maximize performance.

The feedback loop has never been more important for technology leaders and marketers than in 2021, and we saw this in action at CES. Staying close to employees even while distance was mandatory took on new importance, and brands needed to stay especially close to what their customers were thinking.

This remains a key opportunity and priority for the radio sector.

Lastly, brand differentiation pops into my head as a big challenge for the consumer technology business, just as it is for the radio business.

In so many cases, it is hard to specifically define for a brand what flag it is planting to be known for. As an example, the digital health category is crowded with self-administered personal wellness products that all feel like one big blur to me. Radio often faces the same challenge when it comes to what makes specific brands special and unique.

Thanks to Radio Ink for letting me pass on what I “saw” at the Virtual CES 2021.

Looking forward to the long lines and the sensory overload next year in Vegas!

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


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