CES 2013: The Four-Sentence Summary

I know what you're thinking: CES is so last week already. But the lessons of CES will follow -- some would say haunt -- us all year long, so it's worth a sober summary of last week's events. To make this quick, I'll summarize this year's trade show in four sentences. I will then defeat the purpose of a four-sentence summary by explaining each sentence, but you are free to withdraw at any moment. 

  1. The Internet of Things is really an Internet of Sensors.
  2. Your body is a wonderland.
  3. Device makers should invest in better experiences, not better products.
  4. CES is dead -- long live CES.
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Ultra HD TV: Déjà Vu All Over Again

I swear I've been here before. Not here, as in here at CES, where I spent the week checking my product assumptions against the actual offerings arrayed on the showfloor. But here, as in at a crucial moment in time when a single industry rushes to push a massively expensive, relatively unnecessary technology on unsuspecting consumers. That's the case with Ultra HD at CES 2013. Formerly known as 4k TV (because of the rough number of horizontal pixels employed in the technology) and now already truncated to UHD by company reps on the floor and in the hallways, Ultra HD is supposed to be the next thing every consumer will want.

It ain't gonna happen. The reasons evoke a ready comparison to 3DTV. And indeed, I have been here before, back at CES 2010 where I wrote a piece called 3DTV at CES: Poking Holes in the Hype. That year, some industry thinkers had conducted a survey and concluded that as many as 5 million consumers were ready to jump into 3D with both feet while opening their big, fat wallets. So I wrote the obligatory post that said, pointedly, no. 

The comparison between 3D and Ultra HD is obvious. They were both too expensive at introduction (Ultra HD much more so than even 3D); they both suffered from a dearth of content availability; they both required a complete retooling of the equipment used by video production teams and film studios; and they both landed at a time when consumers were pretty happy with the awesomely large, cheap TV screens they already had. 

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What Really Counts As Digital Disruption?

I'll be first to agree that "disruption" is an overused word. I hear it all the time -- companies pitching me their new business idea describe how they're going to disrupt this or disrupt that. And here at CES 2013, I see and hear the word disruption everywhere I turn. Sometimes these companies really mean disruption. But often, they just mean that they're going to use technology to compete aggressively. Instead of simply saying "compete," they invoke the moral authority of Clayton Christensen and say they intend to "disrupt" the rest of the competitive field. 

My concern with the overuse of the word disruption is not just that it waters down the power of the ideas behind disruption. It's that a muddy understanding of disruption will stop us from comprehending just how powerful digital disruption will be. Because the addition of digital to the word disruption does not merely enhance it, it accelerates it, making digital disruption orders of magnitude more powerful, a case I made in late 2011 and a case that has only strengthened since. 

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CMOs, Are You Ready For 2013?

I only just recently started watching Mad Men — a shock to many of my marketing peers and to regular folks who now think I’ve been living under a rock for the past five-plus years. I’ll save my thoughts on the show for another time, but what strikes me at least once during each episode is how much everything (tactics) and nothing (strategy) have changed. Similar fundamental challenges weigh on Sterling Cooper’s clients’ minds and on our CMO clients’ minds today: How do we connect with our consumers in a way that differentiates us from the competition? While Don Draper was limited to print and TV, thanks to digital platforms and tools, today’s CMOs have an almost-infinite number of options with which to build relationships with consumers.

2013 is the year that digital takes on a much more significant role in marketing and business strategies at business-to-consumer (B2C) organizations, and CMOs will be responsible for shepherding the change. 2013 is the year that CMOs will leverage digital tools to drive innovation of new compelling brand experiences — not as add-ons or enhancements but as integral elements of the brand’s messages, actions, and products that will differentiate your offering.

B2C CMOs, your 2013 resolutions should be to:

  • Embrace digital disruption. Digital disruption has remarkable strength. It's able to bulldoze traditional sources of competitive advantage faster, with greater power, at less cost than any force that came before it — and no business is immune. CMOs must make a strategic commitment to innovation and stop thinking about digital as another media channel. Digital is everywhere and should elevate marketing and business priorities for consumer benefit.
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