Hitting Reset on CES 2022

What Will This Week’s Show Teach Us About the Year Ahead for the Technology Industry?

CES has long been viewed as a bellwether for the technology industry. In boom years, the Convention Center and surrounding hotels have been bursting at the seams, and the residents of Las Vegas welcomed us with open arms. 

Hopes were high that CES 2022 would mark a major return to form. But late cancellations from some of the biggest names in tech – not to mention the media who cover them – suggest that this year’s celebration will be far more muted than we’d hoped. 

There’s an easy villain in this story: the Omicron variant. And yes, its rapid rise certainly hastened many CES veterans’ pivot to a second ‘virtual only’ year. 

But if you pull back to look through a wider lens, it’s not that simple. Omicron isn’t delaying our return to normal; it’s accelerating our path to what comes next. 

It’s forcing us to answer the elephant-in-the-room questions that we’ve danced around for some time:  

Are massive trade shows, like CES, past their prime? Virtual events work fine, surely, so do we really need to bear the expense, logistical challenges and health risks of large, swarm-like gatherings? What do we really get out of in-person events that we can’t get from the comfort – and safety – of our home offices? 

Many were eager to attend CES 2022 to meet with industry connections and colleagues, since they’ve generally been apart – besides virtual encounters – for two years. And yes, that networking and connection-building has value. But most reporters and editors we spoke to agreed that unless an onsite experience is truly, well, experiential, then in many cases they’d prefer to stay home. That means meaningful access to executives, hands-on technology demos, or the chance to look ‘under the hood’ and see what’s coming next.  

Purpose Matters 

More important than how CES and its big-show brethren will evolve – most likely, into a forever-hybrid model of in-person and virtual – is one more question:  

Are brands giving their customers – consumer and B2B alike – a reason to care about the advancements they shout about?  

Whether it’s part of a trade show experience or not, this sense of purpose will be the key to effective communications in tech this year more than ever before. Yes, consumers and B2B buyers are vitally interested in just how fast, efficient, cool or productive the latest devices can be. But increasingly, they need to know much more before they buy.  

They want information on precisely what these advancements mean for the future of a complex and struggling world, one made even more so by the seemingly endless pandemic.  

Just look at what tech users are telling us. As we recently noted in this blog and in this reportKetchum’s 2021 Social Permission and Technology Study revealed serious challenges for the tech industry coming from all quarters  enterprise IT buyers and business leaders, as well as employees, consumers and society as a whole. 

Technology brands are facing a serious reputational chasm, as their customers come to grips with the notion that while they appreciate how tech improves their lives, they also find it causes them fatigue and burnout. And they are wary of the ultimate purpose – and effects – of these advanced products and services on the world.  

Three-quarters (74%) of the general public say that while they like having technology in their lives, they generally distrust big tech companies. And 87% of enterprise IT B2B buyers want to ensure that a company is committed to using technology ethically before clicking “send” on a purchase order.  

Tradeshows may have been the most effective way to show-and-tell product benefits at scale. But proving to stakeholders that they are as focused on ethics, environmental sustainability and other reputational factors is going to require a deeper reset. 

We’ll be watching the impact of this week’s event with a keen eye. But we’re also already looking past it, and we’ll be inviting some of our friends in the media to help us. Join the invitation list for more details on our upcoming 2022 Tech Media Trends Panel, in which some of the top journalists in tech discuss their insights and observations.  

For now, if you’re venturing to Vegas this week, stay safe, and make that in-person time really count. 

With a passion for bringing innovative and disruptive ideas and technologies to market, Lisa is a partner and managing director of Ketchum’s Technology Industry. Based in San Francisco, she’s on a permanent quest for the latest technology innovations, the hottest new restaurants, and the perfect glass of cabernet.