Alexa killed it, and 4 other must-watch marketing trends from CES

CES, the gadgetfest that gave us our first glimpse of tech mainstays like 4G phones and smartwatches, drew over 177,000 tech fans to Las Vegas this year. We spent our week at the show sussing out five distinct trends for 2017. From smart homes to startups, here’s what we found.

Alt-space is the new main space. CES is divided into Tech East, the Las Vegas Convention Center where the biggest brands set up shop, and Tech West, where newer brands show their wares. At Tech East, you’ll find major companies like Samsung, Sony, Toyota and Ford. But this year, the bulk of the buzz came from the Sands Expo and the Venentian, where Tech West walked consumers through fitness, “babytech” and other emerging tech arenas.

The big interest in Tech West this year reveals a consumer trend towards exploring newer, smaller brands—startups that are creating something entirely new instead of updating products consumers already own. A host of startups focused on pet gear showed off their smart collars to garner some industry buzz, one of which, Link’s AKC collar, won a CES Innovation Award. Also among Innovation Award winners was the startup EyeQue, which makes an at-home eye exam.

While a sleek, new television may catch consumers’ eyes, the pure innovation on display at Tech West will hold their attention in 2017.

There’s a booming, new voice in tech. One thing was clear from this year’s CES: Alexa is on its way to becoming a household name. The Amazon voice recognition software is poised to win the smart home race, having been incorporated into several car brands like Audi, loads of gadgets and even a refrigerator from LG.

Using Amazon’s AI, consumers can perform household tasks, like turning on the lights, starting the car and preheating the oven. Alexa’s abilities have also expanded to services. “She” can track flights through Kayak, order a bouquet through 1-800-Flowers or read the headlines through Digital Trends (a shameless plug, we know).

These deep brand tie-ins could soon have implications for AI-enabled search engine marketing. Ask Alexa for nearby coffee shops and who will she mention – the nearest mom-and-pop shop or the closest Starbucks? It might depend on who’s paying.

Tech integration spurs data security fears. With the proliferation of smart home technology, we expect most American households to be at least slightly intelligent by the end of 2017. This year’s CES focused mainly on integrations between devices. The big announcement from Lutron, a light tech company, wasn’t a new dimmer but its integration with SmartThings and expanded capabilities with Nest’s camera. Chamberlain, which makes garage door openers, announced that it will create products that work with Apple’s HomeKit starting in July.

All of these gadgets —and the corresponding sharing of data across big brands— will have consumers asking just who has access to their information. Furthermore, they’ll want to know how they can control the flow of their personal data and what major companies are doing to protect it. The smartest companies will build security and privacy protections into their products from the get-go, but this trend will also make room for companies focused solely on personal data security. Dojo by Bullguard is a forerunner here; the company aims to build a layer of data protection around everything in your smart home.

Virtual reality is here – so what are consumers watching? Though VR hype has died down, the space continues to grow. Adoption of the headsets has been limited to date, but a recent Nielsen study suggests that young audiences will purchase VR devices in large numbers in 2017. The brands that spend big on premium virtual reality experiences today will be those that early adopters spend the most time with tomorrow. So what will that premium content be?

While gaming’s VR appeal is straightforward, successful lean-back content is harder to imagine. Music, for one, seems like an obvious answer – imagine a VR experience that puts you in the front row at a Bruno Mars concert, or a backstage all-access pass (for just $4.99 per month!) that puts you in artists’ dressing rooms before or after the show. Animation also surfaced at CES as a possibly robust content play for VR, with Visionary VR’s Mindshow presenting software that makes animated stories easy to create in a virtual 3D space.

4K TVs leave a hole for 4K content. After flat panels, after high-definition, it seemed like it might be impossible to get consumers to open their wallets for an improved TV yet again. But TV was the talk of the town at CES, with a breathtakingly thin OLED panel from LG (described as “wallpaper thin”) and a brand new OLED set from Sony making headlines. These and other new sets support 4K UHD, a new specification for deeper blacks, richer colors and sharper pictures.

What CES lacked was an array of content providers announcing plans to support the brand-new format. As with VR, whoever gets there soonest has the advantage. At present, consumers who buy a new set will have to look to Netflix and Amazon, two of the best sources of 4K UHD content.

Remember when HD first came out, and consumers found themselves mesmerized by how great nature documentaries looked in the format? It remains to be seen what content will shine in 4K.

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