For years, CES served as a January temperature check for the technology industry, spotlighting innovations likely to be hot in the months to come. Yet as technology publications dutifully published their lists of CES 2022's biggest themes – the metaverse, futuristic cars, new TVs, remote work solutions and NFTs – they conspicuously left one huge trend undiscussed: the growing incomprehensibility of this year's top innovations to mainstream consumers.
Consider how many of the show's "big" announcements would fly right over the heads of most people. If asked, could you explain why someone might want a QD-OLED TV? Or how a company's embrace of NFTs will make a difference to consumers? Or what metaverse products or services actually mean right now? These were some of the show's most ballyhooed topics, yet their lack of mainstream resonance was palpable.
It would be easy to dismiss this as a routine CES issue – the cost of exhibiting what's new well before it becomes widespread – but the technology knowledge gap has become an increasingly serious problem for marketers. Rather than finding ways to make new innovations more broadly understandable and appealing, companies focus on the smaller pool of tech-savvy people who already "get it." Then, as innovations become more complex and esoteric, companies hope the same people will keep buying updated offerings despite not really understanding what's new.
For technology companies, particularly small- to medium-sized ones, focusing solely on messaging the same people rather than thinking bigger tends to be a recipe for stagnation or disaster. CES is (or was) the place to achieve scale. It's the rare technology event that always captures global attention – a brief window where media, buyers and vendors converge, enabling innovations to go from obscure to well-known overnight. But if people can't understand an innovation's benefits in human terms, it's probably not going to go mainstream.
Seventeen months ago, Allison+Partners' U.K. technology team flagged this issue in our "Talk Human To Me" report, guiding B2B marketers away from esoteric tech specs in favor of emotive, human-focused technology messaging. Last month, our U.S. team spotlighted the "Tug of War" between brand and product marketing, noting tech companies now increasingly rely on brand narratives to win attention, as their new product news isn't necessarily captivating journalists.
If you haven't read these (free!) reports yet, I would strongly suggest downloading them now, as CES 2022 should have set off alarm bells in every tech company's marketing department. Take one look at this year's trending terms – QD-OLED, NFTs, Matter and metaverse – and you'll see echoes of past CES trends (Mini-LED, crypto, HomeKit, and AR) that eventually became known through repetition, but struggled to gain traction outside of the tech world's bubble.
Tech marketers need to bridge this growing knowledge gap, as people can't care about what they don't understand. As innovations become more esoteric, even educated people feel confused and disconnected enough to fully tune out, if they were ever tuned in. If the only people who understand new technologies are the researchers and engineers who created them, there's a problem.
One smart solution is to follow Apple's example, becoming far more purposeful in the end-to-end process of marketing technology – everything from intuitively naming new technologies to consistently communicating about them. Distill technical concepts into things people emotionally care about. As the Hamilton lyric put it, "talk less; smile more." Relegate the highly technical but important details to a secondary tech specs page. Level up as much of today's news as possible to your brand narrative.
At a time when people demonstrably have shorter attention spans and more competition for their limited time, marketers must meet audiences where they actually are, rather than expecting them to step up. In other words, use "talk human to me" principles as a basis for building both your brand and product narratives. Clearer and more emotive language will have a significant impact regardless of whether you're speaking to consumers or B2B tech professionals, ultimately making your job easier – and your communications more effective.
Jeremy Horwitz is Allison+Partners' head of content for the Technology group, drawing upon three decades of prior experience as a journalist and entrepreneur to provide brand positioning, media relations, and content development counsel. Specializing in communications for the consumer electronics, semiconductor, gaming, and B2B sectors, he also has a deep background in diverse areas ranging from intellectual property law to popular entertainment, international dining, and luxury hospitality.