HOW TO GENERATE BUZZ AND BUILD
YOUR BRAND AT THE ALL-DIGITAL CES 2021

July 30, 2020

Is your brand already counting down the days to the all-digital CES? We know we are! With the difference in format this year, our team has been busy for months getting a head start on positioning our CES clients to achieve maximum PR impact at this tech innovation extravaganza!

CES brings together all of the biggest players in the consumer electronics space and is among the largest trade shows in the US. (We’re talking thousands of exhibitors, hundreds of thousands of products on display, and more than 100,000 attendees…usually, all spread across three different locations in Las Vegas, but this year, they’ll all be online competing for attention!)

For the media, CES is a feeding frenzy—and that will be the same whether or not CES is digital. More than 6,300 media members from 75 countries lick their chops at the prospect of landing top headlines for their respective publications. Nearly a quarter-million stories are generated from a single week of media engagement during CES.

For this reason, no matter the size of your brand, CES is a premier PR opportunity to generate massive buzz around your brand and scale your business. This is why at CES you’ll find global titans to fledgling startups alike, each and all in hot pursuit of the right media coverage, the right retailers, the right distributors, and the right partners to ensure a stratospheric product launch.

So, how can your brand capitalize on this powerful PR opportunity? Here’s what you need to know to ensure your brand achieves lift-off at CES.

Know Thy Audience

You might call this the First and Great Commandment in the Marketing and PR Bible, and for good reason. Unless you know who you’re talking to, what’s important to them, and why, you won’t be able to effectively tailor your communication and reach your audience.

During CES, you’ll face multiple audiences, including, media, retailers, partners, distributors, influencers, competitors, analysts, and more—all, of course, through the mediated environment of digital platforms. Though there will be some overlap between these audiences, it’s essential to know the distinctions between them and how to craft a narrative for each.

Analysts, for example, are going to be interested in a big-picture, long-term view: how your product fits into larger industry trends, the particular role your product is playing, and what it portends for the future.

The media, on the other hand, will bring an appetite for news grabbing soundbites, click-worthy quotes, unexpected angles, surprising headlines, and provocative activations.

When it comes to media, especially, you’ll need to begin building a list of your top media targets, choosing a dozen or so that will most effectively cast your brand into the limelight.

Know what “bee” you need to put in which “bonnet” to generate buzz for your brand at CES. The tricky part here is to craft strategic messaging for multiple audiences while still communicating a compellingly singular value proposition.

In other words, to create a synergistic approach and outcome, you don’t want to lose the forest for the trees, and it’s a lot easier to prevent this from happening when you partner with an industry-leading marketing and PR agency.

Think “outside the booth” with experiential activations

Once you’ve identified your audiences, it’s time to communicate your brand’s value proposition, which begins with telling your brand story with “outside the booth” thinking. This is true every year—but obviously in 2021, the ONLY way to capture your audience will be outside the booth!

Telling your brand story is one of the most important — and challenging — things your brand will ever do. That’s because a good story isn’t a collection of facts, no matter how interesting. It’s not a laundry list of the features of your product, but rather, the communication of its benefits (its value proposition).

But here’s where the plot thickens. These benefits also aren’t a collection of facts. Rather, the real benefits of your product are the experience that it delivers to real people in ways that make a real difference to their lives (and that differentiates your brand).

Said differently, people don’t buy products — they buy experiences. (In the form of solutions to problems, satisfactions to longings, and answers to important, intriguing, or vexing questions.)

Brands and PR agencies that understand this place a premium on storytelling because they know that successful brands are not in the business of selling products, but rather in the business of creating impactful experiences.

Your audience isn’t going to engage with you online during CES and say, “Tell me your brand story.” That’s why to succeed at CES you’ll need to be thinking about how to create a fully-digital experiential activation, which simply means telling your brand story in a way that experientially activates the value proposition of your brand.

Our team at Zen Media created this kind of experiential activation when Chase for Business approached us for help with communicating their value proposition as a trusted resource and partner for small business owners.

To experientially activate this value proposition to Chase for Business’ audience, we designed the Chase BizMobile, a mobile hub of complementary consulting services that travels all across the country, literally meeting small business owners wherever they might be along their entrepreneurial journey.

Of course, a brick-and-mortar BizMobile wasn’t going to work during a pandemic, so we worked with Chase to convert the experience to a fully-virtual one. Instead of traveling the country, meeting business owners face-to-face, we shifted the meetings to Google Hangouts.

Experiential activations don’t need to be anything so grand as the Chase BizMobile (whether on Google Hangouts or in person!). They can be surprisingly simple, seemingly unassuming, and completely affordable. As long as they activate an impactful experience of your value proposition, they’re more than enough to tell your brand story in a way that will differentiate you from your competitors.

Engage Influencers to ignite interest and sustain momentum

In today’s tech-centric landscape, digital media has largely replaced traditional media as the most effective approach for generating attention and influence. While it used to be that landing an advertising spot during primetime TV or holding a press conference with a top print publication was the holy grail of marketing and PR, today, the terms of influence and attention have dramatically changed, and the expectations of your audience have changed with them.

For one thing, your audience is no longer buying anything resembling a traditional sales pitch, and they’re not paying much attention to content that feels “canned” or impersonal.

They’re also increasingly immune to the one-way, top-down approaches of traditional media, and much more likely to engage with brands that leverage the conversational approaches that define new media.

Knowing how to start and sustain the conversation about your brand before, during, and after CES is nothing less than mission critical, and one of the best ways to do this is by identifying the right influencers to work with.

To begin with, the right influencers are those who authentically represent the image, voice, and values of your brand and who already have—yes, you guessed it!—reach and influence with your target audience!

When you choose the right influencer, your brand not only gains instant access to a highly captive audience via the influencer’s social media channels, it also gains instant cache due to the relationships of trust they’ve already formed with their followers.

Not only this, the conversation about your brand doesn’t begin and end with the influencer but can, with enough know-how, spread like wildfire through shares, likes, and other forms of social virality. This is the key to igniting interest about your product at CES and sustaining momentum well after the event ends.

This influencer-driven, socially amplified approach is how we recently helped Nouveau Eyewear launch their new line of True Religion brand prescription frames at Walmart Vision Centers. Leveraging a triple-brand partnership, we mobilized 8 Influencers and 30+ social posts, achieving more than 500k reach in 30 days to successfully drive in-store sales of luxury items at a price conscious retail outlet!

Leverage trends

Each year CES is marked by different trends. In a recent year, voice-activated devices were all the rage. Another year, smart-home gear captured the majority of the media’s interest.

One way to generate awareness is to ride the wave of attention generated by the year’s dominant trends. You can do this in one of two ways.

The first is simply to “go with the flow” and “piggyback” on the trending narrative by affirming it. (This amounts to throwing your brand in the pile that the media is already sorting through for newsworthy content.)

The second way — a more advanced move, often best left to PR pros — is to take a more provocative approach where you strategically leverage the trending narrative by countering it. (This amounts to putting an intriguing spin on the trending narrative, outright opposing it, or inventing a new and better one altogether that differentiates your brand from everyone else.)

Choose a PR partner that’s mastered New Media, especially how to put it to work in the age of coronavirus 

Putting aside the PR part of CES for a moment, just getting your product show-ready is a feat in and of itself, whether you’re showing it in person or in a virtual setting. One client, a former Olympic silver medalist, joked that he worked harder to prepare for CES than he did for the Games.

CES really is a bit like the Olympics of the tech world, and serious athletes (brands) know they’ll need a coach (or in this case, a PR partner that’s mastered new media) in order to successfully compete for attention in the highly crowded, chaotic, and noisy arena of product exhibitors—and that’s true whether you’re physically in a massive exhibit hall, or jostling for viewers’ attention on an online platform.

Even for established brands with in-house agencies, partnering in a consultative capacity with a team fluent in digital media and PR can be the difference between making a splash vs. creating a perfect storm of attention, influence, and impact.

For example, in our recent PR work for the launch of Forbes8, an incredible new streaming platform designed to support, inspire, empower, and celebrate diverse entrepreneurs across the world (how’s that for some exciting tech?!), we partnered with Forbes’ in-house agency in a collaborative effort that packed twice the punch.

But you don’t have to be an established brand like Forbes (or have a Forbes-sized budget!) to get noticed in a big way at CES. For instance, we attracted major media attention and delivered serious wins at a large trade show for a small start-up tech client with limited resources. By creating simple, low-budget-yet-newsworthy experiential activation (combined with amplification through social media), we garnered coverage in top publications and beat out Fortune 100 competitors with 10x the space and budget!

When events started going virtual in March 2020, we were able to take it in stride—because we’ve done this before. Not only are we a New Media agency, we’re a fully remote New Media agency—and we have been since we were founded more than 10 years ago.

So when the gathering restrictions went into place, one of the first things we did was help our clients convert their in-person events to virtual—and you know what happened?

Qualified lead generation and event signups skyrocketed.

The average increase in leads among our clients, after switching to an all-virtual event format, is 10x. 

A team who lives, breathes and sleeps the modern media landscape can be invaluable in navigating the complexities, and effectively activating awareness of your brand before, during, and after CES through:

  • Identifying ideal outlets for your brand’s audiences
  • Connecting directly with press representatives
  • Securing coverage in top-tier publications
  • Compiling media kits
  • Generating social media awareness and engagement of your brand
  • Creating digital experiential activations
  • Engaging influencers
  • And much more

Mobilize for the right media event to meet your goals

While it’s true that CES is the Olympics of tech trade shows, you could also say it’s a lot like a giant, multi-day potluck dinner with countless dishes to choose from.

Just as you’d never dream of hosting a dinner party without sending out invitations or making guests aware of available menu options, you don’t want to go to the trouble of gearing up for CES without mobilizing for one of the three big media-only events.

As of yet, CES hasn’t released details on how the media-only events will operate this year. Check back for updates soon!

Additional insights for finding your Zen at CES

In addition to the six primary approaches we just covered for ensuring your brand achieves lift-off at CES, there are a handful of more granular tactics that can contribute to a successful launch.

Orchestrate media embargoes

A critical part of your larger PR strategy is to get your ducks in a row well before CES begins by creating press releases and other product-promoting pieces that will generate buzz for your brand.

You’ll need to work directly with your target media outlets to place these pieces under embargo until a predetermined date during CES when they’ll gain maximum reach and garner maximum engagement.

Arranging coverage ahead of time for your product is absolutely essential. Brands who delay are almost certain to be disqualified from consideration due to the sheer numbers seeking coverage within the brief window of CES. If your brand lacks experience in securing coverage, we can help.

Strut Your Stuff

Remember your grade school science fair or art contest? Remember being attracted to the science experiments or artworks with blue ribbons attached to them because you had to see just what was so great about Katie’s baking soda volcano (experiential activation at it’s finest!) or Aaron’s watercolor rendering of his family’s lawnmower?

Some things never change, and brands that can play up the awards they’ve won—in prominent ways, of course—will be that much more successful at attracting their audiences to their virtual booth and getting them to engage with their activations.

Ready to hit the ground running with an industry-leading, award-winning digital marketing and PR agency that can help you generate massive buzz around your brand at CES? Reach out to us today!

ABOUT SHAMA HYDER

She is the founder & CEO of Zen Media. She has been named the “Zen Master of Marketing” by Entrepreneur Magazine and the “Millennial Master of the Universe” by FastCompany.com. Forbes, Businessweek, and Inc have all recognized her as one of the Top 30 under 30 entrepreneurs in the field of marketing. Shama has built a global audience and is known for helping brands succeed in the digital age. She is a bestselling author, an international keynote speaker, and has been named one of LinkedIn’s Top 10 Voices in Marketing for four years in a row.

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