Should I launch a new product at CES in 2018?

CES is one of the most prominent gathering of technology minds, innovators, brands and media. With a couple hundred thousand attendees, which include around 8,000 media members, it’s truly the world’s stage for consumer electronics.

PR professionals and brands alike recognize the immense influence and exposure that CES brings — so it’s no surprise that the question we get most often from our technology clients is, “should I launch a new product at CES?”

We know this can be a difficult and financially-complex decision for any company to make, which is why it’s important to have a PR partner who knows the ins and outs of CES and can help you make the best decision for your brand.

When it comes to CES options, you can’t start planning early enough, which is why we’ve created a two-part blog series that will answer some of the biggest questions we know you have about CES. We’ll share insight on whether or not you should launch at CES, what to expect from CES, how to set metrics, and provide a month-by-month strategic timeline for launching a product at CES.

So, we’ll start the series by answering a few of the basics.

Should we launch a new product at CES?

We have counseled many clients on executing a smart launch strategy for CES. In fact, this year at SHIFT, we successfully launched products and introduced our brands to key media influencers and business leads at CES. On the flip side, we’ve also advised many clients against launching a product at CES. And we can tell you, there is no one-size-fits all answer to this question.

Oftentimes, it’s hard to answer this question without more information about the product. At SHIFT, we have a few key questions that we discuss internally before advising a client to launch a product at CES.

Here’s a quick-question cheat sheet for analyzing if a CES launch is right for your product:

Is your brand well-known? Have you had product press coverage in the past?

We’ve helped startups and brands of all sizes successfully launch products at CES. While we know that CES is very crowded and a prominent launch platform for some of the biggest players in the tech game, such as Apple, Samsung, Ford and more, there is plenty of room for small- to medium-size brands to successfully launch. If your brand is not as well known in the tech world as Sony and has not yet secured top-tier press coverage like IBM Watson, we suggest building press momentum before CES and cultivating relationships with key reporters ahead of the conference. This ensures that key targets attending CES have heard of your brand before, which can help lock in more briefings during the show. From providing embargoed updates, scheduling pre-launch demos, seeding the launch with content placement that advocates the need of a product like yours, and more, it’s important to build a foundation for your brand before the conference.

Have you launched other successful product(s) before?

If you’re not a startup launching your very first product, then being successful at CES means you’ve got a pretty good track record of launching products. It’s important that your product launch history is stellar and you continue to generate positive product review coverage. It’s unlikely that you’ll secure coverage if reporters are skeptical to promote your new product because you’ve had trouble with past products — whether that be consistently missing GA dates, issuing product recalls, running out of funding and more. Media want to know that your brand and product line is reputable and sustainable for the long term.

Is your product truly unique from other products on the market and does it solve a big consumer pain point?

This is such a sensitive question that we ask, and we know it’s hard for clients to hear. But we have your best interest in mind. Before we encourage your brand to invest thousands of dollars to launch at CES, we’re going to take a very hard look at your product to determine if it will truly stand out from other products and is unique enough to garner press coverage at CES. The most CES-media worthy products are those that solve a current consumer need in a cost-effective way, position a smaller brand as the “next best thing” to rival a big, mainstay brand, or can be classified into the five areas predominantly covered at CES — smart, connected, autonomous, predictive and virtual / augmented.

Will your product be ready for pre-CES demos by mid-October?

A CES launch strategy has many moving parts, and we strongly recommend hosting product demos with key tech reporters before CES even begins. This helps you cut through the noise, gives you a better chance to have a place in tech media’s planned CES editorial calendars and ensures that you’ll meet the deadlines for submitting to CES awards and media recognitions. Ideally, your product is ready for in-person media demos by end of October, and if applicable, we have enough product units to ship to media at the end of November for them to finalize a thorough review under embargo. Giving media a pre-CES look also allows us to get initial reactions from media and helps the team refine launch messaging to address the biggest questions media has asked.

What is the general availability (GA) date of your product?

In a perfect world, your product would be simultaneously available to purchase as the wave of CES coverage hits throughout the launch week. The media coverage generated from CES is a huge catalyst for driving website traffic, making it the perfect time to convert eager browsers into purchasers. For example, the coverage from one product we launched this year tripled the number of site sessions over a two-day time span, in which 75% of visitors were new site visitors who were ripe for converting.

However, if your product will not be available for purchase at launch, it’s important that you give media a realistic timeline for when the product will be available for consumer purchase. We know that when you’re building a product, many different things come up and deadlines get moved, which is why we recommend putting a seasonal date to your expected GA, such as late summer or early winter, instead of a physical GA date. This ensures you don’t mislead media or buyers, and gives us a chance to keep the lines of communication with media open via frequent product updates.

If your product will not be ready for consumers to purchase for more than 15 months after CES, it’s very hard to secure coverage for that product and we would typically recommend not launching at CES.

What kind of coverage can we expect?

In terms of media coverage expectations, we’ve found that top-tier media tries to set the direction of coverage in advance of the conference based on 1.) keynote speakers (i.e. if IBM is speaking, then you can bet AI will be a focus) and 2.) big brand launches (i.e. if Ford has announced a presence, then you can ensure autonomous cars will be a focus). We’ve also noticed that what’s hot one year, will probably not be as hot the next year. “Industry darlings” tend to vary from year to year. For example, in 2015, 3D printing was wildly covered, but in 2016 it didn’t get as much interest from reporters; in 2016, virtual reality was on the agenda of every tech report, and in 2017, it was covered as more of an update of the previous year’s work. We expect coverage focus to shift from year to year, and will advise our clients accordingly to set expectations appropriately.

We certainly recommend that you attend the Unveiled portion of CES, as this pre-show event is where journalists flock first to set their briefing and editorial strategy for the week. This event is a reporter’s best opportunity to see what products are worthy of launch coverage and/or a more in-depth briefing throughout the week.

Additionally, we’ve found that more and more top-tier reporters are not accepting on-site briefings during CES. Instead they’ll accept booth information and if it fits into the editorial direction, they’ll put you in their “walk through rotation” (i.e. “We’ll be on the VR floor from 2-4pm on Day 1, I’ll put you on my editorial rotation but am not accepting or promising briefings”). Also, we expect more top-tier consumer tech pubs to adopt some form of CNET and TechCrunch’s media briefing strategy, in which you fill out online forms to request a briefing, either before the show or at their on-site CES booth. From there, editors make a short list of companies they’re approved to cover and brief throughout the week. As an example, see CNET’s policy is here.

Overall, if you’re launching a product at CES, we’ll need to analyze the CES media landscape, review your booth strategy and understand pre-CES capabilities before setting coverage expectations. However, rest assured that our strategy will focus on landing splashy coverage among the biggest CES media influencers including WIRED, TechCrunch, CNET, Mashable and more. To give you an idea of what we’re going for, check out some of the cool CES work we’ve done for SHIFT clients: Mohu, Mcor, and Blink.

If you have questions about whether or not your company should launch a new product, shoot me an email and we’ll start a conversation. Stay tuned for more insight on launching a product at CES. Part II of the series will provide a month-by-month timeline of organizing your CES presence.

Natalie Townsend
Senior Account Manager


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