Gabey Goh
Mar 18, 2016

Event marketing: How CES has tailored its approach for Asia

SINGAPORE - When it comes to marketing CES in Las Vegas, the Consumer Technology Association enjoys a tried-and-true method established over the event’s 50-year history. But what about CES Asia in Shanghai, which is coming up on its second event this May? Show director John Kelley shares some lessons learnt with Campaign Asia-Pacific.

John Kelley
John Kelley

The inaugural CES Asia show took place just last year in Shanghai and attracted 28,000 attendees over three days. It featured more than 212 exhibitors from 16 countries spanning more than 20,000 gross square metres of floor space.

CES is owned and produced by the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), a standards and trade organization for the consumer-electronics industry in the United States, with a membership base of approximately 2,000 companies.

Looking back on the first event, with the second edition slated to take place in May, John Kelley, senior director, international programs and show director, CES Asia, said that the first lesson learnt from organising the first show was how to do things in a completely different way.

“You really need to tailor everything for a new audience, and the timing as well is different,” he said. “Historically registration opens six months before show and that’s when we traditionally start our marketing. But the timeframe in Asia is more condensed, the purchase decisions can happen two months before the show or sometimes even three days.”

Kelley shared that for the first show, the organisation had no real idea of what to expect in terms of the level of response or reaction they would get, but long-standing relationships with many companies helped.

“We’re fortunate to have the CES brand behind the Shanghai show and companies that were willing to take a chance and come in for the first event,” he added.

But even with one edition successfully under its belt, CES Asia is still a relative newcomer to the region’s events scene, and companies are still evaluating the show.

“Marketing dollars may be coming from overseas or in-market, so decisions around whether to have a presence really only happen around two months prior to the show,” Kelley said. “That sparks this domino effect in making changes to the exhibitor space and then marketing it because you want people to know that this company or that will be there. There are different variables at play we’re not accustomed to.”

In terms of marketing, there remain many similarities with the main CES event in how the organisation gets the word out about CES Asia, said Kelley.

There is a heavy emphasis on digital mediums, and targeted communications via the databases of trade associations and event partners. Much of the promotional activity around the trade show also comes about in the form of barter deals, building relationships where marketing is conducted in exchange for support.

What’s in it for brands?

While it has become the norm for major brands such as Apple to bow out of large trade shows like CES in favour of hosting their own events, Kelley said that there’s still value to be had in consumer tech brands participating.

The biggest benefit lies in coverage, and the opportunity for exposure in a global media arena. Kelley shared that at last year’s CES Asia, about 1,400 members of the media from around the world were in attendance.

“They’re in a relatively confined space and are thirsty for new technology, discovering new products,” he said.

Kelley shared that about 60 percent of the exhibitors at CES Asia do not exhibit at the Las Vegas show, with the main reason being the audience they are targeting; large companies typically tailor their products specifically to the markets where they will be sold.

Last year’s CES Asia saw nearly 15 percent of attendees coming from outside of mainland China, and the event played host to the official launches of many products.

These included Audi’s R8 e-tron, Baidu Car Life and MMI; Cadillac’s OnStar 4G Lte; China Mobile’s IoT Private Network and OneNet Open Platform; Ford’s Sync 3; Mercedes-Benz’ F 015 Luxury in motion; Moley Robotics’ Smart Kitchen Robot and TomTom’s Runner Cardio and Golfer GPS watches.

"CES is a branding event," Kelley said. "Yes it’s a buyer and seller event, but it’s more than that. It’s where thought leaders and taste makers come together. And where brands can get in front of them to showcase their products."

He added that for smaller brands especially, the investment required to be a part of the show is well worth the opportunity to get the attention of global media. He noted that last year’s show saw some unexpected product launches from smaller companies receive global media attention.

“The value of face-to-face marketing will never go away,” Kelley added. “There’s nothing that can replace serendipitous moments, running into someone in the line for coffee and then talking to them.”

Tips and tricks

For brands looking to make an impact at any trade show, Kelley advises working closely with the show organisers to figure out what opportunities exist.

“In our case, one thing that’s often missed is the fact that exhibitors get access to our media list for free,” he added. “So reach out in advance of the event and invite them to your event or to stop by the booth to check out your product.”

In addition to the classic marketing vehicles of paid sponsorships and other branding channels, Kelley said that one added advantage the Shanghai show has over its Las Vegas counterpart is flexibility.

“As a new event, it’s exciting as show organisers to have this blank canvas to create opportunities that’s unique to clients and what they’re looking for,” he added. “This is really only possible in Asia where you have that space and flexibility to do so versus venues in other parts of the world.”

To highlight his point, Kelley shared that this year’s CES Asia will feature a wearables fashion show to complement an expanded focus on the category, which includes a wearables pavilion organized by the China Electronic Chamber of Commerce.

The upcoming event will feature exhibits from 250 companies representing 20 countries across 15 product categories.

But the most notable exhibit will belong to BMW, with the car brand set to have a major presence at this year’s show, thanks to a custom-built track at the Shanghai New International Expo Centre (SNIEC), to showcase its latest offering.

“BMW will have an outdoor driving experience as part of their exhibit, where you get in the car right in the centre of the show floor and drive outside to a customised track and come back,” said Kelley. “This is difficult in other environments, but you’re able to do that in Shanghai.”

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