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How To Get The Most Out Of The Mother Of All Trade Shows: A CES Primer

You can hear it, right? That low rumbling noise off in the distance?

And if you squint your eyes and turn your head just so, you can just about make out the outlines of Las Vegas. Which means, shockingly, that CES is closer than you think.

As we speak, companies far and wide are feverishly preparing new products, new technology and new stories. PR and pre-launches have already started, and the wave will only build over the next month.

Which brings us to this question: Why?

No, not why CES. With the mobs that descend on Vegas every January, there are about 160,000 reasons why CES.

No, what I mean is, why are you going? Now, this may seem like a strange question to ask. It’s the biggest show of the year for our industry. It’s the Super Bowl and March Madness all rolled into one. Distributors will be there. The retailers will be there. Every member of the press is there. And for an outfit looking to establish a name in the industry it’s the Holy Grail. But still … why?

“We have to have a presence in the industry” — that’s the standard answer. But before you commit the massive amount of money, time and people to feed this particular beast, stop and ask why you are doing this. And this doesn’t mean don’t go; it means understand why you are going, and what you can realistically accomplish. Don’t expect overnight world domination, but understand how to set yourself up for the greatest success.

The first thing to understand is that CES starts now. Yep, it’s already happening, and we have recently hit multiple PR events for products that will be officially launching at CES. So here is the first bit of advice: CES is not for meeting people. CES is for closing people. You are spending an inordinate amount of money to be on that floor, and trust me, five days of people wandering up and saying “So tell me about your product” is not a good use of money.

Are you looking for distribution? You should be calling now. Want to get that perfect interview or press hit? Don’t be stalking them at the show. The goal is to pack your schedule not just with meetings, but productive meetings.

And this brings up another point. Is your product ready? Now this is where you have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask if you and your products are ready for the glare of this light. Remember, it’s not an opportunity unless you can convert on it, and if your product is not ready, neither are you. The old joke is, the best way to kill a bad product is with good marketing, because people just find out how bad it is that much faster.

By the same token, you are in the mother of all crucibles of product launches at CES. You think you are the only person launching your kind of product? Well, you’re probably not — which means you have to grab people and create differentiation immediately, and for the love of monkeys, it has to work. As advertised. Not as in “we have the best sounding headphones ever made, but we’re still tuning them.” That doesn’t fly up here in the big leagues.

And speaking of the bigs, here is the single-biggest thing to consider as you approach CES: what happens next. CES is such a monster that is has the risk of looking like the end game for your company. And it’s not. CES is the set-up for your PR, your launches, and your distribution. And all of the things we have been talking about serve these masters.

If you have done all these elements correctly, then CES is the proverbial starting gun that launches your company. You ride the PR wave out of the show, which gets you those meetings, which gets you those deals, maybe even with those retailers you are desperately stalking right now. But remember, once more, an opportunity is not an opportunity if you cannot convert on it.

So as you plan the corporate version of the D-Day invasion that is CES, by all means make sure you have all the pieces working together perfectly in order to reach that beach and not die in the process.

But also think about what will happen in the days, weeks and months after. If you know what that looks like, and if you are ready to convert on that opportunity, then CES is the way to go.

Christopher Caen is a frequent contributor to TWICE and The Huffington Post. He is also a partner and chief brand strategist at Theory Associates, a strategic branding agency that creates demand for some of the top names in technology. He can be reached at [email protected].