It’s the most wonderful time of the year! There’s a chill in the air, comforts of home remain close in our minds, and in some regions, twinkling holiday lights continue to glow beneath a soft canvas of snow.

That’s right: It’s time for the annual Consumer Electronics Show – better known as CES!

Every January, those who work in the tech industry quickly shift from holiday cheer, décor, and gift wrap to big screens, small devices, and cloud-powered services. This year, CES will certainly have a different feel as the show shifts to a wholly digital format. The experience will be better in some ways and worse in others – and there will be exactly 100 percent fewer handshakes – but one thing remains as certain today as it has been in years past: Brands of all kinds will make announcements with the hope of capturing attention and standing out.

As ever, our U.S. Tech Practice is keeping a close eye on all the action next week, and we will be doing our part to help several clients stand out at one of the most important technology shows of the year. Which brands made inspired choices that’ll drive success at this year’s show? That remains to be seen. Still, there are a few things we can predict about CES in these otherwise unpredictable times.

1. The virtual CES platform will be what brands make of it.

If your company is participating in CES this year, how creative did you get with the platform? I’m expecting that, given the unknown of what’s ahead of us next week, many brands will have followed instructions and nailed the basics. That’s fine, but it’ll be the companies that embraced this transition to digital, pushed the boundaries of what’s possible with the format, and took a few chances that will see the most success.

2. Non-participants will make some noise.

The trick, of course, is predicting which ones will do just that. Every CES features an impressive lineup of keynote speakers, top-notch brands with mega announcements, and up-and-comers who steal attention. Every CES also features non-participants who get creative and use this moment in time to shift the spotlight to their own news. A couple of years ago, Apple upstaged its competitors by buying prime billboard real estate in Las Vegas to tout its commitment to privacy. It is just one of the many brands that has wriggled its way into CES media coverage without actually participating in the show. The virtual format of this year’s show makes it easier than ever for non-participants to capture a little mindshare. Who will do it best in 2021?

3. Virtual CES: CTA’s most international show yet.

More than 200,000 people from more than 150 countries usually make an annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the show. For someone like myself, the short flight to Las Vegas from my home in the San Francisco Bay Area is a no-brainer. The decision is likely not quite so easy for many of my peers and counterparts working in other parts of the world, where the ability to attend often requires considerable upfront investment in airfare and accommodations. Now that those hurdles have been removed, expect the 2021 edition of CES to draw a higher percentage of international participants and exhibitors. For many, this may be their first and only relatively inexpensive chance to attend and take a crack at stealing the show.

4. Tech will come home – literally.

I almost made it to the end of this post without mentioning the “P” word (pandemic). There’s no getting around it, of course: we’re all preparing for a virtual CES because the novel coronavirus rages on around the world, sending millions in and out of various stages of lockdown and keeping them tethered closely to their homes. In 2020, and now in the early days of 2021, “home” is more than a place of residence. It’s where everything happens now: work, school, the gym, and so much more. With that in mind, watch for more focus to be placed on the home this year – both in terms of smart home technology, as well as tech that helps people compartmentalize different facets of their lives during a time when everything is happening within the same space.

5. Aspects of the first Virtual CES will live on in years to come.

Change isn’t always easy and the shift away from a live CES experience in Las Vegas couldn’t have been an easy undertaking for the Consumer Technology Association, or CTA, the show’s organizer. Love it or hate it, the grind of the traditional format of CES is sure to return before too long. That said, there are elements of the virtual event that I’d expect will have some staying power and CTA should be commended for trying something new and opening this experience up to so many around the world. From the digital platform for brands to the access afforded to international journalists, we should expect several pieces of this experiment to endure in future editions of the show.

I’ve only just scratched the surface here, as next week’s conference promises to bring forward innovation in many other areas. What will we see from health tech brands following a year that put such a strain on the healthcare industry? Have automakers brought us one step closer to the ubiquitous autonomous future that remains just beyond our view? Or will the focus be on the here-and-now and enhancements in the electric vehicle space? And how has our increased attachment to in-home entertainment impacted the innovation we’re likely to see in the world of television – bigger, better, and curvier than ever?

So many questions, so many answers coming in a few short days. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts about this unprecedented CES experience. Please feel free to reach out at chip.scarinzi@hkstrategies.com and stay tuned for more from H+K as the first-ever virtual CES unfolds.