What 'Downton Abbey' Can Teach You About CES

Are you in Vegas (baby)? I understand why CES is one of the annual “pilgrimages” we, the industry, must make. But to be honest, I believe we should agree that the continual focus on the shiny objects of the moment, as well as the continual search for the next big thing-slash-unicorn, is now so very 2015.

What should interest us much more is consumer behavior and usage.

I think the development of a (partially) self-driving and connected car is an incredible achievement and a technological marvel. But what will this utility do to people’s habits and lives? The same with any connected and smart technology in the house. I’m amazed at what is today connected and what we can do with seemingly dull and utilitarian objects like thermostats, coffee-makers, refrigerators and (thanks to a 15-year-old with a dad who works at Intel) a microwave.

But again, it is how these inventions modify and change human behavior that I find the most interesting.



Over the festive period, while in Europe, I found myself swept up in the finale of the celebrated period drama “Downton Abbey" (just beginning its final season in the U.S. on PBS, so I won’t share any spoilers). I also watched a companion show called “The Manners of Downton Abbey,”  narrated by Alastair Bruce, a.k.a. The Oracle. Bruce has been the series chief historian to ensure 100% accuracy to the time the series is supposed to depict. PBS will air this program again as well.

In one part of that show, Bruce showcases some of the rapid technological change the post-Edwardians were bombarded with, such as the introduction of the car and the telephone, and a whole range of electric gadgets such as the first electric toaster, sewing machine, light bulb, kitchen mixer, refrigerator — and, Heavens to Murgatroyd, the “wireless,” or as we now call it, the radio.

This  just goes to show that a good 100 years ago, like today, technology — or tech, as we now call it — delivered not only improvements in convenience and quality of life, but drove changes in lifestyle, behavior and norms and values.

I understand none of us want to be Lord Grantham who takes a brave stand against introducing “the wireless” into the Downton household, ignoring the opinions of his daughters and wife. First, he tries to dismiss the new invention by saying “I don’t think it will catch on,” then later tell his wife that she does not understand why having a wireless is below their class, “because you’re American.” He, of course, capitulates when it is announced that King George will address the nation over the wireless.

As marketers, we should obviously never reject things because they are new, but neither should we  be interested only in the latest inventions.  Far more important, we should understand how any of these things (might) interact and influence (perhaps change) the way we live -- and to then find ways to connect those ever-changing consumer behaviors to the brands we work for.

So as you travel back from CES, spend an hour or so with your notebook and scribble down some thoughts on how you think the technology you’ve just seen might translate to opportunities to build your business. I think you will find it time well spent.

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