Technology such as event apps, wearables and facial recognition are being used by more and more planners keen to deliver something new, and to be seen as cutting-edge. But as the industry moves through one tool after another in the hunt for novelty and buzz, are we really maximising what each can do?
“We see an OK level of maturity in tech linked to concepts like gamification, social interaction, matchmaking, content dissemination and so forth,” says Oscar Cerezales, chief operating officer, MCI Group Asia-Pacific. “Where technology plays the game is in all transactional services such as registration or automated areas.
“Also in high-level strategic areas like tracking the delegate journey. But the rest of the technology that is in the middle of these two poles is often bad. Organisations that are heavily increasing tech spend need to ask themselves whether they are getting more sales as a result.”
However, the ability of technology such as live-streaming to achieve scale is changing event design. For a recent CrossFire gaming event (see case study, page 20), Tencent welcomed 3,000 live attendees, but had 14 million players join online. A key element of the event’s success was its strategic design catering for both live and digital audiences.
Technology can be a lightning rod for debate, but if there’s one trend everyone can agree on, it’s that personalisation is the new wow factor. In the latest Meetings Outlook Report from MPI, event professionals discuss the increasing use of virtual reality, augmented reality, facial recognition, beacons and more to deliver customised experiences – and collect customised data.
“For a recent Mercedes-Benz E-Class launch event we made use of robotics to showcase all of the technology that exists within the new E-Class,” says Carol Loo, business director, Asia at Auditoire.
“When the dealers registered with the robot at reception they were given an RFID bracelet so when they walked in to certain areas, the bracelet knew which dealer it was and which region they were from and would play personalised content.”
Joshua Mason Browne, creative director at Sydney-based Cievents also sees tech offering personalised solutions. “Chatbots are an awesome way to personalise the experience and deliver content directly into the delegate’s hands,” he says. “With AI functionality, the technology adapts ‘on the fly’ to better the experience for the user as time goes by.
“Also, RFID and NFC beacon technology utilised strategically at events can democratise delegate learning, allowing them to take in content where, when and how they feel comfortable – and can adapt to a variety of messaging platforms so our clients can feel comfortable with information security.”
But Mason Browne warns organisers not to underestimate delegates. “In a world where the average citizen swipes though ninety metres of social media feed a day, our ability to gather a thought has quickened to three milliseconds,” he says.
Focus on the ‘thumb-stopping’ content that will reach the individual and puts the power of learning in their hands.
Whatever the tech, Cerezales encourages organisers to “kill the initiative” if it is not delivering on objectives. “Ideas are easy, implementation is hard, but killing initiatives is harder,” he says. “Why? It’s difficult to realise if they are worthless. Organisations need a process to understand when to stop. At the same time, they need an innovation process where testing, prototyping and accepting failure is embedded not only in the culture, but as a process.”
Loo agrees, and uses event apps as a prime example. “There was a point where every brief I was receiving requested an app. The mentality was: ‘Everybody has an app, I want an app too’, but they don’t think that when you have an app, it’s about content. What happens after your event? What kinds of content are you able to feed? If your event is an established annual thing like Coachella then it makes sense.
“We just did an event in Guangzhou, and when attendees get to the reception they don’t have to download an app, they just go into WeChat, follow the brand’s account and with the RFID technology we’re able to recognise that the customer registered with this RFID and this WeChat account is here.
“Then we are able to push information directly to their WeChat account. It’s really amazing. Not only cost-wise for the organiser, but when it comes to pushing content it’s really a lot easier. The downside is that Tencent does not share data.”
Sharing is caring
Whether elaborate backdrops and props for selfies or digital swag bags, providing shareable content is now a must.
“When we talk about brand engagement we need to think about not just the live experience, but also how you help the audience to have something to share as well,” says Loo. “We used to give people a print out with photos to takeaway. Now we have to think about giving them clips, GIFs or WeChat-friendly photos. It’s like if they don’t share it, it hasn’t happened.”
Big events like Auto China, Mobile World Congress and most recently SXSW in Texas are often where brands go big in an attempt to attract awareness and achieve the desired positioning.
“At SXSW, brands rise o the challenge to bring their boldest, most unique ideas to Austin, creating memorable and personalised experiences that will earn them the most important convention currency — social media and word-of-mouth coverage,” says Jessica Fritsche, content marketing manager at Freeman.
“A particular favourite part of Sony’s WOW Studio was the super-shareable Hero Generator interactivity, which used 360-degree camera tech to put attendees in the starring role of their own superhero movie trailer that would be delivered to them afterward via email,” says Fritsche.
HBO was another contender, with its sold-out Westworld activation generating exactly the kind of FOMO and selfie opportunities that propel social shares.
“HBO’s Westworld experience was one of the hottest commodities during the opening weekend, immersing fans in an incredibly detailed recreation of the fictional town of Sweetwater that serves as the setting of the hit show,” says Fritsche. “Anyone who made their way to Sweetwater was plastering it all over social with the hashtag #sxswestworld.”
Auditoire’s Loo sees these big-budget activations bringing out the creativity in event profs around the world – even if they can’t afford the same technology straight away. “But you don’t just use technology for the sake of showing new fancy stuff – the storytelling part is very important.”
In Singapore, The Events Artery deployed two interactive elements for Shine Festival on behalf of the National Youth Council. “Our programming focus was to ensure interactivity to capture imagination and provide inspiration for local youths, who are also digital natives,” says Shamima Rafi, general manager at The Events Artery.
How? The children actually worked with industry professionals for three months to develop the technology. The first installation was a digital graffiti booth, where motion sensors captured user movements enabling them to create digital art on a blank canvas. The second was a sound-reactive mechanism used for the Festival launch.
“We got the audience to cheer and when the sound from the crowd reached a specific decibel threshold it activated the screen to launch the video for the event,” says Rafi.
For most events, this depth of involvement is not achieved. “The fundamental issue
is that organisations are still in one-way mode,” says MCI’s Cerezales. “The two-way interaction between the organiser and the delegate is still not there.
“The industry started with meetings (people in a room), then events (better venues and tech etc), then experiential where it is all about capturing audience attention since the key problem is that they are disengaged. If you succeed, you capture their attention, but it is still one-way communication.
“Finally we reach integrated, which is all of the above plus establishing communication between the organiser, product or brand, and the audience. This last step is complex.”
Cerezales says event design is critical, but technology also has a role to play. “Social listening can be used to track audiences and their actions, and the second part is tracking the delegate journey in order to understand and increase the touchpoints.
“Basically most technology is still at a product/service level, not at a business model level,” he says. “When it reaches this level that will be a game-changer.