China has long been heralded as an early adopter of technology, particularly with its innovation in the social and mobile space.
“Society in China is very fast-paced and constantly changing, which means people are always on the look-out for the latest technologies, whether it be to enrich their lives by making their day-to-day routines more efficient, enhancing communication or fun,” says Dionne Holder, managing director at FreemanXP China.
And with many gaps in the Chinese market that cannot be filled by foreign services due to firewall or censorship reasons, Andrew Zipparo, associate creative director at Jack Morton Worldwide, China, says home-grown tech has to fill the gap, leading “to an explosion of local answers to many global tech solutions”.
This is translating to the business events and brand experience fields, where clients and their audiences expect events to include new, intuitive technologies that enhance the overall experience and immerse them in new worlds.
Zipparo says that tools such as WeChat are being updated to offer more functionality. For example, WeChat now offers both a wallet and ‘Facebook Wall’ function—becoming, as Zipparo outlines, WhatsApp, PayPal and Facebook in one.
“It is particularly well-suited to events as it can hold online stores with POS, post online interactive modules or games, and has an embedded QR scanner—making it very useful,” he says.
Graeson Alexandre, business development manager at Destination China, adds that groups can use WeChat’s functions to share photos, videos and contacts all via a QR code. “This allows for incredibly straightforward photo-sharing, with limited set-up required,” he says. “We strongly encourage our visitors to China to download the app, as a way to keep in contact with people back home and also with people you meet in China.”
Zipparo also highlights how messenger system Tencent/QQ is enjoying a resurgence among millennials. The Chinese version of Periscope, Yizhibo is worth noting too, offering more of a focus on live-streaming and broadcasting, similar to a YouTube channel.
“It can be utilised as a conference tool, especially for fashion and beauty brands who work with key opinion leaders to reach a wider audience via live feeds without seeming too forced,” he says. “China is also developing its own VR platforms, which it hopes to launch in the consumer sphere to take online shopping to the next level.”
It’s a view shared by Michael Kaltenhauser, executive creative director of digital marketing agency Astronaut, a member of the Pico Group. Alongside Yizhibo, he also identifies similar platforms such as Huajiaozhibo and Yingkezhibo, which he says attract a huge number of views per day—“close to 8 million in Yizhibo’s case”.
“Event planners should not only be using these platforms at their events—they should also be hiring people who know how to optimise this technology to attract larger audiences,” he says.
Kaltenhauser adds that the most important step event planners can take is to make their events digitally intelligent. “This is already happening here and there. We can track visitors’ movements at events and understand their preferences through their social media, but the real benefits come when all these digital developments come together holistically to shape people’s event experiences.”
Chinese start-ups present another exciting opportunity for event planners. Katja Sassi-Bucsit, general manager at agency Vok Dams’ China office, highlights Meitu, which has created a video-editing app called Meipai that enables users to create, edit and share videos in minutes. “Brands like this are quickly expanding to offer tools on global social media platforms, even when those platforms are not accessible in the mainland market,” she says.
Looking ahead, industry experts agree that incorporating VR and augmented reality will be key, as, says FreemanXP’s Holder, “brands look to provide their audiences with memorable experiences and a unique storytelling experience unlike any other”. Jack Morton Worldwide’s Zipparo believes there is also great opportunity for VR to connect meeting guests over distances.
Boris Barreck, managing director at Hong Kong-based Central Pacific Consultants, and a partner of event management software business zkipster, cautions that language barriers can be an issue, especially when there is no English version.
“Here in Hong Kong, the advantage is that every tool is English or bilingual,” he says. “We set up the zkipster Asia office here and started to fully support Chinese characters. This opens the door for us to China and allows foreigners to use it in the mainland as well.”