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New technology brings new engagement

Jed Mok             General Manager, creative & strategy, Pico Singapore

Three event tech solutions to drive brand interest

Technology is transforming our world and our industry. For decades, the event landscape has been gradually evolving, but in the last five years new technologies have burst into life – as a result this evolution is speeding up. The way brands engage with their audiences is also changing. While the fundamental principles of brand engagement have remained constant, expectations regarding engagement methods are now on a different level. Today, clients are looking for technological solutions which will create memorable, unique and state-of-the-art experiences to generate interest in their products or services. I will discuss a few of these below.

Mobile apps – so much potential

One solution that has enormous potential for events, but which is still gaining traction, is mobile applications. While the use of mobile apps is widespread across the world, few apps have attained a level of success that matches the investment required by their development. Let’s face it, most people regularly use less than five apps on a daily basis, but they have 10 or more on their mobile devices. The most frequently-used apps are either instant messaging (like Whatsapp), social media (Snapchat or Instagram), games (Pokémon GO, for example), or apps that are related to their specific daily needs (Grab or Uber).

While the creation of a bespoke event app is not difficult in theory, the challenge is actually getting people to use the app. Potential app users generally ask themselves two questions: “Do I need this?” and “How will this app add value to my experience?” Today, most questions can be answered in milliseconds with a simple Google search – so without a strong and compelling driver, getting someone to download a new app is challenging to say the least.

The recent wild success of game apps like Pokémon GO – which took almost 20 years to develop – have not happened by chance. Pokémon GO is an elegant and triumphant combination of a pre-existing successful intellectual property – Google Maps – and an interesting style of game play that stays true to an original story. As many of us have noticed, beneath this innocent game lies great commercial potential – many retail businesses have already started leveraging its popularity, creating ‘lures’ at their location to entice customers to stay longer. Service outlets also drop lures to attract Pokémon, giving their waiting customers a more pleasant experience.

There is still a lot of unfulfilled potential though – imagine: the game developer could, for a fee, create PokeStops in certain locations or create commercial branding in the virtual Pokémon GO universe; or they could even create special Pokémon related to a brand – imagine an ultra-rare ‘Samsungo’ or ‘Applezap’ Pokémon! The point here is that with so much potential, mobile applications are definitely here to stay – the only question is: should companies develop their own apps or partner with an existing, already-successful one?

VR and AR – the future is now

As new technology takes off and becomes more affordable, developers are offering ever-more interesting methods of interaction. Augmented reality and virtual reality are perfect examples.

Virtual reality has been around for decades, but the technology has only really crossed over to the consumer market in the last two years. Major technology giants – Google, YouTube, Facebook, HTC, Samsung and Sony, to name a few – are launching new mobile platforms and mobile hardware which will support continued growth of the technology. There is certainly room for more growth: take the recent launch of the new Ghostbusters movie in New York for example – an immersive, interactive ‘hyper-reality’ experience was created at Madame Tussauds museum ,which let the public walk through a physical set with a virtual set overlaid on top of it and catch ghosts. What’s not to love about that!

With the increasing accessibility and affordability of VR devices and the flood of developers joining the industry, development is limited only by our creativity. Live, 360 degree VR streaming for events is gaining popularity, with several event organisers recently offering ‘free samples’ – one took place at the latest Singapore National Day Parade. While there are still some teething issues to contend with, like bandwidth, compression quality and the compatibility of viewing devices and software; there is no doubt that these will be solved in time. The biggest question that remains is: can event organisers find a sustainable business model that involves the use of VR?

“As new technology takes off and becomes more affordable, developers are offering ever-more interesting methods of interaction.”

The simplest method, and one which works well for the time being, is to have the client pay for the creation of the VR experience. But again – there is a lot of unrealised potential here. The idea of a virtual exhibition, where visitors can ‘walk’ through a virtual exhibition hall filled with 3D product displays that can be interacted with is extremely exciting. If feasible – which it certainly will be in time – a virtual exhibition which involves no physical setup is highly disruptive and will definitely make the industry sit up and take notice.

VR also has enormous potential for conferences – imagine an event where the attendees can either be physically present or can buy a virtual seat. The virtual seat must of course offer added value, but this is already happening – virtual attendees at a recent Samsung product launch could select their view of the event by accessing 360 degree views of the space. Picture being able to sit ‘next’ to and interact with prominent speakers on a stage in real time, or be able to do a walkaround at a vehicle demonstration on another continent, or be able to witness a new medical technique being demonstrated through the eyes of the actual surgeon… The possibilities of VR are endless, as is the potential.

Drone away

The final type of technology I want to discuss is one which is fun, futuristic and functional – drones! In the 21st century, much of the developed world is facing a manpower crunch, where low-skilled jobs are increasingly hard to fill. Gradually, automation is becoming a potential solution for some of the creators of these jobs. For example, some food and beverage outlets in Singapore are exploring the use of autonomous robots that help out service staff. Also, some bars in Singapore are experimenting with autonomous drones that deliver drinks. Using drones to provide F&B services at events can be both eye-catching and efficient. Also, while event organisers have been using drones for event photography for a while now, some are taking it to the next level and including drone racing as a leisure component at events. Once again, there is enormous potential for growth – remember that Amazon is in the final stages of testing its ‘delivery-by-drone’ service.

The continued use of new technologies at events is inevitable. While the effectiveness and affordability of these technologies may be questionable at the moment, time will reveal the big winners and big losers. Personally I have faith that whatever the eventual outcome is, it will be exciting, engaging, futuristic and above all – incredible.

Jed Mok, general manager, creative and strategy at Pico Singapore, was invited by the Communication Director to introduce the event tech solutions that drive brand interest in September 2016. We have obtained permission from the Communication Director to publish a copy of this article in Pico website.

Source: Communication Director, 12 September, 2016

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