What Events And Experiential Marketing Will Look Like in The Future


By Simon Yuen

Normally, brands complete the following year’s budget months before the first day of a new year. Last year, Hong Kong’s economy was impacted by the protests, but it did show some signs of recovery as we moved into 2020.

From the beginning of this year, Hong Kong has been affected by the coronavirus, which sparked Hongkongers’ fear that another “SARS” would severely impact the city.

Sino Mall runs a number of shopping malls across Hong Kong with tmtplaza in Tuen Mun, Olympian City in West Kowloon, and Citywalk in Tsuen Wan being the most prominent malls in its portfolio. After the outbreak, the developer swiftly implemented hygiene measures to protect customers and its staff, while it also scaled down its events.

Footfall is crucial to a shopping mall as it drives sales, and it allows the mall to engage with visitors. To engage customers and members, Sino Mall has launched several initiatives, including the latest POP Gallery at Olympian City, and an integrated online and offline retail concept allowing customers to explore trending products in the mall before buying them online.

In collaboration with pop-up experience platform PopSquare, POP Gallery displays a selection of trending products methodically identified with the aid of big data and AI. The first brand being showcased is LEGO since its Technic series was identified by AI and big data as the most popular of the brand’s products among global consumers before the exhibition.

“We believe that the integration of online and offline will become even better in the future. Offline events will still offer experiences to customers and this won’t change, but we will try our utmost effort to offer visitors a safe environment to enjoy the (live) events,” says Andrea Leung, general manager of leasing marketing and promotions at Sino Group.

With plenty of marketing campaigns and initiatives having been cancelled or postponed, the creative forces behind them, normally agencies or in-house teams, have needed to adjust their offerings to meet the expectations from audiences and participants.

Auditoire Hong Kong was enjoying a period of rapid growth before the COVID-19 outbreak, hiring key talent and expanding its business. But the pandemic has posted a huge challenge to the agency’s business.

“Hong Kong’s recovery process will take more time than other Asian markets due to three reasons. First, even though Hong Kong has never experienced a full lockdown, the social distancing rules (here) are stronger than other places, and restrictions are quite strict for event organisers,” says Xavier Daurian, general manager of Auditoire Hong Kong.

“Second, the borders have been closed since February. The business of many industries has come to a standstill, including hospitality, retail, and F&B. The third reason is that brands are more cautious about spending (money and effort) amid the current political context.”

It is expected that regional events, such as conventions and seminars, will take a little longer to recover as travel restrictions are still in place, but there is significant interest in local events with a PR or sales focus. Daurian says Auditoire Hong Kong will have several launches for leading luxury brands this summer, along with numerous major large-scale events scheduled for the second half of the year.

While virtual events are becoming popular, there is a thought they will take over and live events will be phased out. However, he thinks that live events will still play an important role in the future.

“If we are considering real brand love and creating memorable experiences, live events are not only indispensable, but essential. It is by far the most powerful tool in creating raw emotions that build bonds between brands and their customers,” he says.

“Online events are closer to digital advertising in terms of format, engagement and the experience than they are to experiential marketing. All this indicates that in terms of the experience, it works best in hybrid with a live event, that is capable of hosting real human experiences. Thinking of our typical range of gala dinners, test drives, pop-up stores, fashion shows, product launches, and exhibitions, they are almost all rooted in the live-event format, supported by an experience online.”

While some marketers say that purely virtual events will become popular, there are a lot of difficulties that have to be tackled. One of the main problems is that the experiences offered by virtual events are not satisfactory from an audience’s perspective.

Daurian thinks that making online events more interesting than “a viewer’s favourite 30-minute sitcom” is the big question, as these events have low engagement and lack emotional and memorable experiences.
Although the pandemic will eventually subside, social distancing and hygiene measures will continue to be the norm for the foreseeable future.

Fairil Yeo, vice-president of transformation for APAC at LEWIS, tells Marketing that the future implementation of events will by default include digital and immersive channels, as they allow audiences to view and participate from within the confines of their homes.

For example, the use of platforms such as a gaming environment to push fashion events, or social media to bring school open days to life will become the new normal.}

“When it comes to the events and experiences of tomorrow, the industry must consider the changes in consumer behaviour – how much of, and where they are most likely to spend their time. This is the battleground of event and experiential marketing. Marketers will have to fight to attract the share-of-voice in homes,” he says.

Apart from brands and marketers, the media sector has also been heavily impacted by the pandemic. Although advertising plays an important role in driving revenue, hosting events is also a major way of generating income for a media brand.

This situation is applicable to the South China Morning Post (SCMP). It normally organises 12 to 18 events in a year, but this number has surged this year, rather than dropped, as it pivots its live events to a virtual setting, even though the future of the event industry is uncertain.

As Razlan Manjaji, head of global events at SCMP, explains: “Hosting virtual conferences was born of necessity and curiosity. In the example of our ‘China Conference: Hong Kong’ in May, it was important to address how Hong Kong could recover from the economic downturn and maintain its status as Asia’s financial centre amid the global pandemic.”

“We were also curious. As a digital-first media organisation, we wanted to deliver an event with a premium user experience by adopting the necessary technologies and pivoting the operations of our events team efficiently to produce a quality experience for our speakers, sponsors, and attendees.”

Due to the ban on group gatherings and strong social distancing guidelines, organisations can only host virtual events, and it hasn’t been easy. One of the biggest hurdles is the lack of familiarity with producing online events, making event producers spend even more time in finding the best solutions.

Meanwhile, sponsors, speakers, and attendees may have reservations. For example, some sponsors feel that virtual events lack effectiveness in comparison with live events, and they may even adopt a wait-and-see approach and eventually drop out of events.

Attendees expect to attend online events for free. When they are asked to pay, they may be reluctant to join the events or conferences, meaning organisers’ revenue will inevitably drop. A lot of attendees prefer joining physical events or conferences since it is a good opportunity to network and have more interactions among fellow participants.
“Events are important forums for discussions and networking and this will eventually differentiate and elevate live physical events as a premium experience. I truly believe in the power of serendipity and immediacy of live events in delivering a truly immersive brand experience,” Manjaji says.

But combining online and offline events will be one direction that some publishers will move into in the future. The benefits of hybrid events remain unclear, and there are difficulties producing them. For instance, different teams within the same company need to cover the technical requirements to broadcast a virtual event with a high production value, while co-ordinating closely with the team overseeing the physical event.

There is no doubt that events will change significantly in the future. Asked about his predictions, Manjaji offers three possible ones.

“There will be higher expectations for the events business to be an important revenue channel for publishers, while webinars and virtual events will become more commonplace – a commodity that can run on the fly – and become monetisable,” he says.

“Last, but not least, live events will evolve to be a premium product and will be less commonplace, given that social distancing will remain in place in the foreseeable future.”

Credit: Marketing Initiative

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