The owner of an established event technology solutions company from Oz describes the rationale behind her foray into Asia and the lessons learnt.
BY KRISTIE THONG
Australia’s early start in shaping a landscape for business events has earned itself a reputation as one of the most mature MICE markets in Asia Pacific today.
Its success can be traced back to efforts such as garnering proper industry accreditation and collaborating to iron out teething issues such as transparency, but being an early adopter of event technology further cemented its status.
Sydney-based event technology company Info Salons Group was launched in 1990, when Australia’s tradeshow industry was just starting to emerge as a major force with the completion of the Sydney Convention & Exhibition Centre. With CEO Jo-Anne Kelleway at the helm, the end of the 2000 Olympic Games officially saw Info Salons at a dominant, majority market position in the country.
The company then sought to expand its presence, and as of today, also owns offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong and Dubai, as well as a representative office in Macao.
Geographical expansion seemed like the natural progression for the company with China and the rest of Asia at the doorstep, according to Ms Kelleway.
“We had been working with the largest exhibition organisers in Australia, including Reed Exhibitions, Hannover Fairs and Diversified Exhibitions, which were all starting to invest heavily in China, so it was a deliberate growth strategy for our company to follow them into these emerging markets.”
She added that the Asian governments were also investing in building several high-quality venues, indicating that there was room for the industry to grow.
On foreign ground
Companies setting up shop in China for the first time are bound to face some challenges, but being a technology business, Ms Kelleway said the company was concerned primarily with the security of its proprietary software IP.
Since joining the World Trade Organization, China had strengthened its legal framework and amended its intellectual property rights (IPR) and related laws and regulations as compliance, but infringement still exists throughout the region.
To protect intellectual property in China, a preventive measure was to register trademarks with the appropriate Chinese agencies and authorities to enforce the rights.
“We made the decision to work closely with the China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), whose initiatives on IP control have been fundamental in helping international companies consider entering this marketplace.”
Info Salons also created joint ventures with local partners, who had a much better understanding of the local customers and could help to enter the market as quickly as possible.
A “one-size-fits-all” approach does not necessarily work in Asia, and that is one lesson learnt in the infant stages of setting up businesses in Asia. Hence, Ms Kelleway believes it is important for every product Info Salons introduces to a new marketplace to be customised.
“We ensure that all our products are available in the local languages, can be used on the most popular devices, and can be integrated with the appropriate social media platforms for that region.”
These products will also have to gel with the specific cultural nuances and behavioural patterns of each market. For example, Info Salons has been successful with its state-of-the-art lead retrieval and management tools to assist exhibitors in Australia in building ROI metrics from an event. It was a different case in Asia, however, where exchanging business cards is a time-honoured custom that is almost impossible to break.
“Instead, we have had to educate the exhibitors to understand that qualifying their leads and procuring orders is paramount to a pocket full of business cards.”
The “love affair” between the Asian marketplace and mobile phones has also given rise to one of Info Salon’s latest lead retrieval products. With an app available from the app store called InfoTracker, exhibitors can use their phones to scan attendee badges, qualify the leads, mark products for follow-up as well as add personal notes.
Importance of data
Ms Kelleway called the events industry throughout Asia Pacific “early adopters of cutting-edge technology”, but believed there is a disconnect between adoption and process.
She used the example of data mining and analysis of visitor databases, of which she felt some Asian event organisers are not taking full advantage.
“They are collecting invaluable data about their attendees but are not taking the time to understand the information.”
With proper data mining of attendee data, event organisers will be able to constantly improve the quality of attendees they are attracting, and by analysing them, be able to provide the right exhibitors and products that the attendees want.
“This will ensure that their events continue to deliver exceptional experiences,” she said, adding that understanding the needs of the attendees will also help guarantee the exhibitors are satisfied with the buyers they are meeting.
Info Salons Group’s Jo-Anne Kelleway lists four recent technological trends that have emerged in business events.
Pre-registration / online registration open throughout the show
Venue Wi-FiWe are also keeping the online registration pages open throughout the event to continue to allow visitors to register online and using our e-badge stations on-site, they can beat the queues to gain entry into the exhibition. We send the registration confirmation by barcode email and also by SMS so that we can scan their pre-registration code directly from their phone. This saves so much time in qualifying registered visitors and printing their name badges.
More venues now have fast, stable and secure Wi-Fi available for attendees. This is an incredible advantage for organisers to help deliver a seamless experience to their attendees. We live in an age of constant connectivity and event organisers are expected to facilitate this and make it available throughout the show.
Social media Integration
Social media has become an integral part of the show cycle and definitely assists in building interest in the months before a show, engaging your audience during it or keeping a community together in the months after. Connecting your audience and providing business matchmaking to time-poor attendees is vital in ensuring that the right buyers meet the appropriate exhibitors. Organisers need to understand what social media platforms their attendees are using and ensure that they have a social media strategy worked out for each event.
Show guide apps are a great way to provide information about your event, right into the hands of your attendees. There are many more types of devices popular in the Asian marketplace than in Europe or USA. Hence, it is important to make sure that whatever event app you are creating, it can be used on the multitude of handsets that are being used. There are still many attendees who prefer the old printed show guide but we are seeing a slow change towards electronic