Taking marketing at events to the next level

Singapore-based firm AIQ finally takes its patented Video and Image Recognition Technology to a big tradeshow. Its CEO Marcus Tan shares how the technology can change the way marketing at events will be done going forward.

Marcus Tan, CEO, AIQ

What’s the backstory?
AIQ was started back in mid-2014 in Singapore with the goal of using computer vision technology to simplify direct interactions between images and videos. This seamlessly connects physical contents and assets to the digital online world beyond QR codes or barcodes.

Our patented Video and Image Recognition Technology (VIRT) can do two things. One, it lets users take a photo of a still image and interact with it.

For example, I can take a photo of what you are wearing now and find 10 similar versions of your outfit that is available for sale online. The technology can recognise that your outfit is a short dress, it is collarless, and of a certain cut. However, back then in 2015, e-commerce was just taking off and many consumers were skeptical about purchasing clothes online. Consumers back then wanted to be able to touch and feel the fabric, and be sure they like the material.

The second part of VIRT is that it recognises videos, be it live or recorded. If it is a recorded video, the client using VIRT can decide which parts of the video will offer a certain interaction with the user.

VIRT did not resonate well with users at the beginning (who did not trust it or could not imagine how it would work). So, we moved to build many proofs of concept with notable partners such as America’s Got Talent, where TV viewers in South-east Asia could use the technology, point at the contestant who was singing at that time and receive information such as the contestant’s name and song title, or even vote for the contestant.

I understand the retail support possibilities of VIRT. But how was it useful for RetailEX ASEAN, which was the first large-scale exhibition and conference in Asia to implement it?
One of the key challenges in business events – as observed in my capacity as exhibitor, attendee and speaker at tradeshows and conferences over at least nine years – is the huge amount of paper waste on the last day of shows. Not just paper waste from brochures and posters that cannot be reused once the event is over, but also product samples that exhibitors don’t want to ship back and incur costs. Plus, these things cost money to produce.

To deal with that problem, some exhibitors turned to QR codes that allow their customers to scan and get information. But QR codes are fixed and cannot be modified should you wish to use a different link at the next show.

There are other limitations with QR codes. The code is built for the machine, not for the human eye. You need to scan it to make sense of it. As well, QR codes aren’t widely adopted in the Western markets; it is more used in China and Asia.

VIRT goes beyond QR codes. It allows customers to interact with a poster or a 30-second commercial that is running at the booth. It offers green benefits, as it cuts down on the need for printed brochures. Exhibitors can produce smaller quantities of generic brochures that can be reused at multiple shows, but rely on the technology to drive customers to relevant and updated information online. The other benefit is, VIRT turns the entire booth into an interactive space (so that) posters and videos on display do more than just show a pretty visual.

Another pain point at events is the access to presentation slides.

There are many conference sessions at an event. Attendees may want to download slides of a session they are keen on. Often, the links are consolidated and sent to attendees after the event. It is tedious for attendees to scroll through to identify the slides they wanted.

At RetailEX ASEAN, during my presentation for example, members of the audience were able to use the RetailEX app we created, point their smartphone camera at my slides, and instantly get my presentation file in the app which they can download later and share with their peers.

As well, in Asia where people are generally too polite to ask questions, the technology can be used to improve interaction during a panel discussion. For example, one could point the VIRT-powered app at the session backdrop, and be directed to a page where they could text their question or opinion to the moderator.

These three features – interactive content at exhibitor booths, access to conference materials simply by scanning slides, and Q&A interaction – were VIRT-powered features that were built into the RetailEX ASEAN app.

How else can VIRT be used by event organisers and owners?
VIRT can be used to provide greater value to event sponsors by allowing sponsor logos, posters, videos on display at the event to be interactive. Sponsors can tailor the message they want to convey when their materials are scanned by the event app.

I’ve attended business events where exhibitors use near-field communication (NFC) to allow attendees to choose the information they want to receive, and then tap their badge or phone to a device to complete the process. How’s that different from VIRT?
Well, one has to be near to that device in order to use NFC. With VIRT, the user needs to capture just 30 per cent of the image or video. Imagine being in a rush and trying to get information from a popular booth but not being able to get close enough to the device to tap your badge or phone.

As well, the user needs to have an NFC-ready smartphone to use NFC. Not everyone has such a feature in their phone. Furthermore, NFC features drain phone batteries.

VIRT needs the user to only activate their smartphone camera, which is a feature that many are familiar with and have on their device.

What is the cost of utilising VIRT?
There is a basic setup, and costs will depend on how complicated the setup is. If the client needs only still images or a few videos to be interactive, it could cost them as low as a few hundred dollars.

We also offer a monthly subscription based on a CPM/CPI model. For a few hundred dollars a month, the client could get up to 10,000 interactions. One scan, one interaction. The subscription fee goes up with increased interactions.

This model works for retail since there would be frequent usage. But how about tradeshows, which could be held just once a year?
If the event is organised by a company that also runs many other events, the solution can be used multiple times with just one basic set-up.

That said, we can support one-off trade events which will still benefit from extended usage. Interactions will not take place only during the show. Buyers will still want interaction with sellers they are interested in after the show, and we can help to facilitate that. We do that by not only offering our technology to the event organiser, but also to the exhibitors.

Did you offer VIRT to exhibitors at RetailEX ASEAN?
Yes, but there were no takers. They were apprehensive because they were not entirely sure what VIRT was. Many thought that VIRT meant augmented reality, which is pricey to produce and sucks up a lot of bandwidth. You have to understand that VIRT is still very new.

But RetailEX ASEAN was a good showcase for the technology. We had many event organisers present at the show who came up to tell us how interested they were in our technology and wanted to use it at their upcoming events. That’s a great start.

In your opinion, what’s the future of interactive technology and its implication for events?
I see the world of Harry Potter, where the Fat Lady in the portrait sings and talks to the students.

QR codes took 15 years to be adopted by consumers. But images can be recognised for their interactive possibilities in a shorter period of time because that capability can be seen and understood. Interactive images and videos will push QR codes into the sunset.

The future we see is one where all surfaces – walls of event venues and public spaces – can host interactive materials. We might even have intelligent interaction, where the technology can scan a viewer who stands close and build a profile of him or her, and then recommend a suitable product.

The way a smartphone is used will also change. The camera and voice recognition/command features will become most critical, while other features might change or be phased out. Keyboard usage will lose its relevance as more smartphone users use voice command to order action or conduct online search. The smartphone camera will become the eyes for everything.

On that same note, imagine the day the smartphone camera can face a marketing poster and right away offer the user the same content in 25 different languages. It is a great solution for exhibitors looking to interact with a global audience.

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