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Sunny Zhao
Sunny Zhao

Group Account Director

FreemanXP APAC

Learn how to engage audiences in China and APAC and around the world

Digital technology has allowed us to establish relationships faster and more easily, be they with sponsors, partners, or audiences. It’s also allowed us to more readily expand events into different cultures and new markets.

However, technology has also created the challenge of building the trusting relationships necessary to have honest and open dialogues with these new audiences, so our brands can resonate with them.

For Western brands looking to expand their events into China (or vice versa), being aware of cultural considerations can go a long way toward creating the trust and relationship-building your brand needs to succeed.

How China Has Changed

I joined the event industry in 1999 with ETG, which is now Freeman. The interesting part of my career is that I’ve seen not only how countries have changed, but how brands have changed the way they interact with audiences.

Only a decade ago, most events in China were focused on domestic markets. Beijing, being the capital city and political center, was always the epicenter for business conferences and launch events. Shanghai, on the other hand, took advantage of being one of the first Chinese ports opened to Western trade. As a result, many famous multinational companies set up their Asia-Pacific headquarters there, making it a hub for lifestyle and consumer launches, and banking and finance conferences.

Now, events are global, and both Western and Chinese brands are eager to take advantage of one another's exciting markets. But, as these brands eye the opportunities on one another’s turf, they need to focus not only on what they can get out of this expansion, but what their audiences want to see and experience.

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Audiences Want More

Event scale is getting bigger and more sophisticated. Technology has made it easier and more efficient to set up and produce big shows, but the major challenge is with creativity.

Audiences are more sophisticated than ever, and they want experiences that are unforgettable or, at the very least, that touch them emotionally. They need that WOW effect. This is an even bigger challenge considering that international audiences are less familiar with Chinese brands, so there’s a certain amount of awareness and trust that needs to be built. When working with Chinese clients, I’ve discovered that it’s crucial to build those long-term relationships, so I can know their brand and help them tell their story.

So, how does an organization develop those long-term relationships? 

A big component to developing trust and relationships with an audience is being aware of cultural differences.

Meet People Where They Are

A big component to developing trust and relationships with an audience is being aware of cultural differences. You can have a consistent brand, but still tailor the experience for what the audience expects.

For example, in Chinese culture, there is much more ceremony around reception, greetings, gifts, and being at the table. Brands looking to create an event in China, or with a large Chinese audience, will make their audience much more receptive and comfortable if they add those ceremonial touches. For example, eating is an important social experience, not just a physical need.

Chinese audiences also prefer guided programs, while Americans like free-flow, casual agendas. Western audiences also tend to be more casual, but they’re also much more focused on sustainability and recycling. 

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Beyond Audiences

When organizing events beyond one’s own borders, it’s also important to look not just at what the audience wants, but what cultural differences might be present when planning the logistics and execution of the event.

For example, “China speed” is a big factor for Chinese brands. There is always a huge sense of urgency when it comes to servicing them — one month for planning and execution is considered the norm, so decisions are made fast and then acted upon even faster. 

When Chinese organizations or planners set their sights overseas, they need to keep in mind that things move at a different pace. Conversely, brands that are holding events in China need to realize that they will be asked to make decisions and take action much more quickly than they might be used to.

Manpower is another a major area where cultural differences can bring a bit of a shock. Costs and labor laws vary widely by country and are usually a much bigger consideration in developed countries like the US.

The best advice I can offer to any brand is to find a trusted partner with a global network and pricing transparency. They can also help navigate any cultural issues, preventing any unwitting mistakes from derailing your expansion efforts. 

How well do you know your audiences? Take our quiz to find out!

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