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Growing When the Show Floor Doesn’t

By Freeman®


  • How SAP managed to overhaul and grow its signature event
  • Why stepping outside standard brand colors was a risk that paid off
  • The importance of designing an experience that's customer-first and content-led
Q&A with Johann Wrede of SAP

Johann Wrede, senior vice president and head of global events for SAP, faced a challenge: The largest and most important event in the brand’s portfolio needed to grow, but the venue wasn’t getting any bigger.

SAP and its partner ASUG host the flagship SAPPHIRE NOW and ASUG Annual Conference events at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, FL. We caught up with Johann on-site to find out how SAP managed to create one of its most important and successful (not to mention, award-winning) events yet in spite of obstacles.

Q Hi Johann! It's great to be here at SAPPHIRE NOW. Tell us about the show.

Johann Wrede: Well, we are not a company without our customers, and this event is all about them. It’s their opportunity to be inspired by innovative new products, to learn how to make the most of their existing SAP investments, and to network with other customers, partners, and experts.

Q It’s safe to say there’s been a lot of change. What would you say is driving that change?

JW: The change is really being driven by our audience. We have more customers attending, and across a broader portfolio of products, than ever before. They are looking to us to help them compete in the Experience Economy, which means that we need to demonstrate that we understand what it takes to create engaging experiences for each one of them.

So, we looked at survey feedback, online behavior, and heat maps of how customers have experienced our show floor in the past. We also interviewed people working at the information desks and on the show floor to understand the questions or issues attendees have. We dug deep to understand what our audience needs from us in terms of content and experience, and then we redesigned the show around those needs.

At its core, this year’s SAPPHIRE NOW is customer-first and content-led to create the best possible experience we can for every one of our customers.

Q Over the years, you’ve seen a lot of growth. How do you fit your growing event into the same space?

JW: We thought outside the box — literally. We went beyond the four walls of the building and moved our seated dining to a structure we built in a parking lot and connected to a building exit. This created the space we needed to address the needs of both our customers and our growing product portfolio.

We also relocated our keynote theater to improve traffic flow and better organize the show floor. We expanded the Meeting Center to create more space for people to meet and share knowledge. And we significantly expanded networking space, growing the Customer Connect Center, where customers can have one-to-one scheduled networking time, while quadrupling the amount of soft seating so customers could have the many informal conversations that make this event so valuable. After all, it’s difficult to build a new relationship with someone if you can’t find a spot to sit and have a cup of coffee.

Q What about content delivery? How are you changing that?

JW: We’ve realigned the way we deliver content on the show floor. This year, we took a different approach, asking ourselves, “What do our customers want to hear from us?” rather than thinking only about what we wanted to say to them. We focused on building a content agenda that helped our customers make progress toward achieving the business outcomes they are looking to drive.

Based on this approach, we laid out the show floor in a series of five neighborhoods, each organized around the key business areas of an intelligent enterprise. In these neighborhoods, we focus on topics and formats that resonate with a specific audience segment, and each area is built around the content we’re delivering. So, the assets we’re putting on the show floor — the showcases, the topic stations, and the workshop spaces — all are tailored to attendee needs, enabling attendees to stay in a neighborhood and go deep on a topic.

Q You’ve also incorporated two “pavilions.” Tell us about them.

JW: Behind the five neighborhoods, we have two pavilions covering specific technical topics about our products. When visiting the pavilions, attendees can explore any of these topics.

For example, we feature 25 end-to-end industry scenarios, each laid out with small activations to provide attendees with concrete examples relevant to their industries. We also have an area focused on our platform and technology innovations using solutions like SAP Leonardo and SAP HANA, allowing people to learn more about artificial intelligence and managing a business in realtime.

Lastly, the other large pavilion area is for Digital Business Services, where we help our customers understand how to maximize the value of their investment, as well as how SAP supports them and can help ensure their success.

Q Speaking of Digital Business Services, tell us about how you reimagined the delivery of service content to improve the attendee experience.

JW: In years past, we concentrated our services into a single show floor area. This wasn’t optimal for attendees because it separated the conversation about the functionality of a product from the conversations about implementing and integrating that product — a separation that, given the size of our show floor, could be upwards of a 10-minute walk.

To improve the attendee experience, we brought some of that service content into the neighborhoods and co-located it with the product content. Now, you can see a product in action and then move right into a discussion with a realization service expert about how to be successful with that solution in your environment. It did, however, continue to make sense to keep discussions of broader, cross-portfolio topics like SAP Enterprise Support concentrated in the Digital Business Services pavilion.

Q I see you are using a broader color palette this year. Tell us about that.

JW: Historically, we sought uniformity on the show floor. We adhered exclusively to our primary brand colors of black, white, and gold. While this ensured a very consistent look across the show floor, it was almost too consistent. Attendees found it hard to know where they were in order to figure out how to navigate to where they wanted to go.

This year, we brought in color to offer easier navigation. Each of the five neighborhoods we created has its own unique color from our secondary color palette. This color scheme allows each neighborhood to be immediately recognizable but still feel integrated, and makes it easy to move from space to space.

In this way, color served as a better anchor on the map to help attendees get their bearings. For example, an attendee could easily realize she is in the green zone but needs to go to the purple zone — just by looking around. This change, along with a brighter lighting plan, also shifted the mood on the floor, helping people feel more comfortable and welcome, a goal that was also carried through the branding and imagery present in each neighborhood.

Q How do you know when the show is successful?

JW: SAPPHIRE NOW is successful when our customers leave feeling excited about the prospect of getting back to work, equipped with new knowledge they can apply. We want people to get what they need from this event and to leave feeling engaged with SAP and the greater SAP community, inspired by the art of the possible, and informed about the implementation of the practical.

With regard to metrics, we look at our events across a variety of KPIs that cover brand perception, audience engagement, and pipeline impact. While we clearly want to help our sales team accelerate new business, we also want to make sure that we support our customers in their efforts to maximize the value they receive from solutions they already use.

So the real answer, beyond just this one event, is that we are successful when our customers are successful.

Q Your passion for this work is palpable. What do you love about what you do?

JW: I’m not an event marketer by background, but this work brings together all of the skills I’ve been honing my entire career — which is an incredibly rewarding experience. I’ve written and implemented software, which helps me deeply understand what our customers go through in trying to solve business challenges with technology. My passion for creativity and good storytelling helps me push the envelope on the way our attendees experience our brand. And finally, my years spent creating content means that I know the impact that good content, delivered well, can have.

Combining all of these skills is great fun, but the icing on the cake is the opportunity to do that with the support of a great team. I absolutely love the people who work in events because they are committed like no one else. Our team at SAP is so dedicated to making every experience a success — I couldn’t be prouder of the work they do and the opportunity I have to be in their presence every single day.

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