How SAP Uses a Human Touch to Sell Tech on the Trade Show Floor

Adopting a content-oriented “live-work-play” approach, the planning team for SAP’s Sapphire Now aimed for a fun, organized, and productive conference design.

At the center of Sapphire Now was the Central Showcase, a high-tech air travel-theme display designed to demonstrate how experiential data and operational data can merge to assist businesses.
At the center of Sapphire Now was the Central Showcase, a high-tech air travel-theme display designed to demonstrate how experiential data and operational data can merge to assist businesses.
Photo: Courtesy of SAP

ORLANDO—The team planning business technology firm SAP's Sapphire Now and ASUG Annual Conference “flipped the model around” this year by rethinking the convention floor design and experience. The approach “broke down what challenges attendees are trying to solve," said Johann Wrede, head of global events for SAP.

For 2019, the Germany-based company looked to its content specialists to lead the charge. The thinking: Taking an editorial point of view might lead to a conference that actually engages and entertains within a logical and easy-to-follow layout while still establishing an environment where business deals close.

“We redesigned this event in the same box,” said Nicola Kastner, senior director of global event strategy, referring to the 1 million-square-foot segment of Orlando’s Orange County Convention Center. “Our goal was to make the conference as relevant as possible to attendees. They used to wander the aisles to solve their business challenges. Now we package our offerings like Blue Apron meal kit provider [which delivers to their customers all the ingredients needed for each recipe], making it easier for customers to solve their challenges.”

Sapphire Now, which ran May 7 to 9, takes a “live-work-play” approach to increase productivity and engagement for its 24,000 attendees. Here are five tips drawn from the show's highlights.

Engage attendees before they ever reach the trade show floor.
Since most attendees arrived by bus, the Sapphire Now events greeted them with bold branding signage at eye level from their bus seats as coaches arrived at the convention center. This “graduated arrival experience” continued on the concourse where badges were issued to the attendees “with three unusual immersive elements,” Wrede said. Coming under the “play” subhead, the most notable experience was a high-tech equipped basketball court. Each participant shot baskets from a variety of angles, encouraged and coached by a comedian dressed as a referee. After 45 seconds, SAP-drive technology provided stats on the player’s abilities and compared them to those of N.B.A. professionals.At a high-tech equipped basketball court, participants shot baskets from a variety of angles, encouraged and coached by a comedian dressed as a referee. After 45 seconds, SAP-driven technology provided stats on the player’s abilities and compared them to those of N.B.A. professionals.At a high-tech equipped basketball court, participants shot baskets from a variety of angles, encouraged and coached by a comedian dressed as a referee. After 45 seconds, SAP-driven technology provided stats on the player’s abilities and compared them to those of N.B.A. professionals.Photo: Courtesy of SAP

“The show floor was traditionally the big reveal, while the concourse above was very, very blank,” said Wrede. “Now attendees start having experiences as they arrive.” As guests descended down the main escalator to the trade show, they were greeted by glittering LED curtains that covered the transparent windows. Likewise, participants could see artfully placed LED lighting on the other side as they departed the event.

Color code the floor to make information easy to find.
Under the “work” umbrella, the show floor established five “neighborhoods,” each representing one of the five business disciplines representing the SAP suite of products. These neighborhoods were organized, grouped together and marked with signage in a specific color that tied together the experience. Digital Core neighborhood, for instance, was lit in green, while Customer Experience neighborhood was adorned in purple. Once attendees entered a neighborhood, they were greeted by SAP experts who offered best practices and guidance to meet challenges and take advantage of opportunities. Pavilion communities stood nearby; this is where visitors experienced SAP innovation and expertise around industry, services and support, and intelligent platform technology. “We took a neighborhood approach and broke business challenges down by audience across our attendee base,” Wrede said.

All of these experiences happened just inside the show floor entrance. Deeper into the show floor were Partner communities, the ASUG Hub, and other offerings and services. Then, at the back of the show floor, visitors gathered at the keynote theater to hear from SAP leadership and special guests.

Attendees could take photos at designated Selfie Walls, contribute feedback at electronic stations around the floor, or watch short informative videos by touching virtual buttons that met their interests.Attendees could take photos at designated Selfie Walls, contribute feedback at electronic stations around the floor, or watch short informative videos by touching virtual buttons that met their interests.Photo: Rona Gindin for BizBashInvite fun with interactive displays.
Attendees could interact in several new and playful ways. For instance, they could take photos at designated Selfie Walls, contribute feedback at electronic stations around the floor, or watch short informative videos by touching virtual buttons that met their interests. At the Tapestry “inspirational showcase,” featuring lifestyle brands, they could even activate video elements by moving retail products such as a shoe or handbag onto a dedicated shelf, which read a scan placed on the item and shared information. This was designed by SAP Global Events creative director Philip Smeed, whose background was in video. “We made the music low and straight to the face so attendees can hear it on the show floor,” Smeed noted, “and the spokesperson’s voice is clear.”

Social seating areas encourage communication.
As for the “live” portion of the live-work-play model, the event’s entrance created an expansive area with soft seating clustered in small groups, inviting conversation and networking. Throughout the show floor, meeting rooms had conference-style tables, pendant lighting, and soft seating in a private setting. More seating was available near food and beverage stations, which provided unlimited grab-and-go snacks and soft drinks. Soft seating clustered in small groups invited conversation and networking.Soft seating clustered in small groups invited conversation and networking.Photo: Courtesy of SAPIn the partner area, additional meeting areas supported strategic, private conversations between customers and partners. A buffet-style lunchroom, also with complimentary meals, was moved to a large tent outside the back of the trade show floor. Theaters from small, 45-seat topic areas to the main keynote theater were arranged throughout the show floor.  With all of these provisions and experiences in place, the attendees had no reason to leave the floor during the day.

Wow them with technology.
At the center of Sapphire Now was the Central Showcase, a high-tech air travel-themed display designed to demonstrate, through a familiar scenario, how experiential data and operational data can merge to assist businesses. Employees dressed as flight crew staffed the display. Outside of the showcase, four concave partial walls sported informational and inspirational messages, while inside an immersive LED experience used floors and the inside of the curved walls to transform the environment into bold images of food trays and the tarmac.

“Everything was designed with the customer at the heart of the experience,” Kastner said. “That was our No. 1 filter for every decision we made this year. Sapphire Now can be overwhelming. We did everything we can to make it easy for participants to reach experts who can help and answer their questions.”

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