SAP Shares Lessons on Show Floor Activations

June 26, 2019

When planning show floor activations at user conferences, some industries lend themselves to immersive experiences that make a big splash while others have a challenge showing their benefits in interactive ways. Industries like finance or technology, where products are less tangible, often struggle to translate their benefits into visual experiences at events. They rely on demonstrations to showcase “how it works” but that technique leaves out “why it’s important”.  

SAP, a multinational software corporation that makes enterprise software to manage business operations and customer relations, holds user conferences around the world. Among other things, the conferences give potential buyers opportunities to “understand the why” by interacting with SAP technology in creative ways through show floor activations.

What are show floor activations?

Kathryn Ferguson, head of global events at SAP Ariba, says show floor activations are interactive experiences that connect existing and potential customers to the brand and educate customers on an aspect of the product, technology or purpose-driven initiative.

“The more you make the activation interactive and immersive, the more memorable the experience,” she explains. “Using multiple senses to create the activation will help make the experience more meaningful.”

SAP event professionals cite many reasons why show floor activations are critical pieces of today’s event experiences.

Activations provide experiences

Ferguson says we are becoming an experience-driven economy where attendees are looking for moments in time to map an experience, delight the senses and capture it on social media.  

“By building a connection with the customer on the show floor, attendees are left with a memorable experience with the brand and a brand association that outlasts the experience,” she says. “The right activation creates an unforgettable experience with your brand, leading to greater brand awareness and engagement over the long term.”

In addition, at most user conferences, organizers are vying for the hearts and minds of attendees who have a variety of competing priorities, from watching presentations to seeing exhibitors on the show floor to meeting with experts.   

“A show floor activation will make them stop and take the time to learn or experience the activation,” Ferguson says. “An engaging activation can create buzz and become the destination, no matter what is on the customer’s agenda.”  

Ric Rogers, director, SAP TechEd strategy, points out that show floor activations appeal to short attention spans, the need to combine work and play, and the younger generation’s interest in sharing experiences.

“People want to enjoy learning and learn by doing, and they also identify themselves with their job function more than they did even a half generation ago,” he says. “Activations are just a way to express the personality of your event and your brand, and do so in the context of the personalities your program attracts.”  

Activations create connections

Sue Fachner, global events senior director at SAP Cloud Business Group, believes activations help create connections, the sense of belonging to a greater purpose and part of a community.  

“They engage the audience beyond the traditional demos that show how the solutions work,” Fachner says. “Instead, they engage in a playful and interactive manner.”

She adds, “The goal is to build authentic opportunities for networking and learning using visual connections points that invite participants in.”

Each of SAP’s events offers different activations. Rogers gave an example from SAP TechEd: The conference had a wall dedicated to coding languages. Each column represented a different coding language and contained a uniquely colored button and sticker for attendees to take. As they took a button, a sticker was placed in the column.

“This way everyone saw how many of each language was represented at the show, and attendees could find like-minded talents around them simply by looking for the same color buttons,” Rogers explains. “It was highly successful and we ran out of a couple of the more popular button types.”

The same event also introduced a graphic novel lounge where attendees could enjoy literature and share commonalities in an area other than technology. The books were given away for free to encourage participation. The lounge was successful (and all of the books were gone by the end of the show) and will be enhanced further next year.

Activations help brands tell a cohesive story

The key to bringing one of those ideas to an event is to know your audience and event (strategy and goals, target audience and KPIs); have someone take responsibility for executing the vision, and keep it in context with everything else.

“A show floor activation would ideally connect to all aspects of the event and tell a cohesive story,” Ferguson says.

SAP Ariba Live created a show floor activation that was both educational and fun. The show floor experience helped the audience understand the magnitude of $3 trillion — the amount SAP Ariba solutions are on track to process in commerce annually in 2019 on its business network globally — and ways to think about spending better through fun, engaging and unexpected ways.  

“We had a gumball machine where attendees could guess the number of gumballs and images of gumballs on the booth; a wind-tunnel that had pretend money floating for attendees to grab; a photo booth; a light-up board where attendees could outline their reasons for spending better; bouncy balls that matched the gumballs; and bouncy ball races,” Ferguson lists.

Practical tips for activation implementation

Ferguson adds that it’s important to have the activation align with the overall event strategy, goals and messaging. She advocates that planners define a budget they are willing to spend along with a target audience and the activation goal (education, brand awareness, customer storytelling or other).

She also encourages planners to form a team with diverse backgrounds and creative minds to bring together different ideas to create the experience. She also recommends including an agency that can bring the visual experience to life and ensure all communications align with the objectives.  

Finally, Ferguson says, “Create a follow-up process and track those who attend the activation for future conversations; speak to stakeholders, partners and customers who can help test theories; and create a measurement process.”

Rogers notes that SAP brings ideas from all areas of life to its show floor activations — and recommends using ideas that are multi-purpose.

“I always keep my eyes open for the ways people come together and the things they do for fun,” he says.

“Watch a kid at the beach for an hour and you’d probably come away with half a dozen different ideas. Or,  you can get ideas from grocery stores, meetups, other events, consumer brands and more.”

“A selfie wall is great, but can the selfie help people connect with the company?” Rogers asks. “Can you help them get their selfie into the event marketing or on their social channels? Is there a follow-on from taking the picture that leads somewhere else more exciting?”

Conference planners should also be aware that activations take effort and there’s no clear guarantee of success.

“Activations are like viral videos — no one knows for sure what is going to grab ahold of the group-think,” Rogers says. “I have seen brilliant ideas sit quietly in the corner while the lamest, most outdated, insignificant castaway has more zeitgeist than anyone ever imagined.”

Even in less visual industries, user conferences attendees can experience your product in interactive ways. And that experience can leave a lasting impression that impacts your brand’s success in positive ways for years to come.

Photo credits: SAP


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