SAP's marketing chief on managing the 'experience economy' in 2020

Little comforts, from plush chairs to morning coffees, loom big at global software giant SAP.

Managing the experience economy will remain a big focus for software giant SAP in 2020. 

The company, a leader in "back-end" technology, completed its acquisition of Qualtrics International, a "front-end"  experience-management (XM) software pioneer in January of 2019. The deal married both sides of the customer journey - from consumer to corporate.

Within months, SAP introduced an unlikely campaign about raw feelings and how businesses that capture people’s emotions can provide better brand experiences. 

The campaign, created in partnership BBDO Worldwide New York, was spearheaded by a highly charged spot that sped through 27 human feelings, from anxiety to awe, giving a different face to the global b-to-b giant. 

"You will see next year we continue to tell a story through the lens of customers," said Alicia Tillman, global CMO at SAP. "You will continue to see fun activations and continue to see us up presence on TV. There will be a high increase in our digital presence as well, something that has brought an incredible return for us."

From September through November, SAP ran a set of pop-up activations to demonstrate how brands can envelope people in positive experiences. Prior to the activations, SAP surveyed people on the types of things they'd like to improve about the emotion-provoking urban commute.

SAP installed three experiences - a garden, a commuter lounge and diverse, selfie backdrops depicting a change from the same-old scenery - -to see which best improved the commutes of San Franciscans and New Yorkers.

In the garden, brand ambassadors handed out flowers. The lounge featured comfy chairs and masseuses, while the photo station amused passers-by with its changing backdrops. 

"We had street teams conducting surveys and did a lot of listening around what could be done to create a more pleasurable experience going from point A to point B," said Tillman.

They determined that 88 percent of people expressed positive opinions about the comfortable commute pop-up, 78 percent gave the thumbs-up to the urban oasis and 73 percent told survey takers they liked the selfie backdrops.

Tillman cited a real-world, experience-management example involving JetBlue. The airline fosters a reputation for better customer experiences, so it was concerned to discover that negative feedback was bubbling up in Philadelphia. Using experience management software and analytics, JetBlue was able to isolate the problem to passengers on the first flight out of one gate at Philadelphia International Airport.

Turns out, the coffee concession near that gate didn’t open until after that early flight. Without  breakfast and a caffeine fix, customers were rightly disgruntled. 

Collecting customer data through feedback, surveys and keeping an eye on social allowed JetBlue to identify an issue and address it. The airline handed out free coffee and breakfasts to travelers by that gate. Unchecked, these bad customer experiences could have triggered negative world-of-mouth that might have cascaded far beyond the Philly airport.

"In a world where there are so many brands to choose from as it relates to products and services you purchase, people are making those choices," said Tillman. "They are leaving brands faster than ever before. They don’t have time for poor experiences. It is very easy to change from one brand to the next. Businesses truly cannot afford to not be close to customers, their needs and desires."

The "experience economy," one driven by businesses that create memorable events and memories for their customers, was coined by authors B. Joseph Pine and James Gilmore as the next economy, following agrarian, industrial and service. In this new economy, transformative experiences, such as education, are the key products. 

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