Readers of my Art of virtual events series know I am perennially disappointed by the lack of imagination event organizers have demonstrated this spring.
Lately we have the opposite problem: vendors trying way too hard. Last week's Sapphire Now was an unfortunate example: overwrought and overproduced keynotes. Streams high on production values (when they worked), but lacking unscripted, real-world discussions.
How would this week's ASUGForward fare? For ASUG's first annual virtual conference, they decided to keep it simple: no keynotes. Low-key facilitation. Live, customer-focused discussions. A laid back chat channel. After Monday's sessions - so far, so good.
Go figure: discussions with customers is all the content you need - even if their webcams aren't state of the art. Seriously, who the heck cares about that? Give us a stable stream, a Q/A panel, and let's learn about how to get through this:
SAP CIO Glenn Pinnel of Benjamin Moore & Co:
Pre-pandemic, the physical experience of buying paint was crucial. Buying changed overnight. Now, buyers adapted to going online and buying paint.
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) June 22, 2020
For ASUGForward day one, I dug into the sales and e-commerce track. ASUG included customers from industries that took it on the chin:
Good to hear frank (SAP) customer story from a hard-hit industry (American Hotel Register).
"light at end of tunnel" data story, and "clean and safe" campaign for customers re-opening.
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) June 22, 2020
"Coronavirus highlights where you are in the transformation journey"
The sales and e-commerce track kicked off with ASUG CEO's Geoff Scott's interview with Under Armour's Chief Experience Office Paul Fipps. Under Armour is one of those flagship SAP customers that peers pay attention to. That holds true for Fipps, an active community member who served as the Chairperson of the ASUG board for years:
SAP customer Under Armour - Coronavirus highlights where you are in the transformation journey. We are heavily investing in personalization, data platform capabilities, and digital. That means letting consumers tell us what data they want to share with us. #asugforward #asug
— Jon Reed (@jonerp) June 22, 2020
Scott kicked off with the only question you can really start with these days: how is Under Armour coping with the radically different business circumstances we now find ourselves in? Fipps said UnderArmour was impacted early, via their Chinese interests:
We learned a lot in those countries and regions that were hit first. Then we started to apply those learnings.
How do we actually protect our teams, and make sure their well-being was at the top of the list? And the second thing was: how do we think about our cash position on our balance sheet?
Under Armour had to close retail stores, as did their partners. Fortunately, the online business was well-established. Now you have the problem of closings and re-openings globally, and navigating those regional differences. But Under Armour didn't just view this as survival. Time to seize the opportunity, or make lemonade; whatever you want to call it:
The third part that we focused on was: how to become one of the stronger. We focus on some key initiatives that we had in place, and the team has been brilliant. They went home; they started working remotely using the collaboration tools that we've had in place for years.
And how did that go?
Immediately, we actually saw a lift in productivity. It's really exciting to see; a lot of the digital initiatives that we had as an organization have accelerated. We've been able to bring them to life faster.
Shift your entire marketing approach - in three weeks
That doesn't mean it's been a seamless transition. Put the brakes on pre-Corona marketing plans:
We were in the midst of one of the largest marketing campaigns in our company's history. It was going very well, and then the Coronavirus. We had to stop and rethink the messaging to the consumer because the world that changed dramatically.
Fipps partnered with the CMO to roll out something totally different:
We also wanted to make sure that the messaging had a community impact, and a giveback component to it as well, given how many people were suffering with Coronavirus in the early phases, and actually still do today. So we shifted that in three weeks completely.
Some readers might be thinking: why should we sweat retail marketing in a world where essential workers are still facing huge issues? Well, because in the new normal, health and well-being have a new level of import. Instead of helping athletes reach peak performance, the Under Armour's new campaign was about "how we come together as a community, and get through the global pandemic together." Time to activate influencers:
As part of that, we engaged our influencers across the globe. They started doing some really great workout routines, some short routines, 15/20 minutes, kind of CrossFit-type routines all the way through running routines, and so forth.
We used social media to engage our consumers and helped them stay healthy and fit at home. Then we brought them through their journey into the apps, where they could get access to nutrition plans that will help with their immunity, all the way to really calculating their fitness and their fitness goals through this time period. You know, when gyms are closed, and boutique fitness studios are obviously shuttered.
So that's been a great way to engage our community, but also let our consumers know that Under Armour cares about their health and fitness.
Running with machine intelligence - keeping up with runners
Consumer behaviors shifted practically overnight. Because of the data in Under Armour apps, Fipps and team saw this shift, and responded. For the first period of the pandemic, quarantines ruled the day. After that, getting outside for exercise became the main escape. As Fipps told ASUGForward attendees:
The runs started to accumulate - in very large ways. In fact, we've had more than twenty days of one million runs log per day, which is a record that we continue to beat. And we see a lot of new consumers just getting used to running. You can see their times improving; you can see their distances getting longer.
Under Armour sees a role helping to educate these new runners via their apps:
With MapMyRun, we offer a lot of capability in terms of helping coach people into a better running form. And I think that that feature set has been engaged throughout Coronavirus. Most people actually don't know how to run. I know that sounds a little bit counter-intuitive. But if you're not classically taught in track, or in cross-country, you typically tend to overstride.
We actually have a machine learning algorithm that will coach you in real-time as you're running, into a better running form. And that connects to a pair of Under Armour shoes with a chip in it. That entire experience will actually make you a better/faster runner, with much less opportunity to injure yourself. So we've seen a tremendous lift there.
This piece is just a flavor for a track jammed up with customer stories and panels. Naturally, I found things to take issue with, that's pretty much inevitable. In this case, I would have enjoyed debating Dustin Garis, a keynote speaker in the trendy "customer experience" area. I've sparred with CX evangelists before.
While Garis had some good examples of getting CX right, his notion that there is no fundamental difference between B2B and B2C is fanciful. Sending B2B decision-makers to a movie theater isn't how you earn influence. That said, there are plenty of lessons to be learned from getting the consumer experience right. Garis brought some interesting content - I just wanted to spar with him.
Despite that beef, this was a very good track. I know from talking to ASUG they aren't trying to re-invent virtual events this time around (I expect them to try even more interactive formats in their fall online events). But you don't need to transform virtual events to have a good one. You can't really go wrong with a humble focus on customers and member stories.
Den Howlett and I will continue to track sessions this week - expect more updates.
Note: this week, you can still register for ASUGForward and catch upcoming sessions and those on replay (ASUG members get free access). You do not need to be an ASUG member to participate, but in that case, there is a cost for the event.