For software company SAP’s retail division the annual National Retail Federation Convention is among the biggest in its trade show portfolio. Held in January at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City the show is a kickoff event of sorts for the brand which operates on a business schedule based on the calendar year.
“Our sales team uses it to kick into gear all the deals they’re going to be chasing for the year ” says Andy Williams director-marketing and retail at SAP. “We use it to set the tone for our company for the entire year from a messaging perspective. We use it to come out of the gate with a lot of momentum.”
In addition the company uses the show in a number of ways to connect with attendees. Goals at the top of the list: raising and maintaining brand awareness as well as generating leads.
Besides its exhibit presence at the show this year the brand set out to achieve its goals with an approach that was largely centered on using its customers to tell its story.
“In many ways we find that people are much more receptive when it is someone that is not part of SAP that talks about us ” Williams says. “And that has really led to us using our customers to help us tell our story.”
One example: The brand teamed with retailer Harrods for a session that had the retailer telling how it uses a single platform from SAP to increase operational efficiency.
But the approach required a delicate sensibility. Had the session been too SAP-heavy it would have come across as more of a product shill and less of an organic story about the retailer’s growth through the aid of SAP’s solutions.
“It’s a delicate balance ” Williams says. “You have to make sure that you’re not making a strong pitch up front about why someone should come talk to your company. It really has to be about the customer.”
Harrods Williams says was a good fit because many of their improvements had been enabled by SAP technology.
“Whether they talk about improvements in efficiency or if it’s about cost savings if all of those things are being derived from our technology it will be central to the story that they tell ” Williams says.
Another key to the success of the approach was Harrods openness and willingness to share their own story. “It’s one thing to have a great brand but if you don’t have a great story you’re only going to get half the return ” Williams says.
The brand used a similar approach for a session with press and analysts. Instead of having a typical Q&A between the press and SAP the brand made several of its clients—including Beall’s Harrods and Steve & Barry’s—available for a roundtable. The setup started with a couple of key questions designed to get the session going and then press were free to jump in and engage the retailers directly.
“The intent was to give the press and analysts the opportunity they’ve been asking for; we’re always getting tons of requests to speak to our customers directly ” Williams says. “For NRF why not take advantage of the fact that everyone we want to talk to is there and the customers they want to talk to are there? We thought let’s just bring them together.”
And the customer-centric approach is a gift that keeps on giving. Post-show SAP is using a video of the Harrods session to connect with attendees they met at the show but may not have made it to the session. Attendees that connected with SAP at the show receive a thank you email from the brand which features a link they can click on and register to view the session.
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