Close-up with Susan Popper, VP-marketing communications, SAP

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Susan Popper, senior VP-marketing communications at software company SAP, is responsible for communicating and positioning the SAP brand, including advertising, Web and other marketing functions.

A 20-year advertising veteran, Popper helped build brands such as Merrill Lynch, Northwest Airlines and Pitney Bowes while working at such global ad agencies as J. Walter Thompson USA, Bozell and Saatchi & Saatchi. She has been with SAP since 2000.

In the following interview with BtoB, Popper talks about how SAP is working to be smarter about its marketing, including introducing a new campaign and experimenting with social media.

BtoB: What are some trends you're seeing now in the business?

Popper: Everyone is looking for new ways to be more efficient, and effective and ways to market smarter. It's a new world in some ways. Everyone's talking about how best to jump in, whether that's experimentation or whether it's adopting someone else's best practice.

BtoB: What are you experimenting with?

Popper: We're experimenting a lot with social media. Almost every marketing program has some element of social media, whether it be participation in the communities we already have or whether it's piloting a site on Facebook—and engaging thought leaders to come and engage on the site—and trying to grow a community from Facebook or Twitter. We are working on extensions of our conferences, using Twitter to create enthusiasm and post some of the content and drive users back to the community where the content is.

BtoB: Have you put any best practices into place for social media?

Popper: [None] except for the SAP community—the community started off as a development community, and now we have many other participants in that community … so that has become a best practice we all want to contribute to—the other tactics are still in a pilot stage.

BtoB: You recently launched a new campaign—“It's Time for a Clear New World.” How did you get alignment across the organization on the objectives?

Popper: I think sometimes you come up with a good idea that is timely and highly relevant. So what happened for us is that our CEO [Leo Apotheker] saw that it was a big idea and immediately embraced it. So based on his embracing of this idea, we then were able to take a leadership role and bring that idea across the corporation, both for external use and to use as an internal communications platform to make some of these transformational efforts.

BtoB: What is the big idea?

Popper: The idea is that a clear enterprise is what it takes to be a best-run business—and what it means to be clear. So “clear” has some pillars, and those are transparency, accountability and “customer-centricity”. As we look at how to help our customers to be clear with using our software, we also look at what would it take for SAP to be clear, so that not only are we talking the talk, we are walking the talk.

BtoB: What was the role of your agency [Ogilvy New York] in developing this platform?

Popper: They totally developed this with us. It started from work we did by talking to our customers about what they were going through. We also did a lot of desk research—looking at what is going on in business today, reading articles, reading blogs—and then aggregating all of that. And then from a process standpoint, we were looking for a big idea. And our agency had a process which they worked with us on—where we did all this background work, and brought people into a room from different disciplines and … spent the day in strategic discovery and ideation; and the spark came from that process.

BtoB: What are some of the ways in which you are realizing marketing efficiencies in the down economy?

Popper: One of the things we are quite excited about is a virtual event platform. That's been a way for us to extend the reach of live events that we're having, so we have the efficiencies from making the content available to far more people and for longer after the event. It also has allowed buying groups from a single company to take advantage, whether they were at the conference or not. Because of the complexity in some companies about how they evaluate a software purchase, there may be many people involved; and this way, the people who were actually at the event and the people who weren't at the event can share the same content, so they stay on the same page as they are looking to evaluate a purchase.

BtoB: When did you start doing virtual events?

Popper: We started our first one with an internal event in January, which was the sales meeting, and that really got us on the track. So when you look at the efficiencies from an internal meeting—the cost savings in terms of travel, the productivity saved in that people are able to keep working and not have the down time from traveling, and the environmental impact of not having all of us traveling—it had many benefits and efficiencies. So it started off as an internal tactic. We've done a number of them externally, the biggest one being Sapphire Online, which had 10,000 people attend the live event and 8,000 participate virtually.

BtoB: How do you measure ROI on your marketing efforts?

Popper: We're doing a lot of digital marketing on the brand level, which does let us measure how people are engaged, how often they come back and what they're doing. We're finding that our latest campaign is doing incredibly well in terms of drawing in the target audience. And then, when they come to our site, they watch the videos and they are engaging with the content on the site. Our impression-to-visit ratio (as measured by click-through rates) doubled this year versus last year.

BtoB: How are you working with your media partners on developing new programs?

Popper: Media companies are coming up with very innovative ideas to bring to customers like us on how we can reach our target better, that combine their assets and their community and our advertising. For example, we did something with The Economist where they came up with a barometer on how corporate executives feel the economic recovery is going to happen. We had thousands of responses, and it just brings something of interest and something of relevance to our target audience. The findings were on a sponsored area of their site, and a very high percentage stayed on our landing site to watch videos and download content, showing that the thought leadership environment provided a targeted, engaged audience.

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