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Marty Homlish, Global CMO, SAP

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Title: Global CMO Company: SAP Years in current job: 9 Quote: “Companies that actually invest in down economic times have a much better opportunity to build brand value and brand recognition.”

Marty Homlish, global CMO of SAP, said one of the biggest challenges he faced this year was the swine flu outbreak.

“How does the swine flu impact the leading business software supplier?” he asked rhetorically. Mostly, it was the timing, he said. SAP was planning its largest annual event—the Sapphire user conference in Orlando, Fla.—in May, just about the time hysteria was breaking out about the potential for a swine flu pandemic.

“We were going into this major event with a couple of challenges we already faced,” Homlish said. “The economic challenges were impacting travel and meetings and business events around the world. As we were making decisions about Sapphire—do we go forward with this event?—the swine flu announcement came out at the same time. The crisis actually triggered some exceptionally innovative thinking on the part of our company and in our marketing organization.”

SAP decided to go ahead with the physical event, and for the first time conduct a companion virtual event.

“All of this came as a result of experimentation we started in marketing 18 months ago,” Homlish said. “We challenged our marketing organization to use virtual meeting platforms, and in January we did our entire field kickoff meetings virtually, with 17,000 SAP people participating.”

Following this “stress test” of the virtual meeting platform, SAP decided the time was right to launch its first external virtual event alongside the Sapphire conference. The combo proved to be a success, with 10,000 physical attendees and 8,000 virtual attendees.

“We learned that you cannot substitute physical events completely with virtual events,” Homlish said. “We are looking at a hybrid model for the future, with physical events and virtual events running simultaneously.”

Another big initiative for Homlish and his team this year was the launch of a new campaign, “It's Time for a Clear New World,” developed by Ogilvy North America, New York. The integrated campaign, which debuted at the Sapphire event, includes print, online and outdoor, and is designed to show how SAP solutions offer businesses transparency and accountability. It is an extension of SAP's “The Best-Run Businesses Run SAP” campaign.

“What does it mean to be a best-run business today?” Homlish asked, discussing how the marketing team came up with the concept of “Clear.”

“We concluded SAP can help you and your business become a clear enterprise. A clear enterprise is transparent and accountable. What better time to provide clarity than in the midst of a crisis?”

Homlish said the next phase of the campaign will involve telling more product and technology stories. SAP also plans to expand its use of virtual events, social media and 360-degree marketing, he said.

—K.M.

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