A large promise with great possibilities: B-to-B CMO spotlight
There are a lot of ways to express the notion that big brands need to do big things to cut through, but my favorite dates back to 1759 and Samuel Johnson, “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.” It’s not just the obvious reality that the larger you are, the harder it is to change entrenched perceptions. It’s also the opportunity that big brands have to make a big difference. Case in point: SAP.
In my recent interview with Alicia Tillman, SAP’s chief marketing officer, I was struck by the audacity of the CEO’s ambition to become a top 10 brand in the world and the corresponding change in product positioning and marketing strategy. Among the highlights, Tillman points to a giant promise, “make the world run better,” a new category, “experience management,” and an unconventional print ad that kicked off the conversation around the world. Since the campaign launched in mid-2018, SAP has moved from No. 21 to No. 17 on the top brands list, and Tillman sees even more promising changes in the months ahead.
How have you approached your CEO’s goal to have SAP become a top 10 brand by value? It’s an ambitious goal.
Yes, it certainly is. When I took the role, SAP was sitting at the 21. Pretty good. But we had a ways to go to the top. It’s especially difficult when you start getting into the top 20. And I will tell you, when he introduced me as the new CMO of SAP, just over a year ago, it was in front of the company, and we were standing up there on stage together, and he announced this aspiration, that he wanted me to help lead for the company, and the thing that struck me and motivated me was his focus on the brand, and his belief that the marketing organization could help propel us into becoming recognized as one of the top 10 most valuable, and I think in some ways that it was daunting, but in my mind it was super motivating because, number one, here is a CEO who truly respects and believes in the contributions of marketing to a company.
How have you approached updating SAP’s marketing?
We had this campaign tagline about a decade ago, “the best run,” that was really more directed to product and operations. That was also something that really stuck with people. I wanted to bring it back, because I wanted to keep something that was authentically SAP, but I also wanted to modernize the intention of the statement. We changed it to say the “best run companies make the world run better” because we, as a brand, really recognized that at the end of the day, technology is an enabler. Businesses today are in the business of making the world a better place regardless of what you do or the industry you're in or the products and the services that you deliver.
How are you getting reach for these great messages?
In B2B, you typically create marketing programs and strategies that target your core buyer. If we want to become a top 10 brand, though, we’re going to be competing against consumer brands—we have let the brand go more mass market. As you said, have more reach, have more scale. When we started to look at things such as our sponsorship portfolio, we started to expand partnerships with organizations like the NBA and the NHL. A lot of things like Cirque du Soleil, beautiful partners that have incredible reach. That puts you deeper into: yeah, your buyers are there, but there are also influencers that become present as well. So, we started last year to really expand and start to introduce our brand into more of those consumer-facing media platforms, because it's important that the SAP brand, and our story, starts to become more understood.
Can you talk about your unconventional use of the Wall Street Journal?
We took out a three-page spread, earlier this year in the Wall Street Journal and it was an open letter to everyone from a consumer. His name was Nick Vitale, and he basically aired a lot of his frustrations as well as things that he likes around things that he experiences day to day in his life. Everything from the hotel breakfast that you get, and how much you love the waffle station, to the comfort of airline seats, to the quality of hamburgers that he eats. It was a very fun.
What was the idea behind this approach?
It was showing us his feelings across a variety of experiences that all of us can relate to. Nick was a fictional character that was intended to really connect with people so that we could start having our voices heard. This led to a headline that said, “the future of business has feelings,” because we need to start getting much closer to the feelings of our consumers. The social feedback was amazing. We had people who were calling for the Nick in the next presidential candidacy 2020 because he resonated so much with how people feel. And then we had angry people who were upset because he wasn't actually a real person. We had people try to dig through the white pages to call Nick. Some people offered to pay him back for the cost of the Wall Street Journal article because they believed so much in what he was representing. It was a hit and allowed us to begin, once again, telling a much different story than you're used to hearing from SAP.
And do you see experience management as a category that you’re not just creating, but leading?
Absolutely. There are many categories that have been defined through the years. We truly believe that experience management is the next category. We are building it, and we absolutely intend to lead it. A lot of it is about access to data and turning that data into intelligence to help your company run better. And when you have this formula of a purpose as an organization enabled by data, which drives intelligence, to allow you to build an operation, to run your company at its best, together with your ability to really capture the feelings of your customer to help inform then how you operate—it's a perfect formula for what we believe we're in right now. The experience economy, and this creation of this new segment which we call experience management.