Regardless of their size or speciality, the most successful companies earn customer loyalty through one key tenet: purpose. This goes deeper than faith in the value or quality a brand provides; rather, today’s consumers expect brands to stand for something beyond their bottom line. Now more than ever, purpose is paramount. In an Edelman Trust Barometer survey focused on the pandemic, 62 percent of respondents believed that their country will not make it through this crisis without brands playing a critical role in addressing the challenges. Seventy-one percent said that if they perceive that a brand puts profit over people, they will lose trust in that brand forever.
To find out how one of the world’s most successful brands puts purpose into practice, we spoke with Alicia Tillman, chief marketing officer at SAP. Find out how a company with over 100,000 employees, serving 440,000 customers in more than 180 countries, delivers on its commitment to “to help the world run better and improve people’s lives.”
The Female Quotient: You’ve said that “The future of business has feelings.” What do you mean by that?
Alicia Tillman: Humans are emotionally driven creatures—our brains create such powerful connections among certain feelings and things, like people, places or even brands. Until recently, it wasn’t possible for businesses to fully capture, understand and respond to deeply complex individual emotions. But now, through best-in-class data and analytics, brands can get granular. With that foundation, brands can be more empathetic, which is incredibly important when you look to build long-term trust and loyalty compared with quick wins.
FQ: Do you think that brands have a responsibility to respond to current events? How does SAP manifest this responsibility?
Tillman: For decades, there was an unspoken rule that bringing social or personal issues into the workplace was not appropriate. Today, that is rapidly changing as brands recognize their responsibility to take a stand and use their scale to create change and impact progress on many social issues that hold back societies from thriving. Corporate citizenship is about getting involved and using expertise and influence to enable good and enact change wherever possible. For example, at SAP we had rolled out 15 new solutions specifically designed to help our customers and partners navigate the uncertainty of COVID-19. Furthermore, at the start of July, we joined the #StopHateforProfit movement, calling on Facebook to take a greater role in combating racism and hate speech online. We cannot ignore the real world challenges our communities are facing, especially when it is within our reach to contribute. It is our responsibility and duty to step up and help solve the world's most pressing and urgent challenges that impact our employees, customers and communities in which we operate.
FQ: What will be the long-term societal effects of the past few months, from the pandemic to the renewed focus on social justice? How will that evolution affect brands?
Tillman: We’ve seen beautiful movements of people coming together to both navigate through the pandemic and to address our shortcomings on social justice. More than ever, brands have a voice in these societal issues and consumers expect to hear from them—it drives their purchasing behavior and brand allegiance. As we go forward, brands will be hyper-aware of how to connect with their audiences on a human level and play a larger role in being part of solutions and change.
FQ: How is purpose built into SAP's DNA? Do you think that has been an integral part of the brand’s success?
Tillman: SAP was founded on the idea that technology can make a difference. Our purpose, “To help the world run better and improve people’s lives,” has guided us through nearly 50 years of growth and evolution. This purpose has not only helped us best serve our customers, ensuring they have the tools they need to become the best-run business for their own customers, but it has also led us to meaningful partnerships with organizations like the United Nations to advance achievement of Sustainable Development Goals. Most recently, our purpose has served as our North Star as we navigate the global pandemic guiding us to ensure we are only offering our customers and communities the most relevant and helpful tools they need at this time.
On one hand, many are in pure survival mode as they navigate the pandemic. On the other, it is clear that a large, systemically underserved portion of society needs support, both as employees and customers. How will the best brands respond to this dichotomy?
We are facing a once-in-a-century crisis. There’s simply no playbook or precedent to guide decision-making — especially given the wide array of challenges we face as individuals. With that in mind, brands have a responsibility to their communities to do what they can to help ease the strain. I think about my own employees, those who are juggling the new realities of being a professional, caregiver, parent and teacher all at the same time. Because a blanket solution is impossible, listening becomes a brand’s most important skill. What do our customers and employees need, right now? How can we adjust course to provide relief? That’s how brands will have the greatest impact on those who need it most.
FQ: Why do mission-driven companies help the world run better?
Tillman: The speed of innovation has never been faster. Brands are able to glean unmatched insights into the pressing issues that face our society. But it isn’t enough to simply understand—we have to act. When we lead through purpose, we can use our expertise and know-how to truly make a difference and help our communities thrive.