Setting (and Meeting) Ambitious Goals

In 1759, Samuel Johnson wrote: “Promise, large promise, is the soul of an advertisement.” So, it isn’t exactly a new thought that large brands need to do large things to cut through. This ties to how the bigger you are, the likelier it is that you’re deeply entrenched in your own legacy. In other words, people have set ideas about big brands. To grow, big brands just need to shake it up a little. That’s what SAP did.

Recently, Alicia Tillman, CMO of SAP, took on the challenge of meeting her CEO’s ambitious goal: become a top 10 brand in the world. In her interview with RTU, she dove into how she’s mobilizing the company to do just that, how she’s constructing campaigns, and how she’s using purpose to drive the brand and make the world a better place. Check out some highlights below:

How have you started to work on you CEO’s goal to make SAP a top ten brand?

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.

Have you updated SAP’s marketing efforts as well?

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 do you generate reach for your 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 the awesome Wall Street Journal ad?

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 inspired that campaign?

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.

So you’ve created the category of ‘experience management,’ do you think you’re leading it as well?

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.

What a rare opportunity, right?

Yes. You don’t often get that, and him asking us to architect the strategy, because it’s not just marketing that will enable our ability to become one of the 10 most valuable brands, every functional group across the company needs to contribute to that success. But asking marketing to help architect that strategy says a lot about Bill, our CEO, and the company that we work for. We set out immediately and architected a strategy it started with really dissecting the characteristics that the top 10 brands have in common with each other, and there are incredible common traits that they all share. Now, we’re the 17th most valuable brand in the world. So, we’ve made it into the top 20, from 21, it was our highest growth rate since 2009. It’s beyond marketing, too, it’s having all of SAP rowing together.

More detail on why the new tagline

It’s all about making something better. And in a lot of cases, it’s about making the environment better, our economy better, society better. And that was the fundamental change that we made which is, how do we really help our customers achieve their ultimate vision which is to make the world run better. And so that’s the change that we made.

How do you continue to make this real, to reach the next level?

It’s going to come down to how well we tell our story, and that is a shift that we’ve been on for about a year and a half now, and one that we’re going to continue to shift very aggressively in, because we have what it takes. We have what it takes to win. We have what it takes to succeed. We’ve got to focus on how we tell that story, that’s relevant to our consumers today, really honed-in on things that matter to them. You know you’re going to see a lot more of a Nick Vitale-type of tactic that we’re going to put in the marketplace and something that has a tone that’s approachable, it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s relevant, hits on things that matter to people, and then showcases how SAP technology can help to enable the experiences that we want and so the marketing around that. The tactics and story we tell matter more than ever. And marketing is at the forefront of that. D

Any final lessons to impart?

Really understand your brand. Every brand was started with a purpose and with a vision and an often time you lose that at times along the way. Leadership changes. Acquisitions, growth strategies—go back to your roots because consumers today are interested in authenticity, truth, and purpose. If you spend the time to really understand how your company was founded and what the vision was, you’ll find beautiful stories, always. That’s how I spent the first three months when I took on this role, just studying SAP and it’s been incredibly rewarding, because it’s all about our authentic truth. And I’m telling you it it’s what wins every single time.

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