SAP CMO Alicia Tillman on marketers' evolving role, brand safety and implementing innovative thinking


By Shawn Lim | Reporter, Asia Pacific

November 20, 2017 | 7 min read

The mindsets of chief marketing officers have evolved from a product-centric mindset to a more customer-centric one, as it is no longer just about developing eye-catching campaigns. They also serve as both the representative of the brand and the voice of the customer.

This is according to Alicia Tillman, CMO at software giant SAP in a conversation with The Drum, who adds that the voice of the customer especially, needs to be a part of everything a company does and should be at the heart of all marketing initiatives.

Tillman notes that she is seeing more and more CMOs realise the importance of a purpose driven marketing strategy as consumers today have more choices than ever and are increasingly choosing to partner with companies that share their same mission and values. “Because of this, more companies are realizing the true power of purpose to effect revenue streams and boost ROI. It’s up to CMOs and the marketing team to tell the story of the larger purpose fueling an enterprise’s business strategy.”

CMOs also have to deal with an increasing amount of complexity due to the access to the immense volume of customer data and the multiplicity of interaction channels.

According to Tillman, combining these transformations with the need to make rapid, yet informed, decisions will see CMOs continue to invest in marketing automation and organisation skills to manage data, analytics and insights. “It’s very much a part of our role now, to focus on embedding the science of marketing into all channels by promoting and rewarding a customer-focused, open, and insight-driven culture,” she adds.

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As delivering a personalised experience for consumers has become increasingly important for brands, CMOs are starting to work closely with chief information officers in their companies.

Tillman explains that the reasons for this, includes the emergence of the CMO in the technology mix, an increasing number of digital channels to interact with, the amount of information streaming into businesses from social media in store, as well as from various Internet-connected devices and Internet of Things.

“The broadening of this data surface area means, CMOs need help from the CIO, and in turn, CIOs need support from the CMO. From a marketing perspective, we are increasingly expected to help drive digital transformation, thus it is imperative that we work with our IT counterparts to achieve a common, technology-first vision for the entire business,” she says.

The CIOs and CMOs are two parts to the whole, continues Tillman, with the CIO and IT team focused on consolidating critical customer data from different systems and sources across the entire organisation and the marketing team translating this data into the voice of the customer because one cannot be strategic or ultimately successful without the other.

Brand safety and transparency has also become an important issue in recent times as the digital supply chain gets murkier. As a CMO, what advice does Tillman have for her counterparts and how does she rebrand the role of marketing across functions at SAP?

The former American Express executive explains that as recently the Internet has seen a rise in issues such as image-sensitive brand ads appearing alongside inappropriate content, fake news and non-contextual channels, CMOs have a responsibility to take all the necessary steps to protect and safeguard their brands.

Tillman also believes that measures such as reducing spend in certain digital channels until better controls are developed, being compliant with the placement of ads, and assuring the integrity and relevancy of brands’ content and audiences will go a long way in combating these issues.

All these areas are top of mind for SAP, she asserts, as the German company takes brand safety, viewability and transparency very seriously. “As such, we always use verification services and regularly test new ones. In addition, we focus on the premium environments and are frequently optimizing towards those sites that are more reputable putting up filters to block out any negative or unsafe environments.”

SAP also faces another fight on the customer front as it hears from many of its customers that they are having a hard time turning information into action, reveals Tillman.

“There is a lot of thinking that happens in the marketplace today, and we at SAP, believe there is a way to move this thinking into doing. Run simple is a core operating principal for us, and we work to infuse that into our brand,” she says, adding that as complexity is slowing companies down and costing them on average 10% of their profits, SAP’s goal is to empower its customers to be agile in this increasingly complex connected world and enable them to turn their insights into action.

In addition, Tillman says one of her priorities is to ensure that the SAP brand continues to evolve with the demands of our ever-changing customer base. To do this, SAP recently released an advertisement where it teamed up with actor Clive Owen, its newest brand ambassador.

In the ad spot, titled ‘Let’s Do This’, Owen gives viewers an overview of the ever-changing landscape of innovation taking place today, and how each new solution disrupts industries across the globe, asking - how do companies turn innovative thinking into something actionable?

Tillman explains that there were three key goals for the campaign, which were creating a bridge to the future, portraying SAP’s business message and telling SAP’s brand story. “As we prepare to roll out new company messaging concepts in 2018, we wanted to create a strong, and fun, message to keep us connected to our customers and the market. We are excited to see the reactions and interactions it has created from our customers and partners. Through this campaign with Owen, we are setting the context about the challenges that our customers are facing daily. It is universally relevant and we worked hard to portray it in a way that is human, allowing customers to connect with us on a deeper level.”

“We also had a clear strategy in creating this campaign – to spark new interest in 'what is SAP?'. Our goals are to raise awareness and tell our story globally, but in a way that is new and exciting. This will help us continue to be in the forefront as we move forward with the evolution of our brand strategy,” she adds.

Tillman believes that because turning innovative thinking into something actionable is a big part of SAP’s latest campaign with Owen, it is a good example for brands to learn.

To accomplish this, she explains that there is three phases companies can follow to get things moving. The first phase for CMOs is to challenge their teams to be creative because the best ideas are built from multiple points of input and it is important for executives to seek those out from their teams.

The second phase, says Tillman, is collaboration as once these ideas are out in the open, companies must foster a culture of collaboration. It means implementing a support system of both skilled people and resources to move these ideas forward. More importantly, this level of collaboration should not only span across teams, but across departments as well.

“At SAP, we like to call this the ‘Power of &’. This will ensure ideas have the necessary backing and commitment of the entire organization, helping to accelerate deployment,” she adds.

Finally, Tillman says execution is important because once the ideas from teams have been collected and collaboration fueled, it is time to execute. “To do this effectively companies need to clearly define a strategic roadmap, with agreement from all key stakeholders, to help drive these innovative ideas forward,” she explains.


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