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Our online festival is underway with a packed programme of interviews and panels. Featuring talks from the industry’s biggest brands and most innovative individuals, this event explores what digital transformation really means for marketing.

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‘The future of business has feelings’: SAP’s global CMO on championing purpose-driven companies

Alicia Tillman, global CMO at SAP

SAP is the largest enterprise tech software company on the globe, operating across 180 countries and serving 480,000 customers with technologies ranging from logistics to marketing resources, automation, finance and much more, which makes it difficult to market the entire company based on the specifics of what it does.

Instead, SAP would rather champion the companies it creates software for – those that are doing good for the world – and let them guide the next innovation for the future, according to the company’s global chief marketing officer, Alicia Tillman.

“The companies that prioritize listening to the needs of their customers are those companies that will win because the future of business has feelings. What we mean by that is, the more empathy you have the more you understand what a customer wants, what they desire, what challenges they’re trying to solve, what opportunities are ahead of them. The more you listen, the more you take that on board, the more you shape a strategy, products and services that respond to that, those are the companies that will win,” she said to The Drum at CES in January.

Tillman said that SAP was founded in 1972 with a purpose – to use technology to help the world become a better place. “That is how we go to market, it is how we innovate. Beyond everything else, yes our customers want exceptional experiences, they want tremendous value, but they want to buy and partner (with) companies that stand for something and have a purpose,” she said.

SAP, she continues, sees technology as an enabler for the companies out there that have a purpose and a mission, that is driven by values and wants to help the world run better.

So, instead of the company tooting its own horn, it highlights those businesses it sees as helping improve the world in myriad ways. To wit, a recent campaign highlighted companies like Vestas Wind Systems, which is harnessing wind energy to make energy more sustainable, and Elephants, Rhinos & People, a non-profit protection agency for the world’s largest creatures.

They, and other purpose-driven companies, were prominent in print, digital and video ads that drove a message that they used various SAP technologies to help them achieve their goals.

“We focused on companies that are focused on solving challenges across the environment, the economy and society. We profiled a company that’s focused on solving the clean water challenge that we have in India, and we showed how SAP technology is helping to support that mission. Similarly, we have a poaching challenge in South Africa with elephants and rhinos and we showed how SAP technology is being deployed to help that company support its mission.

“We’re there in support of our customers and what their vision is to help the world become a better place. We think that technology, and the technology that SAP builds, can help enable that,” said Tillman.

A major challenge for many companies, and especially one as large as SAP, is keeping up with data and utilizing it properly. That’s one of the reasons it acquired a company last year called Qualtrics, which helps companies realize what their customers want through an integrated platform that gathers data from a variety of sources – surveying technology, social sentiment technology, word-of-mouth, focus groups and other forms of information.

“The more that we can take and harness that information, the more then we have an ability to shape this unbelievable customer experience, and as a result shape products and services that can work in support of that. That acquisition has enabled us to open up this new door of experience and how you can get ahead of that and how you can shape it,” she said.

Tillman thinks that innovation in both tech and marketing happens when companies listen and respond to the needs of their clients.

“A lot of times businesses are often blamed for the challenges that we have in the world – not seen as being empathetic, not seen as being responsive to what consumers want,” she said.

“I think consumers are calling for a change, and I think the customers who really focus on listening and reacting and building and responding, those are the companies that are going to win. It all comes down to empathy, listening, reacting, responding and building that value that customers want.”

Tillman previously spoke to The Drum about marketers' evolving role, brand safety and implementing innovative thinking.

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