Align Brand Purpose to Pressing Needs, Urges SAP CMO Tillman

April 7, 2020

SAP Global Chief Marketing Officer Alicia Tillman kicked off Brand Innovators new Livecast Series last Wednesday, delivering a single towering message to marketers with any lingering doubt as to what they should be doing in this globally precarious moment. Revisit your brand’s purpose, Tillman said, and make darn sure you are aligning it to people’s most pressing needs.

“Every company in the world was founded with the belief that it could change something, make something better, do it in a new way,” she said. “You have to look at what people need and align that with your purpose. Lead with your North Star right now. Lead with your purpose.”

Tillman said SAP was founded 48 years ago with a clear purpose--to help the world run better and improve people’s lives--and that has never changed. She also noted that she is not only a global CMO (with a team of 1,700 to care for) but she’s also the mother of two young children. In adjusting to the new landscape on both fronts, she urged the audience to lead with their hearts. “We need to position our brands with empathy. Where can we best help as a company? That’s SAP’s top priority right now. We are committed to helping, which involves over-communicating, listening to our customers, understanding where their challenges are and how we can help them overcome those.”

Tillman’s key pieces of advice:

  • Do not treat anything right now as “business as usual”
  • React with an extreme sense of urgency
  • Prioritize the things that matter most and spend on those things
  • Balance short and long term needs based on current challenges
  • Prioritize communication over experience for now
  • Listen to your customers 

Silver linings do exist, Tillman said, and she challenged marketers to let current hardships drive positive change when better times return. “How can we do things better and more effectively in the future? What are you learning from this period to reshape the long term? This is really where you see leaders and the strong emerge. The strong are charting a new course for how we can do things better and more effectively in the future.”

She cautioned against marketing as if things were normal. “As I am directing my team, I am telling them this is not business as usual. There should be nothing happening in our team that feels like an everyday occurrence. We need to look deeply at what our customers need.”

Tillman urged brands to first and foremost be helpful. “It’s less about the experience right now and more about the content,” she said. “We marketers need to be really choiceful about our advertising right now. We need to be useful or risk eroding the general trust the public has in us.”

Uncertainty may be rampant, Tillman said, but this can be “a great period for learning and evolving.” She stressed this rare opportunity to retool or reimagine things in the business that were previously taken for granted. “I think of events as an example. We have a lot of physical events at SAP. How do we pivot from that when we come out of this period? How do we reshape our events? What do we want to change? Going back to the same number of physical events is not what I want to see at all. How can we instead lead with a digital strategy?”

“This is an opportunity. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate not only how much we care about people but how we can chart a new journey and what we believe a new normal can and should look like. A new normal can absolutely be led by people who feel there is an opportunity for change and even to fix things that we think were broken before.”

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