Building your brand is incredibly important for every company. How do you stand out in a sea of competitors who are targeting the same customers and aiming for the same profitability? Alicia Tillman, Chief Marketing Officer of SAP, explains how to create a world-class brand. SAP has just been named the 16th most valuable brand in the world (ranked by BrandZ) moving up five spots in two years and increasing its brand value by $12 billion. Watch the video to find out how she explains her company's brand success.

According to Alicia, there are three main factors to work on in building your brand: authenticity, empathy with your customer, and delivering your brand message effectively. The first, authenticity, requires you to understand your purpose as a company. For SAP, that means staying true to the vision of helping the world run better and to improve people's lives. It also means thinking beyond the day to day and how you work to do good in the world. When given a choice between brands, consumers will choose the one that's focused on improving people's lives.

The second factor lies in the difference between sympathy and empathy. For Alicia, the latter matters more; it means understanding what your customers are trying to solve and effectively positioning your products to address those problems.

While every CEO says its company puts the customer first, in reality there is a significant gap between the kind of customer experience the company believes it's delivering and what customers feel like they're receiving. And bridging this experience gap plays a significant part in a company's success. To create brand equity and overcome the experience gap, your brand marketing and brand marketing strategy must speak to customers in human terms.

Transcript

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Michael Krigsman: Likewise. Tell us about your role at SAP as Chief Marketing Officer.

Alicia Tillman: I run the global marketing organization at SAP, so development and management of our brands, sponsorships, integrated media, events, all of our campaigns, pipeline, demand generation. So, all of the functional capabilities that you could imagine to shape the brand of SAP and use the brand of SAP to help drive financial success that we have in place at a board level here.

Tell us about BrandZ ranking SAP as 16th most valuable brand in the world?

Alicia Tillman: The annual BrandZ most valuable brand ranking was just released. We're very happy about this. Even if we look at the past two years, we've grown five spots on the survey. Our brand value has grown by $12 billion, so that's a 27% increase in brand value from a couple of years ago. If you just simply look at it from what we earned last year, that's over $200 million that we're growing the brand month-by-month over 12 months.

It's pretty exciting for us. The BrandZ study looks both at the financial success of the company as well as the brand's focus in helping to drive that financial performance which, in a lot of ways, is a measure of your marketing effectiveness and how well you're telling the story in a way that's relevant to your consumers. So, we're very, very proud of this. With all the thousands of companies that exist in the world and to be known as the 16th most valuable, it's quite an incredible accomplishment that we're feeling very proud about.

What are three ways to grow a brand?

Alicia Tillman: We are a very authentic brand. When we were founded 47 years ago, we were founded with a vision to help the world run better and improve people's lives. We would do that with our technology and how our technology could work to enable that.

We are authentically true to our promise every day in terms of how we develop products to help the world. Be authentic, understand your purpose, that's number one.

The second is, we really work hard to be in touch with our customers. Truly understand how they feel, what they want, and how we build an operation around them so that it meets and exceeds their expectations.

Then the third is, when we think of the tone and the style of how we deliver the message of the SAP brand, at the end of the day we may be a B2B company but we're still selling to human beings.

So, we have to have a very balanced approach to marketing where we both understand data in terms of making decisions on whom we target and what channels we use to appeal to our target audience but, at the same time, we have practice a fair bit of empathy, a fair bit of understanding.

In doing that, how we message the brand and the value of brand back to our customers, being relevant, using a human tone, a fair dose of humor goes a long way in drawing a connection that's necessary no matter what business or where in the world you operate. That's a formula that we outlined a couple of years ago, and we've been working to consistently drive as it relates to how we build the brand of SAP.

What is the relationship between authenticity and branding?

Alicia Tillman: Brands today have an obligation to think beyond the day-to-day and how they work to do good in the world. Nearly 90% of all consumers, when they have a choice between two brands of one that does good in the world and stands for something versus one who doesn't, nearly 90% of all consumers will choose the brand that's focused on doing good.

It matters. It matters how we understand and appeal to what consumers' needs are. It's important with every marketing strategy that we develop, so authenticity is, be true to your voice and what you believe in, but then have the right level of empathy. When you message your value, don't just focus on things that may seem generic from one company to the next, things such as savings, service, and control, which are often corporate goals that most job titles are looking to support.

Get down there in the trenches and understand what your customers are trying to solve. How do you look at your products and effectively position that product against what you think it can help solve for the customer. Message your marketing in that way as well in terms of output and value, less about things that are becoming a thing of the past in terms of just pure product, types of positioning but more positioning in terms of the value that your products were to enable.

Michael Krigsman: Is the foundation then really understanding the customer?

Alicia Tillman: Oh, for sure. One of the things that I'll be quick to point out, there probably isn't a single company in the world that will not tell you that we're not customer first. Every CEO will say, "We are a customer-first organization," but do all of them deliver for the customer the way the customer wants?

Eighty percent of CEOs believe that they're delivering an exceptional customer experience, yet the customers who are recipients of that service, only 8% of them agree that their service that they're receiving is exceptional. That's a tremendous gap that we have, and we have to solve for that.

If we don't solve for that and we don't get better in touch with our customers, it's unfair for any company to say that they're customer first because then things like trust deficits get created, which is what we live in right now. Getting better in touch and, as you said, understanding what it means to be customer first and then building a business model, a product portfolio, and a servicing capability that can help solve the problems your customers are after, that's what we have to be focused on as brands.

Michael Krigsman: Okay, so the goal then is clear; to understand the customer, to act in a way that engenders that trust.

Alicia Tillman: Yes.

How do you translate branding efforts into marketing tactics and activities?

Alicia Tillman: Great question. When I started as the CMO of SAP a little less than two years ago, one of the things that I realized, we are a 47-year-old brand, but we don't have a brand narrative as a company. We have many messages. We have a lot of priorities and corporate strategies, but do we have something that anchors all of that to allow us to stay true to our vision?

We penned a corporate narrative for the business, our beliefs, how we build a culture, our views on things that matter to people such as gender diversity and inclusion, and creating technology to help solve problems across the economy, environment, and society. It really served as that anchor for us and became not only a rallying story for our culture so that everybody could really deliver based on the same set of core values, but it also became how we truly want to develop technology that allows us to make our vision a reality.

When we introduced our first campaign into the market last year, we made a conscious decision that we were going to tell our story through the impact that we were delivering to our customers. We showcased customers from all over the world in terms of what they are in the business of doing and how SAP is working with them to help enable that through our technology.

We spun the message on its head a bit. Instead of leading with, pick the SAP products and telling a product-based story and then backing into, afterward, the outcome that that product creates, we flipped it on its head and instead talked about the actual outcome first because the outcomes are usually what's the most relatable to a large scale of people. Then after you get them on the hook and saying, "Yeah, that's awesome and I can relate to that," the natural question after that is, "Well, how did you do it? How are you able to achieve that?" Then that's when we would start to talk about how SAP and what within our portfolio helps to enable it.

We've been trying and testing several different methods. Staying authentically true to our purpose and using that as an anchor for everything we do, looking at how we tell the story, to be focused more on outcomes first and then products is what enables that after you've built a connection and relevancy with the person that you're speaking with. It's just been a fundamental shift in our marketing, and I have to say it feels like it's working.

What are the obstacles to building a great brand?

Alicia Tillman: The culture of the company. Every culture is unique, everyone, and you have to be respectful of that because I think cultures are the heart and soul of an organization. When I talk about being authentic, your authenticity needs to stem from that heart and soul of your organization and not be something that you want to change but, instead, what is the outcome of that culture. In any great period of transformation, there are things that need to change. But, you're not changing the culture; you're changing how you operate within that culture, the process that you develop, the tools that you use to help support your success.

You have to make it very clear that this is not an attempt to change the culture. It's about, how do we make the culture more relevant? How we marketed 20 years ago is very, very different from how we would want to market today. You want to change and institute new processes so that you can help the culture be even more relevant to enable all of us to be more successful. Then it works, but it's a very, very delicate management of that and, frankly, I think it takes the right leadership and the right people to be able to manage that successfully.

Michael Krigsman: Respecting the culture that exists and then trying to shape it. Would that be the right word?

Alicia Tillman: Absolutely. Shape the process around making that culture work for you. It's like technology. Technology alone doesn't solve problems for companies. Technology is as good as the people that are managing it and the process that you institute to help that technology fit and solve the problems that you want within your company.

It's so much what you give and your perspective. As I said, the process and the way of operating that you wrap around that, that really makes it successful. If you can build an operating process around a healthy culture like we've always had at SAP and evolve that as marketplace conditions evolve, as customer needs change, then that's the best way, in my opinion, to protect the culture but make it relevant year after year.

Michael Krigsman: Final advice to folks that are listening, that are saying, "Yeah, I want to build a brand for my company," what should I do?

Alicia Tillman: Take charge of the value that you want marketing to play within a company because it has a place, and I believe that it always will. It will evolve like any great function or great company on Earth needs to. But you as the marketing leader are the ones who are best positioned to help your company understand how marketing can work best for it.

It's exciting to be able to shape a brand that speaks to the needs and the opportunities that your customers have. I think that that's a pretty good reward if you think about how you can shape that, how you can be at the forefront of it, and how you can help your company ultimately achieve the values so that the brand can work in support of the financial goals of the business.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Michael Krigsman: Likewise. Tell us about your role at SAP as Chief Marketing Officer.

Alicia Tillman: I run the global marketing organization at SAP, so development and management of our brands, sponsorships, integrated media, events, all of our campaigns, pipeline, demand generation. So, all of the functional capabilities that you could imagine to shape the brand of SAP and use the brand of SAP to help drive financial success that we have in place at a board level here.

Tell us about BrandZ ranking SAP as 16th most valuable brand in the world?

Alicia Tillman: The annual BrandZ most valuable brand ranking was just released. We're very happy about this. Even if we look at the past two years, we've grown five spots on the survey. Our brand value has grown by $12 billion, so that's a 27% increase in brand value from a couple of years ago. If you just simply look at it from what we earned last year, that's over $200 million that we're growing the brand month-by-month over 12 months.

It's pretty exciting for us. The BrandZ study looks both at the financial success of the company as well as the brand's focus in helping to drive that financial performance which, in a lot of ways, is a measure of your marketing effectiveness and how well you're telling the story in a way that's relevant to your consumers. So, we're very, very proud of this. With all the thousands of companies that exist in the world and to be known as the 16th most valuable, it's quite an incredible accomplishment that we're feeling very proud about.

What are three ways to grow a brand?

Alicia Tillman: We are a very authentic brand. When we were founded 47 years ago, we were founded with a vision to help the world run better and improve people's lives. We would do that with our technology and how our technology could work to enable that.

We are authentically true to our promise every day in terms of how we develop products to help the world. Be authentic, understand your purpose, that's number one.

The second is, we really work hard to be in touch with our customers. Truly understand how they feel, what they want, and how we build an operation around them so that it meets and exceeds their expectations.

Then the third is, when we think of the tone and the style of how we deliver the message of the SAP brand, at the end of the day we may be a B2B company but we're still selling to human beings.

So, we have to have a very balanced approach to marketing where we both understand data in terms of making decisions on whom we target and what channels we use to appeal to our target audience but, at the same time, we have practice a fair bit of empathy, a fair bit of understanding.

In doing that, how we message the brand and the value of brand back to our customers, being relevant, using a human tone, a fair dose of humor goes a long way in drawing a connection that's necessary no matter what business or where in the world you operate. That's a formula that we outlined a couple of years ago, and we've been working to consistently drive as it relates to how we build the brand of SAP.

What is the relationship between authenticity and branding?

Alicia Tillman: Brands today have an obligation to think beyond the day-to-day and how they work to do good in the world. Nearly 90% of all consumers, when they have a choice between two brands of one that does good in the world and stands for something versus one who doesn't, nearly 90% of all consumers will choose the brand that's focused on doing good.

It matters. It matters how we understand and appeal to what consumers' needs are. It's important with every marketing strategy that we develop, so authenticity is, be true to your voice and what you believe in, but then have the right level of empathy. When you message your value, don't just focus on things that may seem generic from one company to the next, things such as savings, service, and control, which are often corporate goals that most job titles are looking to support.

Get down there in the trenches and understand what your customers are trying to solve. How do you look at your products and effectively position that product against what you think it can help solve for the customer. Message your marketing in that way as well in terms of output and value, less about things that are becoming a thing of the past in terms of just pure product, types of positioning but more positioning in terms of the value that your products were to enable.

Michael Krigsman: Is the foundation then really understanding the customer?

Alicia Tillman: Oh, for sure. One of the things that I'll be quick to point out, there probably isn't a single company in the world that will not tell you that we're not customer first. Every CEO will say, "We are a customer-first organization," but do all of them deliver for the customer the way the customer wants?

Eighty percent of CEOs believe that they're delivering an exceptional customer experience, yet the customers who are recipients of that service, only 8% of them agree that their service that they're receiving is exceptional. That's a tremendous gap that we have, and we have to solve for that.

If we don't solve for that and we don't get better in touch with our customers, it's unfair for any company to say that they're customer first because then things like trust deficits get created, which is what we live in right now. Getting better in touch and, as you said, understanding what it means to be customer first and then building a business model, a product portfolio, and a servicing capability that can help solve the problems your customers are after, that's what we have to be focused on as brands.

Michael Krigsman: Okay, so the goal then is clear; to understand the customer, to act in a way that engenders that trust.

Alicia Tillman: Yes.

How do you translate branding efforts into marketing tactics and activities?

Alicia Tillman: Great question. When I started as the CMO of SAP a little less than two years ago, one of the things that I realized, we are a 47-year-old brand, but we don't have a brand narrative as a company. We have many messages. We have a lot of priorities and corporate strategies, but do we have something that anchors all of that to allow us to stay true to our vision?

We penned a corporate narrative for the business, our beliefs, how we build a culture, our views on things that matter to people such as gender diversity and inclusion, and creating technology to help solve problems across the economy, environment, and society. It really served as that anchor for us and became not only a rallying story for our culture so that everybody could really deliver based on the same set of core values, but it also became how we truly want to develop technology that allows us to make our vision a reality.

When we introduced our first campaign into the market last year, we made a conscious decision that we were going to tell our story through the impact that we were delivering to our customers. We showcased customers from all over the world in terms of what they are in the business of doing and how SAP is working with them to help enable that through our technology.

We spun the message on its head a bit. Instead of leading with, pick the SAP products and telling a product-based story and then backing into, afterward, the outcome that that product creates, we flipped it on its head and instead talked about the actual outcome first because the outcomes are usually what's the most relatable to a large scale of people. Then after you get them on the hook and saying, "Yeah, that's awesome and I can relate to that," the natural question after that is, "Well, how did you do it? How are you able to achieve that?" Then that's when we would start to talk about how SAP and what within our portfolio helps to enable it.

We've been trying and testing several different methods. Staying authentically true to our purpose and using that as an anchor for everything we do, looking at how we tell the story, to be focused more on outcomes first and then products is what enables that after you've built a connection and relevancy with the person that you're speaking with. It's just been a fundamental shift in our marketing, and I have to say it feels like it's working.

What are the obstacles to building a great brand?

Alicia Tillman: The culture of the company. Every culture is unique, everyone, and you have to be respectful of that because I think cultures are the heart and soul of an organization. When I talk about being authentic, your authenticity needs to stem from that heart and soul of your organization and not be something that you want to change but, instead, what is the outcome of that culture. In any great period of transformation, there are things that need to change. But, you're not changing the culture; you're changing how you operate within that culture, the process that you develop, the tools that you use to help support your success.

You have to make it very clear that this is not an attempt to change the culture. It's about, how do we make the culture more relevant? How we marketed 20 years ago is very, very different from how we would want to market today. You want to change and institute new processes so that you can help the culture be even more relevant to enable all of us to be more successful. Then it works, but it's a very, very delicate management of that and, frankly, I think it takes the right leadership and the right people to be able to manage that successfully.

Michael Krigsman: Respecting the culture that exists and then trying to shape it. Would that be the right word?

Alicia Tillman: Absolutely. Shape the process around making that culture work for you. It's like technology. Technology alone doesn't solve problems for companies. Technology is as good as the people that are managing it and the process that you institute to help that technology fit and solve the problems that you want within your company.

It's so much what you give and your perspective. As I said, the process and the way of operating that you wrap around that, that really makes it successful. If you can build an operating process around a healthy culture like we've always had at SAP and evolve that as marketplace conditions evolve, as customer needs change, then that's the best way, in my opinion, to protect the culture but make it relevant year after year.

Michael Krigsman: Final advice to folks that are listening, that are saying, "Yeah, I want to build a brand for my company," what should I do?

Alicia Tillman: Take charge of the value that you want marketing to play within a company because it has a place, and I believe that it always will. It will evolve like any great function or great company on Earth needs to. But you as the marketing leader are the ones who are best positioned to help your company understand how marketing can work best for it.

It's exciting to be able to shape a brand that speaks to the needs and the opportunities that your customers have. I think that that's a pretty good reward if you think about how you can shape that, how you can be at the forefront of it, and how you can help your company ultimately achieve the values so that the brand can work in support of the financial goals of the business.