SAP CMO Alicia Tillman on partnering with Karlie Kloss, the promise of Instagram and messaging a wider audience

Alicia Tillman SAP CMO C2
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Alicia Tillman is not unaccustomed to welcoming entrepreneurs of considerable stature to the stage at SAP events, but it’s probably safe to say few of them have towered above her the way Karlie Kloss recently did.

The enterprise software firm’s chief marketing officer surprised the audience at its user conference, SapphireNOW, earlier this month by bringing on the supermodel to discuss a brand partnership involving her tech-based educational initiative for young women, Code With Klossy. After meeting the fashion industry favourite, who enjoys a social media following in the millions, Tillman said she recognized Kloss’s mission as similar to her that of SAP — such as using technology to further yourself.

“We had this great series of TV spots with Clive Owen, who was a wonderful person to help tell our brand story, but I was ready for something different,” Tillman told B2B News Network via phone, where she was speaking at the C2 Montreal event last week. “I definitely knew I wanted a women, but I also wanted someone relatable and accessible, and who shared our values.”

While much of the marketing activities involving Owen were focused around the theme of “turning thinking into doing,” Tillman said the partnership with Kloss is just one example of where SAP is reconsidering the stories it tells.

“It’s going to shift a bit,” she said, noting that since its acquisition of Qualtrics earlier this year, SAP is trying to educate businesses about the need to look beyond traditional operational information such as the performance of an application or the volume of transactions. “Now you have this new form of data, experiential data, which is all about sentiment, the feelings of the customer. When you take that on now, you’re really building a customer-first businesses. That’s what the messaging is.”

The move into experiential data via Qualtrics comes after SAP has already evolved well beyond its roots in enterprise resource planning into areas such as marketing with its SAP Marketing Cloud, HR with SuccessFactors and software aimed at several other lines of business. Tillman admitted this means thinking beyond traditional personas in tech such as IT managers and CIOs, and speaking to those other decision-makers in language they can readily understand.

“I love it,” she said. “To be able to evolve a brand story that goes beyond your typical story really exciting. When you’re pitching CIOs today, though, they’re looking at much more than speeds and feeds and bits and bytes too. They’re getting pressure from heads of marketing, heads of sales and HR to incorporate better technologies that help them drive better experiences. It’s to the benefit of the CIO to go more mass market in terms of their thinking.”

Like most other B2B brands, SAP is very interested in being more targeted in its approach via account based marketing (ABM), which is handled by a dedicated team within SAP, Tillman said. Executing on ABM, however, means looking as deeply at post-sale experiences as what drives initial engagement and conversion.

“Far too often you see too much attention on the awareness stage of the journey and not enough put on retention and loyalty,” she said. “Marketing becomes more authentic when you can present a more complete picture of how we’re going to manage those relationships. That’s going to be a very big focus as well.”

Joining a number of her peers, Tillman cited marketing’s contribution to revenue as her single most important metric. And though platforms such as LinkedIn are obvious choices to amplify the message an enterprise tech firm, she said she’s interested in exploring those that may allow SAP to tell stories in new ways.

“Instagram is a growing channel for us,” she said. “As we look at the younger generations coming in, it’s becoming a source of where they’re going to learn about brands and companies, so we’ll be ramping up our focus there. LinkedIn and Twitter seem to have a strong base of firms that use SAP technology, so we’ll definitely maintain our presence there, but with Instagram, but it’s a different form of social media, where we can do more with photos and multimedia.”

This speaks to a larger priority that Tillman said she’s kept top of mind since initially rethinking the way marketing is done at SAP when she joined about 18 months ago: to layer an emotional element onto the message about the sophistication of its software products.

“It doesn’t matter that we’re a B2B company,” she said. “It matters that we market to human beings.”

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Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.