Turning Purpose Into Action: Q&A With SAP's Tillman

Alicia Tillman is the global CMO of business software company SAP. She is scheduled to deliver a keynote presentation at the 2019 Association of National Advertisers' Masters of B2B Marketing Conference in Chicago from May 29-31.

Q: Brand purpose and purpose-driven marketing represent the hottest trends in marketing today.  How would you define them?

A: Brand purpose is the core values, mission and ethics on which your brand is built. It’s intrinsically part of your brand identity, like a logo, slogan or culture.

Purpose-driven marketing, meanwhile, is the active process of bringing that purpose to life and communicating that identity to specific audiences. It gives customers an anchor for a much deeper emotional connection beyond quality of product. Purpose-driven marketing showcases your brand’s active role in making a difference, and what values customers are supporting by doing business with you.



Q: Do you think purpose-driven marketing works better for some products or service categories than others?

A: It is certainly easier for some industries to embrace a purpose-first marketing strategy, simply based on their audiences and their products. A wellness brand partnering with local school systems to help fight childhood obesity seems like a natural fit, as opposed to an enterprise B2B brand. 

That said, purpose-driven marketing can work the same way and yield powerful results for any brand so long as those efforts are authentic and speak to that brand’s identity. It requires no small amount of soul searching. Ask yourself, what are our brand goals? Who are our customers, what are their goals? How does what we offer help create a meaningful difference for our customers?  

Q: What are the biggest challenges to implementing purpose-driven marketing initiatives?

A: Again, it comes back to authenticity. Conversations and trends come and go so quickly, and for a lot of marketers the impulse is to ask, “How can we capitalize on this and insert our voice?” 

The question really should be, “Does our vision align here?” Purpose marketing needs to be much more strategic, much more thoughtful, so when you do speak up, audiences will pay attention.  But even if you home in on just the right messaging, that’s only half of the equation. Brands are being challenged to hold themselves accountable and show, in explicit terms, the actions they’re taking in support of their purpose. Setting definitive measures of success is a good place to start.

Q: How is SAP driving change through innovation and turning purpose into action?

A: We take a two-pronged approach. The first is what we do as an organization, and how we commit our resources and expertise to tackling specific issues. For example, SAP has partnered with Google Cloud to sponsor a sustainability contest for social entrepreneurs called Circular Economy 2030. We invited entrepreneurs to submit revenue-generating ideas that help reduce environmental impact. The second is through our customers and how we enable them to achieve their purpose. Our innovative solutions are developed specifically to help them find new ways to help improve the economy, society and environment. By giving them the tools to make a difference we are extending the reach of our company purpose.

Q: What other current trends are impacting your marketing decision-making process?

A: While not a trend, SAP is leading the way in experience management, leveraging data to inform and develop the customer experience. This means combining our cache of experience data (customer sentiment, feedback) with our operational data (transaction history, purchase orders) to create one single holistic view of the customer. With 73% of people naming customer experience as an important factor in their purchasing decisions, brands need to be much more flexible with how we build their marketing campaigns and adjust course in as close to real-time as possible. This is key in winning in today’s experience economy that we all operate in.

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