Why one B2B business is trying to market more like a consumer brand

SAP has an ambition to become the first pure-play B2B company to make it into the top 10 on BrandZ’s most valuable brands list through a focus on creativity, storytelling and the needs of its customers.

B2B marketing is all too often see as the poor cousin of consumer marketing, yet SAP’s CMO believes the two have more in common than most people think.

I meet Alicia Tillman while she is in London in part to attend the Fortune Most Powerful Women Summit. The agenda is full of speakers who work at brands such as ITV, Procter & Gamble and Booking.com, not the most obvious place for the CMO of a software company to find inspiration.

But Tillman is here because she believes B2B marketing needs to become much more like its consumer cousin, moving away from messages that resonate with business to ones that resonate with people.

“B2B needs to move the way we market so much more into consumer practices,” she explains. “Consumer brands have always been about connecting personally with your buyer, whereas B2B you are more often focused on connecting with the goals of the company.

“You connect yourself more to business metrics – savings, control, transparency, optimisation. Whereas in consumer you are focused on relevancy, feelings, emotion, experience. I find that is what B2B marketing needs to become and is so much of the journey we have been on at SAP for the past two years.”

Tillman has spent her career in B2B, starting at travel management services company Rosenbluth International. In 2004, it was bought by American Express, where she spent 11 years before joining SAP in 2015. Initially she took on the role of CMO at its B2B marketplace SAP Ariba, before becoming the marketing boss of the whole business in August 2017.

One of the first things she did on becoming CMO was streamline its communications and give the company a “brand narrative”. She did this because she found that, despite the company having a lot of messages and campaigns, there wasn’t a thread that tied them all together.

B2B needs to move the way we market so much more into consumer practices.

Alicia Tillman, SAP

“We didn’t have a brand narrative, something that really articulates our purpose and what the value is we are looking to provide to our customers, that would serve as the anchor for our campaigns, sales strategies and innovation,” says Tillman.

“Creating a narrative that works to do all of that and then serves as the anchor for everything you do from there helps to protect our purpose and authenticity.”

SAP’s ‘brand narrative’

To find that, she went back through the 47-year history of the company to find the reason it was created – which is to “help the world run better and improve people’s lives”. To communicate that, she brought back a tagline SAP had used 15 years ago, ‘The Best Run’, but updated it to make it “modern and relatable”.

That meant shifting the focus from operations to outcomes – rather than communicating how SAP helps companies run better it now communicates how the best run companies make the world run better. It culminated in a new global ad campaign, created by BBDO New York, that ran across TV, outdoor, print, digital, social media and its own websites that featured actor Clive Owen and stories of SAP customers using its tech to solve societal, environmental and economic challenges.

“No matter if you are in CPG or pharma or politics, they are all about human relevancy, experiences and how we connect and personalise more at a human level. It is prevalent no matter what your professions, your job title, the business sector you are in – people want to buy from people that understand them,” she says.

That’s a sentiment that is backed up by a new study from marketing consultant Peter Field and Les Binet, head of effectiveness at adam&eveDDB. Using the IPA’s databank, they have for the first time taken a look at B2B marketing campaigns to see if the same rules on effectiveness apply.

What they found surprised many – namely that B2B and consumer are more similar than most would think. Brand building, broad targeting and emotions are still important in B2B, especially as companies get larger. It’s an outcome that doesn’t surprise Tillman.

“B2B marketers can get much better at storytelling. Journalists are in the business of telling and writing a story that their readers will be interested in, that is no different to how I am trying to market the products of SAP or how P&G is trying to market its products and brands,” says Tillman. “How we tell that story, I would like there to be more emphasis put on that all around.”

READ MORE: Why B2B brands need to invest in brand marketing

She wants that emphasis to start when marketers are being trained. She suggests the clear distinctions made between consumer and B2B marketing at academic institutions are a major problem, and that more training needs to be done on building B2B strategies where there are differences.

“It needs to start with our academic institutions that are training the future talent. There are clear distinctions that are made between consumer and B2B marketing but there are more general applications of marketing that are less specific to consumer versus B2B.

“I also believe that marketing in B2B is not held as in high regard as consumer-based marketing. When you are in consumer marketing your success or failure rate of your product is based on the quality of the way you market the product and that is very different in B2B. Academically, we need to really get granular on how you understand and can build strategies because there are fundamental differences. But I also think that there are not… At the heart is always your ability to communicate properly.”

She adds: “It doesn’t matter whether you are in consumer or B2B, we’re all in the business of helping our companies grow. Storytelling is perceived more as something you do at a consumer level versus B2B.”

Becoming a top 10 global brand

Another area where Tillman believes B2B can learn from consumer marketing is in targeting. She admits B2B has previously been guilty of honing in too much one particular job title – for SAP the CIO – when in reality there is no one person that makes a decision at a business.

Diversity of reach is now one of her team’s key metrics. “Looking at the diversity of the reach is something we pay an incredible amount of attention to. Just reaching the CIO is not good enough because the CIO Is not the sole decision-maker,” she says. “The reality is, and this is a significant shift, no longer is there a single decision-maker for technology within a company.”

SAP also tries to balance short-term sales metrics with long-term brand building. Measures such as purchase consideration, new business, acceleration of its sales pipeline, conversion and revenue are all key, particularly proving that marketing activity drives conversion at a high rate to revenue.

But its “biggest” metric is brand value. SAP has an ambition to become the first pure B2B brand to make it into the top 10 of Millward Brown’s BrandZ listing of the world’s most valuable brands. When Tillman joined it was at number 21 but climbed to 17 in 2018 and is hoping to see further growth when this year’s results are revealed next week (Marketing Week will have exclusive access to this data on Tuesday).

She admits it is a tough task, particularly because once in the top 20 competition is so strong. But Tillman believes SAP is doing “a lot of the right things” and so she is “optimistic” it can continue to rise up the rankings.

We believe business today is won or lost based on the quality of your experience and that doesn’t matter whether you are in the consumer business or the business business.

Alicia Tillman, SAP

“I believe we are doing a lot of the right things to really build what are typically the characteristics of the most valuable brands in the world,” she says. “We have always built technology that disrupts industries, we have a very consistent brand story which we have paid particular attention to because big companies often have a somewhat fragmented message especially if selling to different buyers and attracting influencers, we’re very purpose-driven and finally we are all about service in support of the customer.”

That goal also helps to focus the mind of staff, not just in marketing but also sales and product development, who might otherwise get lost in the day-to-day

“Our brand goals are an incredible motivator for the team. Oftentimes people set big goals and it’s something fun for a week then they go back to the day-to-day but becoming one of the 10 most valuable brands is something everyone in marketing talks to me about and what they’re doing to help support that goal. That is what inspires everyone.”

While SAP has shifted its marketing over the past two years, there is still more work to do. SAP is currently trying to establish a new business category that it refers to as ‘experience management’, which aims to use operational data (or ‘o’ data) and experience data (or ‘x’ data) to improve what it offers its clients and they can therefore offer their customers.

“This is really going to be a tremendous shift in terms of how we market and position the brand of SAP. This is the moment strategically when we say there is no longer a difference between B2B and consumer,” she concludes.

“We believe business today is won or lost based on the quality of your experience and that doesn’t matter whether you are in the consumer business or the business business.”

Recommended

Comments

    Leave a comment

    Subscribers enjoy unlimited access to unrivalled coverage of the biggest issues in marketing, alongside practical advice from the digital experts at Econsultancy.

    With a subscription to Marketing Week Premium you will get full access to:

    > World-renowned columnists

    > Analysis & case studies

    > Exclusive leading-edge insight

    > Carefully curated reports & briefings from Econsultancy

    > Plus, much more including a £300 discount for the Festival of Marketing

    Subscribe now