Alicia Tillman, Global CMO, SAP: Embodying empathy, has truly never been more important

expert view

Alicia Tillman, Global CMO, SAP

It’s an anxious world at the moment, from COVID-19 to climate change, political instability and racial tension. How would you say that the SAP brand has reacted to the situation? 

We took three immediate steps right out of the gate. First, across all 25 industries in which we operate, we really listened to our customers in order to thoroughly understand what effect these events were having on their business, and to pinpoint any differences by industry. 

Second, we applied that insight in reviews of our full portfolio of offerings, to align what support our customers truly needed from us, with how and where we would be able to make the most immediate and meaningful impact for them. 

Finally, through transparent communications, we played back to our customers what we heard, along with our action plans for how we could equip them with the right tools they needed, in the most expedient, effective and economical way. That plan consisted of free and open products to the market – some of which continue to be available – that best supported the most challenged components of their business, such as the health of their supply chains. 

Each decision we’ve made, then and now, has been in alignment with our purpose, to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. Using our purpose as our North Star, we’ve been able to respond in a manner that’s relevant and useful to our customers, our employees, our partners and our communities.

What would you say is a recent bold move that SAP has made that you’re really proud of?

The racial and social injustices that plague many of our communities across the U.S., and around the world, cannot be ignored. Meaningful actions must be taken in order to create positive societal change, which is why I am incredibly proud of our #SpotlightBlackBusinesses campaign, that’s helping small, Black-owned businesses who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. 

I dedicated a portion of my advertising budget toward bringing visibility to local, Black-owned businesses nominated by SAP employees. We promote them on all our owned channels, and also use a portion of those dollars to create digital advertising campaigns for them in their local communities. 

SAP has always had a focus on using our scale and our resources to help where help it is needed most. So, by putting the weight of SAP behind this – our dollars, our resources and our channel voice – we’ve been able to help and give hope during a truly devastating period. When diverse, small businesses thrive, communities prosper.

What would you say is the biggest lesson that you’ve learned from all of this for the SAP brand?

Embodying empathy, in every sense, has truly never been more important. Empathy is such a big word, because it’s all about listening, understanding, action and moving things forward. Things like agility, speed and overcoming adversity – all of these are anchored in empathy and have enabled us to respond in a way that is truly meaningful, which is what people need right now.  

For me, empathy is what this year has been about. Be it the ongoing health crisis, or what we continue to experience around racial and social injustice and gender equality. As a leader in and steward of the customer journey for a global organization, we need to dial in to the needs of our employees and our customers more than ever before and ensure that we’re responding with action that is significant enough to lead to the change people want to see. 

How have the last 12 months, either reaffirmed or changed your view on how brands need to exist and operate, now as well as in the future?

Emotion and empathy are a much bigger part of the conversation and decision-making process today. Consumer sentiment during this period absolutely shows that when we emerge from this pandemic, they are more likely to invest in brands that stood up, took action and focused on doing good during this time, over the brands that did little or nothing. 

Last year, we talked a lot about the notion of businesses needing to have feelings – building relationships with customers through listening and anticipating their needs. This experience has really reaffirmed that. The more you’re in touch with the emotions and the feelings of your customers, the more you’re going to be able to attract them in the future and win them for life.

SAP SE Annual General Meeting at SAP Arena in Mannheim, May 15, 2019

What would you say is next for the SAP brand – where are you going to be focusing in the future to make sure that you’re continuing to grow and succeed?

2020 has taught us a lot about how to operate in ambiguous and uncertain situations, but our biggest learning by far is around the need to think and operate differently. For SAP, not only does that mean we must show value through the use of our technology on day one, but we also have to lead our customers along a journey of reimagining what’s possible. While there are short-term challenges that need to be solved, there is also a long-term reinvention that’s happening, and we intend to lead our customers on a journey to reinvent the way businesses run.

We will also continue to anchor our actions and contributions to society around our purpose and think about how we can continue to use our scale, our collective voice and our resources for good – to take action in ways that contribute to the communities in which we operate. 

Despite having no playbook to navigate this journey, we’ve needed to persevere. We’ve taken risks, listened, empathized and taken action to move us and our entire ecosystem forward. Our continued resilience and ability to overcome adversity has been a true test of our brand, our leadership and how we operate, and our purpose has kept us steady. 

Next year is going to be a massive year for SAP. From a brand perspective there’s an appetite for us to make some bold moves, especially as the company makes a strong strategic pivot to the cloud. This is our chance to reimagine the business and realize new opportunities.

During periods of crisis, consolidation, transformation and reinvention often occur. We will see this across brands in the immediate years to come, as each determines what their future looks like. SAP has an incredible and exciting journey ahead and is committed to our customers, our contributions to society and exponentially increasing our value each and every day to help the world run better and improve people’s lives. 

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