Turning Purpose into Action: Looking Ahead to 2019 with the CMO of SAP, Alicia Tillman

This past year saw brands, organizations, and individuals find their voice in powerful new ways. From the #MeToo movement to deeper commitments to battling climate change, digital channels gave brands a platform to speak out on a range of economic, societal, and environmental issues that we as a global community face.

If 2018 was the year of shining a spotlight on these challenges, 2019 will be the year we tackle them head on. That’s according to the chief marketing officer (CMO) of SAP, Alicia Tillman, who I recently spoke with to get her perspective on the changing role of brand purpose and what this will mean for us all as we approach the New Year.

Check out the full conversation below.

Q: Alicia, you’ve been championing the notion of brand purpose well before you entered the role of SAP CMO. From your perspective, how has it evolved over the last year?

A: You know, it’s interesting. Generally speaking, purpose and the potential for brands to enact positive change isn’t anything new — traditional CSR efforts and corporate citizenship have been around for nearly a century. The shift that we’re seeing as marketers is really about authenticity and accountability. Consumers have demonstrated they’re loyal to the brands that connect their brand identity to shared values, and aren’t afraid to punish those who they view as inauthentic or capitalizing on a trending conversation.

In 2018 we’ve seen so many honest conversations about workplace issues, environmental issues, diversity — taboos are being broken. It’s forced us as businesses to really take stock of where we fit in and identify opportunities to move the needle in the right direction.

You mentioned authenticity – I know one of your first major initiatives in your first year as CMO was relaunching SAP’s brand narrative back in April. What role did authenticity play in how you approached the brand narrative, given that it was centered around purpose?

SAP’s goal, from its very founding, has been to make the world run better and improve people’s lives. We wanted to tell a story that spoke to the everyday experiences of our employees, one in which they could see themselves. I think that’s why it’s been received so well both internally and externally. As a technology company, our success in inextricably tied to the success of our customers. When we build a solution that enables a business to enact positive change, that’s the essence of the SAP identity. The brand narrative isn’t a matter of building something from nothing, but rather celebrating a history of driving change through innovation.

So if 2018 was the year of owning our authentic identity, what comes next? 

That’s a question that’s not only being asked internally here at SAP, but for brands and marketers around the globe. There’s so much energy, so much appetite for change that’s just waiting to be harnessed. 2018 was the year of bringing purpose to the forefront, and 2019 will be the year of turning that purpose into action. More and more you see brands tying themselves to a cause, to a specific set of values.


According to SAP CMO Alicia Tillman, 2019 will be
the year of turning purpose into action


The next step is keeping yourself accountable through on-the-ground initiatives, partnerships, and other opportunities. It isn’t enough to ask, “what are the issues facing the world today?” If you want to be a leader, it’s time to proudly declare: this is how we’re going to solve them.

Alicia Tillman is the global chief marketing officer of SAP.
For more insights on the changing role of marketers and how to champion brand purpose, follow her on Twitter @aliciatillman or LinkedIn.