When SAP acquired Ariba a few years back, newly appointed CMO Alicia Tillman was faced with the challenge of rebranding the company to include the qualities of both SAP and Ariba. Next, she had to consider how to best communicate SAP Ariba’s new brand identity to customers. It’s no surprise that social media, one of today’s most effective tools of communication, was instrumental in the rebranding initiative. Alicia and her team applied creativity and simplicity to their social content to better inform customers of the intersection between SAP and Ariba. I had the pleasure of speaking with Alicia and hearing more about how her marketing team used social to build brand image, and whether or not she considered SAP Ariba a social enterprise.
Drew: Tell me a bit about your job at SAP Ariba.
Alicia: I’m the chief marketing officer for SAP Ariba, which is the largest B2B network in the world, and part of the Business Networks and Applications group within SAP. Think of us as the Facebook or eBay for business. Essentially, what we’ve created is a dynamic, digital marketplace where buyers and suppliers can find each other, making it easy to buy and sell business goods and services within companies of all sizes. I oversee all of marketing for the business, which includes brand awareness, pipeline generation and acceleration, events, digital and social strategies and field marketing.
Drew: I know Ariba has undergone some major changes in the last few years. One of those being your introduction to the company as CMO. Can you speak to those changes?
Alicia: Ariba was founded in 1996 and was really the first B2B marketplace. Initially, the company focused on automating the procurement function through online catalogs and auctions. Today, it is the largest, most global business network and touches every aspect of commerce. About four years ago, the company was acquired by SAP. That is, as you point out, a lot of change. But the company’s brand really hadn’t evolved to reflect it and it was one of the first things I focused on when I joined the company. My first priority was to assemble a ‘brand voice’ team that represented each functional area of the business so I could hear about the key aspects of our brand that made us great and brought differentiated value to our customers.
Drew: How has your team used social media to facilitate the rebranding of Ariba?
Alicia: With the rebranding of SAP Ariba I sought to make things easily understood – our look and feel, our messaging, our brand promise and the way in which we interact with customers. Social is an ideal way to facilitate this because it forces you to be simple, but it also allows you to be highly creative and to engage with your customers on totally new levels.
Let me give you an example. Earlier this year, our CEO met with one of our customers who had just launched an SAP Ariba project inside her company. She was wearing a shirt that said “Procurement is awesome,” and our CEO loved this slogan. We launched a social campaign around it – #MakeProcurementAwesome – because procurement is digital. SAP Ariba is fueling this and it’s a powerful and witty way to draw attention to our new brand identity without being forceful. It has served as a rally cry for our employees and our customers who are ultimately striving to achieve the same goals.
Drew: Have you been able to extend this idea?
Alicia: It has spread quickly because it is simple and speaks to the heart of so many of our customers. We launched it during our marquee buyer event this year and the response was so overwhelming, we actually had t-shirts printed that we could give away on the last day. And many of our customers immediately put them on and posted pictures on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. It’s a clear example of community and the power of social. When you use it the right way, a way that really appeals to people’s emotions, you can change perceptions and drive a brand story.
Drew: How do you judge success on a program like this?
Alicia: Simply put, by the dialogue it creates. We have seen so many customers run off with it on their own and create conversations in various forums. Customers are using the hashtag to shift the perception of procurement from a back office task to a strategic initiative. It has created excitement among our customers about our solutions and what we can do for them.
Drew: Your challenge was not only to innovate, but also apply this innovation to thinking about procurement. From a social standpoint, is it on your agenda to be a social business? Does Ariba use social as an enterprise and are you focusing heavily on social listening?
Alicia: Absolutely. We live in a world where there are officially more connected devices than people. so every enterprise has to be social. There are various listening posts in the social environment that we use to stay on top of what our customers are saying. But beyond this, we’ve built social technology into our solutions and business network that allows our customers to immediately share feedback with us. We’ve created a community called Ariba Exchange, for instance. Thousands of customers use it to share information and best practices that help them drive adoption of our solutions, and do their jobs better.
Drew: Can you provide an example of how you were able to use your closed customer network to make product changes or enhancements?
Alicia: Ideas can come from anywhere. And many of the best ideas come from the powerful community that we have built in the Ariba Network, in which over two million companies are part of. We recently launched Ariba Community Voting, a program that allows our customers to tell us what features they value most. Voting is done right from the solutions they use every day by clicking a “like” button. We compile this information and use it to prioritize our investments and drive future enhancements.
Drew: What kind of goals would you set for your organization in terms of social and becoming a social enterprise?
Alicia: Social has become the leading manner in which we market today. If I think back to a little less than 10 years ago, social was becoming something that was actively debated within companies. Now, the question is how do you now evolve your marketing budget to effectively have a presence and utilize it in the manner that is beneficial to your business. With the demographic changes of the incoming workforce, social is increasingly becoming the best method of communication – to influence and support buying decisions. We use our platforms to transact, to buy, and to gain influence.
Drew: For marketers, what do you think will be the biggest challenges in this move to social?
Alicia: I think the biggest challenge for marketers today is really about how you best define a digital strategy by measuring what it has the ability to influence. There has to be an understanding that digital is a business driver, it sets the experience a user has with your organization from the moment they begin their search to find a partner who can meet their needs. Think about everything from the experience of your website, to how you use social platforms to extend your story to how that translates into marketing collateral and events. PR, advertising and sponsorships all need to connect to form this experience – digital and traditional are no longer two different strategies – they are both interconnected and there needs to be a single strategy for your business that connects them.