Humanizing SAP—A New Chapter for the Tech Business

Julia White, chief marketing and solutions officer, on the introduction of the new brand platform

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“We knew that we needed to secure an emotional territory that is very distinct,” explained Julia White, SAP’s chief marketing and solutions officer. “The world of business-to-business marketing and B2B tech is busy, and it can all feel the same. So I wanted to know what our unique place in the world was and what we were going to stand for.”

Post-pandemic, the German multinational technology business has been on a journey of self-discovery as it aimed to understand what the company now means to modern businesses and how it responds to users’ adoption of generative artificial intelligence. Its client base includes major multinationals and brands such as Nestle, e.l.f. Beauty, Mercedes, the National Hockey League and Puma.

This journey followed years of acquisitions; a change in leadership under CEO Christian Klein, who took the helm in 2019; and a move toward its cloud-first offer. The latter is already bearing fruit, as cloud revenue grew by 20% last year to $14,719 million (€13,664 million), with the expectation of further growth this year.

Having joined as chief marketing and solutions officer in 2021, former Microsoft exec Julia White made it her first port of call to review the brand strategy for the software-as-a-service business.

White oversees a combined marketing department of around 4,000 people. That includes teams across the company’s five business categories—finance, human resources, procurement, customer experience and business technology platform—with a product marketing leader in each who is connected to the engineering teams in order to ensure that they understand the products and the customer needs.

We make it really hard to know what we do: Let’s make it easier.

Julia White, chief marketing and solutions officer, SAP

There is also a corporate marketing team that oversees digital experience, event experience, brand advertising and storytelling and a field marketing team that is set up in different markets around the world to handle local activations.

Around two-thirds of the marketing team is based in Seattle, with the rest spread internationally.

Introducing the new SAP brand

Internal review process “Project Spark” was initiated in 2022, and it ran across three stages, beginning with research around brand infrastructure and the impact of acquisitions made over the past decade in extending the SAP proposition. Those included enterprise architecture management firm LeanIX last year and payment supplier Taulia the year before. Some acquired businesses were subsequently placed under the SAP brand and others were not. The decision was made to bring them all together in order to simplify the messaging to customers.

The second phase was to overhaul the entire visual design system by using an array of color pallets, schemes and typography to deliver a new and fresh look within the marketing and product experience side.

The third saw SAP revamp the company’s positioning and messaging, including a new tagline.

“We also wanted to make sure that we had more of a ‘one SAP’ story and that it was all coming from the same company again … it never really had that cohesiveness,” said White, adding that she aimed to humanize the brand constantly on a global scale.

This is a change in direction that Craig Duxbury, global president of B2B creative agency Stein IAS, recommended when asked about his external views on SAP’s marketing.

“SAP has bigger ambitions than simply following what is already around. [Others] have permission to, again, set their narrative,” he said. “There is both expectation and a huge amount of uncertainty from all levels of the business world and society. Just the type of environment for bold, assertive, confident advertising. Possibly more humanized than past SAP work. But this is quite a big ambition.”

Bring out your best

“We make it really hard to know what we do: Let’s make it easier,” was White’s core ambition in bringing new life across the company’s brand architecture.

Having begun the reframing of the company from its very origins and why SAP was initially created, internal research used to inform the new direction involved speaking to almost 5,000 stakeholders across eight markets and six languages.

White compares the aim to drive better consistency on a global scale to that of Elton John and his evolving look and style while remaining recognizably him.  

“At the end of the day, it’s, ‘We’re selling technology to humans.’ And we wanted to make sure that we’re emotionally appealing to them, not just in a data-driven way.”

The new SAP logo and brand platform

The decision was made that the SAP purpose would not be altered—it remains, “to help the world run better and improve people’s lives with sustainability at the core.” However, the corporate vision has evolved and been simplified to become, “We bring out the best in every business.”

This has also been reflected in the new tagline, “Bring Out Your Best,” taking over from the long-standing “Best Run.” It was chosen out of 10 possibilities tested. White believes it has an aspirational and powerful aspect as a statement of intent while retaining part of the SAP heritage and placing the business within a servant mindset.

The aim for consistency meant that the new SAP branding, which retains its distinctive anvil border, will now lead all of the company’s communication assets. It was discovered that some of the acquired businesses had still been running without any SAP branding, even one decade after joining the business.

First released last May, that new look now appears across the company’s customer touchpoints, including its suite of mobile applications and marketing, with the new tagline only just having made its debut at the end of January.

Humanizing B2B

SAP’s advertising creative is also evolving. As the B2B sector is largely looking toward brand building over performance, the company is also upping the stakes to promote its cloud-based technology. Last year, it ran out-of-home campaign “Be Ready,” created using AI tools within 24 hours and placed in six locations.

Described by Duxbury as “an eye-catching” campaign that aimed to build on the growing hype around AI, he added that it also showcased that the brand has bigger ambitions by introducing this strategy.

SAP’s AI-developed outdoor campaign from 2023

But despite the focus on technology, White is adamant that the messaging will always remember that in business, they are still attempting to speak to people, especially with the growing number of millennials becoming B2B buyers.

“There is a new generation of B2B buyers. They are the decision-makers. And, guess what: They bring all of their millennial mindset experiences. ‘I want to be self-empowered.’ ‘I want my own digital self-service journey.’ ‘You have to speak to me as a human.’ ‘My consumer preferences absolutely come into my business preferences,’” she explained.

White also hopes that this approach will be a differentiator for SAP in the space, especially when it comes to digital ad campaigns or major event activations bearing the new logo and brand platform.

She added that when it comes to brand advertising, she focuses on a range of performance metrics every quarter based on preference change, awareness change and belief in the brand.

To introduce this new era, the business worked with a number of agencies, including BBDO on brand strategy and creativity, Hall & Partners for brand platform quantatative research, Sarankco on the new visual identity and operating system, and WideOpen on qualitative research.

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