Costanza Tedesco is SAP’s Senior Vice President of, Marketing Communications. She is responsible for shaping and strengthening the SAP brand. Her teams drive the translation of SAP’s business strategies into branding strategies – in areas such as advertising, visual identity systems, digital design, product naming, media planning, content strategy and production, etc.
Costanza has driven a multi-year program to “transform” the SAP brand, increasing its value by almost than $9B over her tenure. She joined SAP in 2002 after many years in the advertising industry. Previously, she was Executive Group Director at Ogilvy, in charge of the IBM Global Services business. Costanza holds a BA in Economics from Princeton University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
Can you share insights on the transformational journey that SAP has taken on and the role that you played to achieve this milestone?
I started at SAP about 12 years ago and at that time, marketing was just being created as a function within SAP. It was something that was not done in any kind of organized fashion. However we were trying to make it a global expertise. SAP was known as a German ERP company that was very rigid and cold. It’s been 12 year journey and we have become one of the largest and most valuable brands in the world. Today, we are, ranked 25th most valuable brand and actually ahead of quite a number of consumer brands.
So, how difficult was it to shrug the ERP tag? You know that people really do think about SAP as ERP solution provider.
It’s still a journey that we are on and we have made great progress. What we try to do is associate SAP with attributes such as dynamism, movement, innovation and as we do that, it becomes easier and easier for people to understand that we are more than just ERP. We don’t want to walk away from ERP. Ofcourse, it is our most important product but we are surely more than that.
What are the two challenges that you have tackled during this whole transformational process?
Well, the first challenge was exactly that, trying to change our image to a company where innovation happens, that is modern and dynamic and part of a changing world. That’s something we have done in pieces along the way through lots and lots of different touch points. We are a very innovative company, it’s just a question of how we are selling ourselves to people.
The other challenge? Well, the world was simple and we had one product and that was ERP. We could tell our story through our customers, we could talk about how the best run businesses run SAP. We have a very long running campaign that talks about the great brands that run SAP. For instance, Porsche runs SAP, Unilever runs SAP or whatever it may be and that worked very well for us for a long time because that’s the ultimate proof point. But now, we need to tell our story not through our customers but ourselves because it is much broader and there is so much to say. That has been a challenge from the brand perspective as well.
So, when did you really think you succeeded to some extent in changing this image?
Actually, one such moment for me was Shawn White, the Olympic snowboarder was passing through an airport and he saw few of our SAP ads, one for Burton Snowboards and another for Discovery Network. He posed in front of them and tweeted them because he thought they were cool. We didn’t know about it while thousands of people watched Shawn White endorsing us to be cool. That was the moment we affirmed ourselves to be as cool as Shawn White believed us to be.
You were with Ogilvy and then moved to SAP. What are the synergies between your advertising career and your current job?
Well, I think the job of business to business marketing is not really different from business to consumer. It’s all about speaking to people as people and finding that emotional heart or the hot button that gets them excited and connected with the brands. So, a lot of my prior experience was in consumer products and I bring all of that to b2b marketing.
How has working on a broad portfolio at Ogilvy, helped you in your profession?
Working with portfolio of brands in the advertising industry, you do learn how to solve communication problems and look at them at each for what they are; about your audience and about what they are trying to achieve with your business objectives besides what levers you need to pull up to get there. The same thing happens when you are working with one single brand because you know particularly in technology, it’s never the same problem twice. You need to be able to analyze that problem, analyze the root causes and figure out what you do even within the context of a single brand.
With transformation in progress at SAP, you are addressing a set of new customers. So, what does it means from the branding perspective?
It means getting to know more audiences and trying to figure out a way to be relevant to each of them. So, we have to be broader in our content and we have to figure out what are those insights that can power that relationship with each of them. It also means that we need to become more explicit on who we are and what we do. In the past, we were speaking to entities that knew us and and it was just about creating nuances in detail. But here, we have to be willing to introduce ourselves each time and be really simple and clear about the promise that we deliver.
When addressing a different segment, do you also have to customize your communication to reach different people? Definitely, there must be some kind of common thread.
There is a common thread which is the SAP brand and the promise to help businesses run better. Plus, we do many innovations in media and targeting to get to different audiences. But of course, then the messaging has to be really reflective of their needs or else it goes over their heads.
What are the two rules to follow according to you when it comes to B2B marketing?
Well, I would say the first rule is B2B marketing is not different from B2C. So, you do need to think about the audience that you want to speak to and how to connect with them emotionally. We use a lot of B2C techniques in our advertising. Fast music, quick cuts, beautiful imagery and just try to connect to the human side. So that’s one rule. The other rule that is specific to B2B is that you have to love making very complex things simple. That’s what characterizes B2B selling. Your are talking about technology or airplane production or insurance, things that are quite complex, things still need to be made simple to communicate effectively.
Has it taken a while to understand that B2B and B2C aren’t that different?
Definitely, it has taken a while. When I first got into B2B advertising and started working with IBM at the time of e- business campaign, we felt that we were pioneering a new type of communication and we were very focused on the way it was different from consumer advertising but as you go through these problems, you realize that they are all very similar. Definitely there has been a shift in the maturity of B2B marketing and its not that separate after all.
How do you think that the role of marketing has changed in B2B?
At first, we came into a business sector where marketing didn’t even have the eye of the people and we weren’t so sure that marketing was even important for the business model. I remember coming into SAP that was very technology focused. People really didn’t see the need at that time for marketing. We proved our worth first by having a very strategic way of building a brand and then businesses saw the value of the brand and how it sets us apart.
The next hurdle was to use technology to really prove the ROI from our investments. And luckily, the tools at our disposal has got a lot more sophisticated. So, now we can prove to the businesses the value we bring, revenue that we create and the profitability that we create. So, it’s a much better conversation now.
How can research be used effectively to understand its customers from SAP’s perspective?
At SAP, we’ve been thinking at a more sophisticated level about what marketing and communications do. At first, you thought about communications as messages that you pushed out, so you would study your market and what they were interested in, and then you might consider the awareness of this brand. But then we realized that brands are experienced and it’s all about the experience that customers have with that brand. Being a technology and software company, what we’ve done is applied user research, usability research and their fundamentals and tried to then glean insights about the brand. So we talk to customers and ask them; ‘What do you want to do with SAP? What tasks would you like to do?’ and walk them through those tasks and see if they find it satisfying, see what they say about the brand in that process, that helps us to know a lot. Ultimately marketing should be there to help the company to be easy to work with and easy to do business with.