Shifting Brand Perceptions: SAP to Showcase its Innovative Side

While the company is proud of its successes in the early '70s and '80s making enterprise software -- SAP has grown into a firm with $23 billion in revenue and seen its U.S. stock more than double since 2008.

by Aswin Mannepalli, Philly.com / April 10, 2017

(TNS) — Meet Pepper the Robot — the face of SAP’s nearly yearlong Business Reimagined Tour. This 4-foot-tall android receptionist offers assistance, along with a selfie opportunity.

In the coming year, she and her SAP colleagues will travel on a repurposed truck trailer to 150 American and Canadian cities, showcasing the latest technologies developed by the global German software maker, which has 3,000 employees in Newtown Square. The North American tour also marks a sustained effort to recast the company’s brand as more innovative.

“SAP largely is a victim of its own success,” said Dave Hutchison, senior vice president of marketing for SAP North America. “Oftentimes we're thought of as that ERP [enterprise resource planning] company, and the tour is a real opportunity to show our customers we’re absolutely in the innovation game along with the likes of Google and Apple.”

One innovation is the SAP Digital Boardroom, which targets c-suite customers. Three large, flat-screens give a real-time window on a company’s performance. Executives can see the latest news about a company in a live feed. They can see continuously updating human resources, financial, and other operating data, and perform what-if analyses on the fly through a touch-screen interface.

For city governments, SAP showed off a dashboard that lets officials monitor and manage municipal services. The system gives users an updating list of parts and servicing-requisition orders, and points out issues that need attention, like broken pipes.

Retail is another focus. Take the Beer Wall. After patrons choose the qualities of their ideal beer, the technology matches a bottle from the inventory with customer preferences. The same technology could work with shoes or other retail items for which preferences matter.

In another scenario, SAP imagines a case where a part on a motorcycle malfunctioned. Using the company’s cloud and Internet of Things technology, alerts inform the rider of the problem and offer a discount on that part from a nearby participating retailer.

The tour presents a mix of proof-of-concept projects, such as the motorbike, and services already in the marketplace, such as the Digital Boardroom. Hutchison said that every demo can be enabled through technology that SAP has already made even if the solution hasn’t been commercialized yet.

“We want the customer to understand we're thinking along these lines. That we have ways of getting there and together, we can co-innovate to bring these solutions to life. It's game-changing.”

From idea to execution, SAP rolled out the tour in five months working with its in-house innovation factory team. The company also designed the experience for specific events, from the recently completed Miami Open tennis tournament to individualized presentations for car suppliers in Detroit and utilities in Houston.

Each demonstration is run by employees who worked on the products. They will spend three months on the road before handing off the reins to another teammate.

“What's really cool is you get people to give feedback on your work,” Hutchison said.

While the company is proud of its successes in the early '70s and '80s making enterprise software — SAP has grown into a firm with $23 billion in revenue and seen its U.S. stock more than double since 2008 — that rich history can create brand perceptions that are hard to reshape.

Eric Schiffer, CEO of the online agency DigitalMarketing.com, agrees that pop-up tours can be highly effective in recasting a well-established corporate identity if they’re executed properly.

“It needs to have a visually stunning authentic vibe that stimulates emotions and is an invite-only at a 'hot’ location,” he said. “millennials have a thirst for cool pop-ups, and this can translate into wildly smart target-marketing for SAP and others — taking them from the ordinary to the stunningly cool.”

For SAP’s Hutchison, the goal is to inspire customers to think about SAP as an innovation partner that can help enable customers to do cool and profitable things.

“Our strategy is to show up in a different way to consumers,” said Hutchison. “We want to present SAP in a way that's new and unexpected.”

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