Byravee Iyer
Jan 17, 2014

I don’t like the term social media: SAP's Jonathan Becher

GLOBAL - Jonathan Becher, global CMO of business-software giant SAP, talks with Campaign Asia-Pacific about the use and misuse of social media, his approach to marketing in Asia and how the company makes sure IT and marketing are on the same page.

Jonathan Becher, CMO, SAP
Jonathan Becher, CMO, SAP

Since Jonathan Becher became SAP’s global CMO in 2011, he’s been striving to change the brand’s image. Becher acknowledges that consumers don’t know the brand, so he has spent the last couple of years “humanising” it, making it more personal. As such, the company’s campaigns now reflect a softer side. Advertising is not just about how business runs better with SAP, but more specifically how life gets better with it. Where earlier SAP promoted the value of its platforms, today, it talks about the people using them.

Social media or “social tools” as Becher prefers, are equally crucial to business. According to Becher, social isn’t about the number of followers or messages a brand puts out. It’s about listening, looking at the trends and using that information to ultimately achieve business outcomes. 

What are your key marketing priorities in Asia this year?

The beauty of Asia-Pacific and Japan is that it is not a single market. I think the danger is if you sit in the US and treat Asia as a single holistic market. At SAP, we moved from regional-based marketing to what we call market unit-based marketing. We don’t treat China as Korea or Australia like Singapore. Within Asia, Japan, Australia and Korea consumers are rapidly adopting ecommerce, so we are promoting our Hybris platform. In China, while there is plenty of potential for ecommerce, we’re pushing some of our traditional products there.

You’re a big proponent of social media. What is SAP’s social-media strategy?

We don’t have a social-media strategy. I don’t like the term “social media” because it focuses on the word media. Most people treat social media like they treated email 10 years ago. They said 'Ah email is essentially free—why don’t I send more and more messages just to reach 10 million people'. That eventually turned into spam, and open rates went down. If you treat social media the same way and measure success by how many messages you send out, then it’s nothing different.

What is the key to using social media?

The key is using social tech to better understand the business outcomes you are trying to achieve and see how it can help. For instance, one of SAP’s goals is to reduce the time it takes to get products into the market. Previously, one would probably do a double volume research study—a process that takes weeks and months. Now you can use social to test new products and messages 24/7. Marketers can quickly segment consumers by country and geography and recruit anyone they want. We have the SAP community network, which has 2.5 million people on it. Within that community we have something called the Idea Place, a crowdsource for our engineers to get inputs for products. Crowds suggest ideas and eventually vote on shortlisted ones. For instance, more than 50 per cent of SAP’s Business One product in China is based on crowdsourcing on Idea Place. Historically, what took us six to nine months today takes less than 90 days.

What social tool works best for SAP?

It’s not one size fits all. LinkedIn is most effective to recruit people. If it’s to get messages out, then the most effective in North America is Twitter and in Europe it’s Facebook. In China it’s probably WeChat and Weibo.

Part of your social strategy is to include more third-party content onto your website. In the past you have said that 50 per cent of content should come from consumers..

We have two websites: and our community network. Today, well over 90 per cent of content on the community network comes from third parties, but its under 10 per cent on Much of the reluctance comes from the third parties because they wonder if this means they’ve endorsed SAP. We want to turn into a one-stop for topics that people care about. So this is a journey for us as we differentiate product information and thought-leadership information.

How aligned are marketing and IT at SAP?

The media loves to talk about how CMOs and CIOs hate each other. One of the things we’ve done is to appoint a team of business information officers that jointly reports to marketing and IT. This team acts as translators to make sure that IT and marketing don’t talk past each other. To reiterate the point, we also have shared KPIs.


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