Marketing Innovation For The Intelligent Enterprise: Selling Products Vs. Promoting Innovation

Ginger Shimp and Jeff Janiszewski

The following is the third in a series of conversations about marketing innovation, with Jeff Janiszewski and Ginger Shimp from SAP North America Marketing. In this blog, they discuss how they began their process of innovation.

In our last blog, we talked about the importance of empathizing with customers as a first step toward marketing innovation. Now we want to move forward and explain how we leveraged that empathy into several innovative campaigns.

Yes — and I want to add a little clarity to that. Empathizing with a customer is not exactly the same thing as being “customer-focused,” which is an ambiguous catchphrase these days. The goal is not about analyzing our customers to see how much money we can extract from them. The goal is to have a greater understanding of the customer so that we can begin a conversation for our mutual benefit.

It may seem strange to talk about empathy in the B2B space, but businesses can be empathetic. For example, our company has a 46-year history of turning out quality products, but that’s just an underlying obligation. Our company takes great pride in its fair-minded leadership, its corporate social responsibility, its diversity and inclusion, its global sponsorships, and its dedication to security, and innovation. That’s how we empathize with our customers.

In fact, promoting innovation was our goal. We were tasked with promoting a digital innovation system that enables customers to bring transparency to their entire enterprise and ecosystem using technologies including, the Internet of Things, Big Data, machine learning, analytics, data intelligence, blockchain, and design thinking.

And if that sounds confusing, you can understand what we were up against. In brief, we weren’t selling a product as much as promoting the concept of having a fully integrated digitally connected business. Our goal was to help customers visualize how they can thoroughly embrace technology, and ultimately become a truly intelligent enterprise.

Again, we weren’t trying to sell anything at this stage. Our goal was to empathize with our customers and enlighten them.

However, not only were we faced with explaining this fiercely complex concept, but our target audience was thousands of potential customers across 26 different industries.

We also had the problem of information fatigue. As we mentioned in our last blog, customers have access to such an enormous volume of information that — on a human level — they simply can’t take it all in. The obvious approach to that problem would be to either create something very flashy to stand out in the crowd, or to reduce everything to fact sheets, graphs, and bullet points.

Flashy doesn’t work well for us. And we’re careful not to come across as though we’re pushing for a “once-and-done” quick sale. Remember, we weren’t selling anything; we just wanted to inspire our customers. And because we were trying to communicate a very complicated concept that would be unique to every business in every industry, merely shoving information at our customers didn’t seem appropriate either.

So, we started by turning the whole thing around. Instead of pushing information on our customers, we began by asking leading questions and let them draw their own conclusions. We developed an eleven-question workbook which customers could use at their leisure to assess where they are on their innovation journey. This wasn’t an attempt to harvest the customer’s information. The workbook is solely intended for the customer’s self-reflection. It allows them to discover their challenges for themselves.

And even though there are only 11 questions, the workbook requires a lot of introspection and research about their own company. And because there’s no such thing as an intelligent silo, the 11 questions require input from across the enterprise. But because the questions are very broad in nature, they’re applicable to every business in every industry.

Once the customer completes the workbook, he’s offered two further options to explore his challenges. He can either schedule a conference call with our Industry Value Advisory Team or he could schedule a Design Thinking workshop. The IVA team members are innovation experts that have a unique combination of business, industry, and technology knowledge. With an average of 20 years’ experience in their industries, they can directly guide customers to the next steps in their innovation journey. Similarly, the Design Thinking workshops help customers leverage the principles of Design Thinking to ideate the next steps in their innovation journey.

All of that was a good start, but we still needed a way to drive customers to the workbook, and the subsequent conference call or workshop. And we still had the problem of trying to appeal to executives in different lines of business across those 26 different industries. We had a lot of valuable information that would apply mutually to all the industries, but we know from experience that customers are more engaged when they are reading something specific to their industry.

Our solution was to create mass customized research reports. In coordination with Futurum Research, we created research reports that addressed the core issues of digital transformation that are applicable to all industries. We then created custom versions of that paper for 15 specific industries.

To be honest, versioning the reports was more challenging than we had imagined it would be. They needed to pass the scrutiny of each of our industry experts to make sure we had captured the key issues and that we had the messaging right. In the end, we were able to get the reports into the hands of our intended audiences and they were quite well received.

However, we weren’t done yet. We still had the problem of information fatigue. I think I can speak for most people when I say that my inbox, news feeds, blog subscriptions and social media pages are so overwhelming that I often do little more than glance at the subject line to determine if I should banish all of it to the trash can, file it, or actually pay attention to it.

So, having empathized with our customers and defined the problem, we still needed to distinguish our message from all the other noise out there. Rather than assault our customers with more numbers and facts, we thought we could conjure them with a story. And rather than dump more reading material on them, we wondered how we could appeal to their other senses.

We quickly dismissed the idea of sending fluffy kittens to everyone, and we never did figure out how to make beer-flavored emails, so we decided instead to appeal to their auditory sense.

But here’s a cliffhanger for you — the results of our auditory marketing innovations will be the topic of our next two blogs.

Meanwhile, thank you for reading and please leave us a comment below.


Read the first in this series “Hear And Now: Audio Content In Digital Marketing.”

About Ginger Shimp

With more than 20 years’ experience in marketing, Ginger Shimp has been with SAP since 2004. She has won numerous awards and honors at SAP, including being designated “Top Talent” for two consecutive years. Not only is she a Professional Certified Marketer with the American Marketing Association, but she's also earned her Connoisseur's Certificate in California Reds from the Chicago Wine School. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of San Francisco, and an MBA in marketing and managerial economics from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University. Personally, Ginger is the proud mother of a precocious son and happy wife of one of YouTube's 10 EDU Gurus, Ed Shimp.

Jeff Janiszewski

About Jeff Janiszewski

Jeff Janiszewski is an SAP award-winning B2B marketeer with a proven track record of designing, implementing demand generation and pipeline strategies that generate sales across a diverse range of industries and solutions.