How Having A Higher Purpose Can Humanize A Brand

Julie Barrier

I recently sat on a panel of executives from purpose-driven companies for the launch of Fit for Purpose 2016, a yearly index published by Radley Yeldar which ranks the world’s most socially, environmentally, and economically purposeful companies. The panelists came from different industry segments – consumer goods, education, and of course, I represented high technology.

As we shared best practices around how we each activate and amplify purpose within our organizations, it became clear to me that purpose transcends company size and industry. It was also evident that when a company is dedicated to purpose, everyone deeply cares about it. And it usually starts at the top, as I discussed in a previous blog on why leading with purpose is so important.

Each of us on the panel wants to make the world a better place. And we all recognize that it takes a full commitment from our companies to make it happen.

Embedding a sense of purpose is a team effort

One of the panelists was Anna Koklanakis, the senior global brand manager from Knorr, a Unilever company. In an article related to the index launch, Koklanakis said, “The promise of acting with purpose stretches far beyond the marketing department. It’s an empowering reason for every function in a team to think about how they can make a positive impact through every part of the business.” She also noted, “The marketers bring brand purpose to life, but to be able to do so with integrity requires a true team effort behind the scenes across all departments.”

In the same article, Paulina Lezama, brand strategy team leader at RY and leader of our panel, offered similar advice to companies that want to become more purpose-driven. She noted that companies must ensure leadership buy-in from key departments – such as PR, HR, sustainability, and engagement ­– if they want to change behaviors and culture. She also noted that purpose “has to be bottom-up too, as employees must buy into it or you will fail.”

One more step for B2B high-tech companies

As noted earlier, I was the only person on the panel from the technology sector – and I was also the only one representing a business-to-business (B2B) company. While I agree with Koklanakis and Lezama about their recommendations on how to become purpose-driven, I also find there are unique challenges for some technology companies when it comes to becoming a purpose-driven brand. One such challenge is how to humanize a high tech-company that is primarily B2B, like mine is.

For instance, during the panel discussion, I asked people in the audience to raise their hands if they had heard of my company. Almost all of them had. I then asked who knew what my company does, and about a third of the hands went up. Finally, I asked who felt a personal or emotional connection with my company, and no one raised their hands.

This did not surprise me, even though nearly all of the world’s most valuable brands run our software, and close to 90% of the Forbes Global 2000 companies use our technology. I also have an inside look into how our technology is helping the world run better and improving people’s lives. In fact, in some cases, it’s a critical component to creating a better world, as it is oftentimes the foundation behind the scenes of the organizations that have a direct impact on consumers. But I realize that many people don’t know the scope of the impact we’re having on the economy, society, and the environment. We are in the process of changing that.

Leading the purpose challenge year after year

My higher purpose and challenge at work – which is to humanize my company’s brand – also allows me to fulfill my own personal purpose. I’m proud to say SAP is currently #20 in RY’s 2016 index of the top 100 most purposeful brands in the world, up two points from the 2015 one. This places us ahead of familiar technology names such as HP, Microsoft, Cisco, Google, IBM, and Facebook. Some of our most prominent competitors did not even make the list.

But as the leader of purpose-driven marketing for our company, I’m not ready to stop at #20. I would love to see the brand climb even higher next year, and beyond. More importantly, I hope that over time, when I ask people if they have a human connection to our brand, there will be more and more hands raised.

I’m confident we will continue to live our vision and purpose, because we are a company that is truly committed to solving some of the world’s most intractable problems through our technology. From our CEO Bill McDermott on down, we are proud of the progress that we, our customers, and our partners are making for the economy, society, and the environment.

For more insight on how purpose can benefit your business, see A Millennial’s Perspective: Pursue Purpose Relentlessly—And Forever.


Julie Barrier

About Julie Barrier

Julie Barrier is Vice President of Purpose-Driven Marketing at SAP. She created and leads a global corporate initiative to humanize the SAP brand through purpose-driven initiatives, messaging, and storytelling. Julie is responsible for the strategy, content, and creative execution to position SAP as one of the most purposeful brands in the world. She is passionate about how technology can be used to enhance our lives and solve problems big and small. For more information, visit sap.com/purpose and sap.com/UNGlobalGoals.