I recently contributed a piece to Medium.com on the subject of embracing fear. The topic came to mind in my recent adventures on the high wire. Literally. As in Trapeze. To be fair, they make you wear a safety harness, but the fact remains that it is pretty hard to just let go of the bar and fling yourself into space. Trapeze artists are experts in fearlessness. Or to be precise, embracing fear and getting their crazy on in life.
The Art of Effective Content: Q&A with SAP Chief Storyteller Julie Roehm
Finsider recently sat down with Julie Roehm, Chief Storyteller for enterprise and business technology giant SAP. Julie generously shared with us strategies on generating effective branded content, the role of technology and social in content marketing, and much more.
Part One – What is a Chief Storyteller? – is published below with further insights in the coming weeks.
Finsider: We’re excited to have a chat with you about your role as Chief Storyteller. If nothing else, it is a fantastic title.
Julie: Unique title for sure. As a marketer, of course you want people to ask more questions, so it becomes a pull versus a push type of title which is one of the reasons it works. I love having the title, it is an honor. It is also one of those titles that elicit the squinty eye with a big wrinkle between the brows and gets them to ask, “What is that?” For the most part, I think anything that stands out, that’s unique, that creates curiosity is a good thing.
Finsider: How did the role of Storyteller come about with SAP? What do you see as its contribution?
Julie: Back in 2007, I was contacted by our current CEO Bill McDermott (then head of the Americas, SAP). We talked about my area of expertise in marketing but also about not being afraid to step outside the bounds of what’s typical, of taking risks and being outspoken. I think he saw something interesting and he asked if I would fly out to meet with him. That started a five-year conversation.
At the end of 2011, I was flying back from a consulting project and read his interview in the Money section of The USA Today. I was intrigued, as I had been talking with him over the years, and by this time he was the global co-CEO for SAP. I immediately emailed him and said, “Bill, this is fantastic, but just when I thought that I was going to finally understand what SAP really does, you left me hanging. They asked ‘Bill, what is it SAP does?’ and you said, ‘Well, we are behind some of your favorite brands like iTunes, Disney, Nike and Sony.’ The article went on but it didn’t elaborate.”
I said, “Bill that was your opportunity. I think you need to tell the story of your customer’s customer. I need to know why when I hear iTunes or wear Nike shoes, or visit Disney parks, my experience or product is better because you are behind the scenes. If I know that, I will be much more interested in SAP. More than that, I think companies would be interested because you would be putting a premium value on the service you provide, helping to provide a better products, service or experiences to their customer.”
Bill emailed back almost instantly and asked, “Will you be my chief storyteller?”
I started in October 2011 consulting. Their earnings call with analysts was coming up in a couple of weeks so I changed what and how Bill would tell the story of their quarterly success in customer terms to the analysts. We set-up a problem, identified the opportunity, introduced how software helps and why it was beneficial for the customer AND the customer’s customer.
By the end of October, he had offered me the fulltime senior vice president of marketing and chief storyteller for SAP.
Finsider: So that first earnings call where you changed the approach, what was the feedback from that?
Julie: I heard that it was fantastic, in that it was much more relatable.
Instead of saying, for instance, we have sold Carlsberg a piece of software, we told the story. We said that customers have loyalty to beer brands. You can imagine how disappointing it is when a customer walks into their favorite store to purchase that beer and the shelf doesn’t have it. They then either drive elsewhere, which is unlikely, or choose an alternative second beer. That’s a negative for everybody; the customer who is now disappointed, and certainly for the beer company. What we are enabling them to do is to provide the right type of software that allows for “just in time” distribution.
At the end of the day, a majority of us have similar experiences. It becomes more likely that you are going to feel some camaraderie for that brand because you feel they are real, that they are not trying to be overly complex. I think that simplicity element, which is now essential to SAP’s strategy, is the core of this area of communications. Simply tell the story, it doesn’t have to be rocket science all the time.
Finsider: What is the role of technology in storytelling?
Julie: If you have an iPad and go to the app store, you will find the SAP Customer Journey App. We know that our biggest audience consists of people buying software for their companies, but the idea was that we were going to put our customer journeys out there via the app.
You choose the industry, you choose the line of business, and get stories that are relative to what you are facing. It allows you to go through various customer journeys to see what issues like customers face, how they use technology, what has been done and what are they looking to do next. We rotate about 120 new stories every month.
That’s another way that we help to capture that storytelling mechanism, but also put it out in the public sphere so that people can do their own research and find their own information.
It has become a tool that has been useful internally and externally in helping to actually expand the pipeline opportunity, and also help build relationships with our customers. When sales go into a meeting, instead of using a brochure, they can start a conversation, “Tell us what it is that you would like to be doing?” They can open up the Customer Journey app and say, “There is another company in your industry who is in a similar line of business. You might be interested to see what they did and how they used it.”
It begins a conversation and people feel comforted that they are not the only one facing it. They can see what the journeys of similar customers look like. As that has grown in popularity, we have provided other tools to allow people to capture the story inside of SAP.
If you are also on your iPad, you can type in ‘share your story’ and you will find the SAP Share Your Story App. It is a really simple tool. It will ask for some basic information. It will ask you to click a legal disclaimer. It prompts you with some questions and then it uses the camera on your iPad to capture the video. You can answer the questions we ask or you can say anything you want. You hit submit and we can use that as a testimonial.
Being able to capture and put the power of storytelling in the hands of everybody who is customer facing is really important. You want to be able to give some authentic material in a very human way, especially for products that can be considered complex, like software can sometimes be.
Finsider: With the role of storytelling, how does your global organization with its wide scope of employees and stakeholders translate stories across cultural barriers?
Julie: SAP is in over 100 countries and it is important that we capture stories in local culture and language. Providing the tools and making sure that we have employees who are able to support that is really important for us. We want to be able to meet the needs of our customers on their terms whether it is in a specific language, or just cultural nuances.
We have global Executive Briefing Centers all around the world where our customers can have a customized, personalized experience. In our London Experience Center, we have a room that feels like you walked into the Minority Report movie! It hosts a 360 degree video wall with an interactive table where the technology completely comes to life in a really dynamic way. Being able to create executive briefing centers to build that type of experience for our customers is important.
A third team handles our corporate stories. How do you tell the big story, about the Cloud, about HANA (the SAP in-memory data platform)? How do you take that and humanize it? For instance, we host an annual global customer event in Orlando called SAPPHIRE. We bring our stories to life on multiple stages with multiple speakers and create interactive opportunities for our customers allowing the red thread of content to flow through.
It is not just about creating story, it is about changing the way people see things.
It is the opportunity to truly provide some value to the corporate mission, to help companies run better while improving people’s lives.
Photo: Jim Penuci via Flikr