101 Great Minds on
Music, Brands and Behavior



Global CMO at SAP


“Music is at the center of everything. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what you do, you will always connect music with emotions and memories.”

Alicia Tillman, Global CMO, SAP


Global Chief Marketing Officer at SAP, Alicia Tillman is responsible for creating and accelerating the company’s worldwide marketing strategy and brand recognition. Alicia is focused on driving the company vision of helping the world run better and improving people’s lives by building compelling, empathetic and creative marketing programs and campaigns. She has significant experience across marketing and product development, branding, lead generation, strategic planning, organizational design and innovation. Alicia has strong cultural competence leading global teams, is a dynamic public speaker, team motivator and has been honored by many organizations for her work in marketing and communications.

Reese: Can you talk a bit about your role at SAP?

Tillman: I’m the Global Chief Marketing Officer for SAP, a position I’ve held for almost three years now. It’s been an amazing journey working with our community of customers, partners and employees to tell our authentic SAP story. A big part of my role is capturing the voice of these stakeholders and ensuring that we’re building a narrative that reflects the real-life experiences and feelings they have as they engage with our brand. In today’s experience economy, companies and consumers choose brands emotionally – gut reactions mean everything. It’s not just about the product anymore, it’s about community and a sense of belonging. Marketing is taking the lead here, curating experiences that help earn customers for life, by asking hard questions: How do you architect once-in-a-lifetime experiences, learn from customer perspectives and deliver unexpected value? My job is to not only help people understand the business of SAP, but also to open their eyes to just how much we already impact their lives every day through technology. Ultimately, I’m accountable for telling that story in a meaningful way.

“I think it’s wonderful that music can create such transcending experiences and tap into our memories so effectively”

Reese: Brands are in the trust-building business. Music is the direct way to the subconscious, where all buying decisions are made. How important is music in the consumer experience then?

Tillman: Our former CEO, Bill McDermott, always said that trust is earned in drops, but lost in buckets. As a marketer, that sentiment really speaks to me. Trust is personal and emotional and, at the end of the day, it’s the foundation of any stable and long-lasting relationship. If you don’t have trust, you essentially have nothing. Music can effortlessly transcend differences in geography and culture, and it’s a powerful form of expression that brands can and should make more use of to relate to consumers. Even though we are in the B2B business, we are selling to human beings. Through music, there’s an opportunity for brands to express themselves in a way that’s deeply human. I’ve always been a believer that music is an expression of values and beliefs. It can have a very special place when you are looking to tell your true story and connect with someone, especially when it reflects the brand identity in an authentic way. 

Reese: I think a great example would be the James Bond soundtracks. Every person would recognize them, no matter if it`s a soundtrack from the 80s, 90s or only a couple of years ago.

Tillman: You are absolutely right. From a branding perspective, the Bond franchise’s use of music is iconic – the songs themselves are almost inseparable from the story the filmmakers are trying to convey. It’s perhaps the peak example of a brand that uses music with a strategic goal. Too often, I see a piece of media – a movie or an advertisement or a full marketing campaign – with a lack of clear intent or design. But if you look at the Bond films, there are certain elements that work together to build a cohesive and compelling narrative throughout each track. That matters because I can see the effort that goes into it, resulting in something that’s timeless. I think it’s wonderful that music can create such transcending experiences and tap into our memories so effectively. 

Reese: We are all born Mozarts. We have the ability to listen to a song and remember it decades later.

Tillman: Of the five senses, it’s taste and sound that are the most powerful triggers of memory. It’s the association that’s created between a specific sound and a positive feeling. If you danced with all your best friends at your high school prom, hearing that song reignites that feeling no matter how much time has passed. That’s just how our brains work.

Reese: Why is music not already more important in branding then?

Tillman: I think brands are under lot of pressure to differentiate. Marketers often think that differentiation should be most closely tied to telling a story of value. What does my product and service do for you that the competition can’t offer? But, when competition is so fierce, it’s experience that becomes the primary motivating factor for customers. If a consumer is shopping online for new headphones, there’s no shortage of options. But things like a seamless shopping cart or next-day shipping – consumers will happily pick the brand that makes the experience as easy and enjoyable as possible. That’s why I`m always asking myself, what are the ingredients in building a successful experience? And how can our brand and the products that we offer tie into that? Sometimes the answer is obvious and other times it’s not. As brands embrace the experience economy, music is going to take a bigger role, specifically in how it creates a red thread between all of the different experiences available to customers. It supports one coherent brand experience over time – and that presents a real opportunity for a brand to stand out.

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