You have to have commitment and belief from the top for storytelling to work’: SAP’s Julie Roehm

The fourth in the IAA Webinar series themed ‘World goes Digital’ was hosted on 24 July on the Google Hangout platform, and featured Julie Roehm, chief storyteller, SAP

You have to have commitment and belief from the top for storytelling to work’: SAP’s Julie Roehm
The fourth in the International Advertising Association (IAA) India Chapter’s IAA Webinar series themed ‘World goes Digital’ was hosted on 24 July on the Google Hangout platform, and featured Julie Roehm, chief storyteller, SAP.
 
Abhishek Karnani, director, Free Press Journal and Manish Advani, head – marketing and public relations, Mahindra Special Services Group, are the co-chairs of the IAA webinar series. The fourth Webinar was moderated by Pradyuman Maheshwari, editor-in-chief, MxMIndia, who kicked things off asking Roehm about the role of storytelling in a technology-led organisation that doesn’t really show emotions.
 
Roehm: When one of the co-CEOs of the company asked me to come over, he saw the need to bridge that gap where technology companies are seen as cold and process-oriented companies, and make it more human.
 
We believe that in this world of technology - unlike 20 years ago where it was cool to have it in the background - technology has perpetrated all our lives, whether you work in a technology (company) or are a stay-at-home mom. You use technology every day. You count on it and it has become a fabric of life. Even in bigger companies, technology is used for only procurement of products and it might be difficult to think about humanising it, but when you dig deeper, when you care about where you source your product from and who is on the other end, there might be a great human story.
 
Or, if you think how technology improves employees’ lives every day. When you think of a HR person, they are using our products for talent recruitment. Big companies are always in the hunt for the best talent, and need to have technology to find the best person and what is it that will make them happy. Surely, money is one thing but it is not the only thing. And, technology can help us do that. So, you can look deeper into every aspect in the company like marketing, procurement and even finance. I think there is a lot of emotion available to us to connect.
 
It (the story) doesn’t have to be emotional to make them cry. It could also be something that they cheer. Those are the kind of stories that will help us in humanising the idea, and help us open doors to other industries, and even other kind of people who have not used our products or services in the past.
 
Ashish Mehra, digital marketing head, Mahindra Holidays: We are experimenting with the concept of storytelling, and are revamping the site to focus on customers sharing their holiday experiences rather than the hotel reviews or rating points on our website. Could you share some examples of any such initiatives?
 
Roehm: We see consumers talking about experiences all the time. We (SAP) seek the same thing, and our challenge is greater than yours. We want our consumers to not talk about the actual technology itself but experiences from their impact. I can share a couple of our initiatives, where there is an iPad app called ‘Customer Journeys’, which opens up on a series of stories that users can read in-depth about our customer experiences from across categories. There is an opportunity for you to capture the stories that people tell your staff at the hotels or the call centre, and put them on a platform like this. Another thing that we are working on, is to create a movement, which I know is a very lofty goal. A movement around the idea of our goal ‘to help the world run better and improve people’s lives’. The definition of ‘run better’ changes from person to person, and so what we are trying to do now is that we are creating our own social space to ‘run better’. For example, at the New York Fashion Week, we are going to capture people talking about fashion and how it impacts their lives. A world ‘run better’ for them might be their clothes fit them every day and they don’t have to worry about their appearance constantly. What does that has to do with SAP? Well, we created technology for Levi’s that helps them to image a person and suggest which Levi’s jean is going to be best for them to put on. So, when people put the right one on without going through the hassle of going through multiple pairs of jeans, they feel good about themselves. When people feel good about themselves, they have an energy and aura that is very contagious. It may not have nothing to do with us directly, but in the long run if we can associate ‘helping the world run better’, we can then start to close the gap between product marketing and the brand strategy.
 
From a marketing point of view, we have always been technology-focused and we needed the human factor to come back in. Moreover, it is not only your customers who have stories. Even your employees’ stories have a human angle and the more angles you have for your stories, the more impactful it will be.
 
Karnani: How do you develop talent with the right set of skills for storytelling? And, in the era of RoI, how do you convince the management to invest in this?
 
Mehra: How do you go about attributing new business on to this method?
 
Roehm: From a talent point of view, there are many people who are writers or photographers who are interested in storytelling. Once they realise that there is an option for this, you find that there is a lot of talent base for this than what you might have thought in a technology company. We set up storytelling training last year in the most simple way possible. We did a five-step approach to storytelling.
 
One, who is the customer? Second, what is the opportunity that they offer us or the problem that they have? Third, how can technology help them realise that vision or tackle the problem? Four, what is the impact that they are hoping to have on their company? And, fifth, what is the impact that they are hoping to have on their customer? So, when you can give such a simple list, you can capture the stories easily. When we started rolling this out initially, the responses were reading more like Harvard Business School case studies, and not necessarily like a story that I would enjoy reading on a blog or a book. So, I had  to train my team how to be more casual in their writing for these kind of stories. That was very successful, and this year we have mandated that training for all of our marketing team. There are 1,600 people in marketing at SAP, and all those people will be trained in it. It is a simple training, but what we is it is making the difference. On the RoI front, what we realised is that these apps played a role in reaching out to the companies and understanding their cultures better. When one of our employees walk in to their offices and sources these testimonials from our customers, we get to not only understand their views about our product but also look at their office spaces and understand more about their working culture. For me, it is pretty impactful in terms of what it has been able to do for our customers and our employees, as they inform me that these connections are helping them get more deals and converts are happening more faster.
 
Advani: How do you ensure all customer-facing departments within SAP walk the talk presented through storytelling to all the stakeholders?
 
Roehm: The best way to do it is through word-of-mouth. First of all, none of this would have been successful if one of our co-CEOs wasn’t committed to this. He is now asking me to get stories from our customers’ customers. You have to have commitment and belief from the top for something like this to work. What we have done is that we have worked closely with the head of sales, who also believes in capturing these stories.

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Campaign India
Campaign India
3 October 2014