Who doesn’t love fresh flowers?
I sure do. But I may not enjoy them all equally. Some are more fragrant. Others are more resplendent. Even identical flowers can evoke a range of feelings, from indifference to joy. For example, walking past the local florist, I might barely notice the bouquet appearing in the window. But if a loved one presented the same bouquet as a gift, my heart would melt.
Somewhere beneath the petals lies a powerful insight for marketers: The perceived value of a product or brand is as unique as customers’ individual experiences.
As an avid reader growing up in France, I learned this insight as a young girl. Seventy-five years ago, the author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry published a children’s book called Le Petit Prince (or The Little Prince). In it, the diminutive royal famously declares: “If someone loves a flower, of which just one single blossom grows in all the millions and millions of stars, it is enough to make him happy just to look at the stars. He can say to himself, ‘Somewhere, my flower is there…’ But if the sheep eats the flower, in one moment all his stars will be darkened.”
The sentiment is as romantic as it is profound. The value we attach to a product or a brand — or, in this case, a flower — arises not merely from its intrinsic attributes, but also from our personal interactions with it.
Tragically, Saint-Exupéry, who was also an aviator, perished on a reconnaissance mission with the French Resistance in 1944, only a year after publishing Le Petit Prince. Yet his would go on to become the best-selling book in the history of French literature.
As a pilot, of course, Saint-Exupéry was intimately acquainted with the night sky and its “millions and millions of stars.” Yet the telescopes of his day could only differentiate the brightest celestial objects. Since then, advances in technology have dramatically deepened our visibility into space — and, based on observable data, researchers today estimate the existence of trillions of galaxies.
In procurement and supply chain management, technology has leapt forward as well, providing businesses with the visibility and data they need to identify the optimal relationships among millions of potential trading partners who, taken together, transact trillions of dollars in commerce.
While procurement and astronomy (let alone botany) might seem incongruous, the truth is that anytime you’re dealing with quantities in the millions of anything, reliable data becomes essential for distinguishing among them. Data enables us to tailor our interactions with customers or suppliers, even when they number into the millions, by catering to their unique, individual needs.
Thanks to the data available on a digital network, buyers and suppliers can — with the ease of a few clicks — evaluate each other on the basis of hundreds of criteria both operational and reputational. Aided by machine learning and other forms of artificial intelligence, cloud-based applications help organizations to discover and transact with qualified suppliers who not only support cost objectives but also align with corporate sustainability goals and ethical standards. Digital networks lend organizations the transparency they need to make better buying decisions and engage in real-time collaboration and innovation. Importantly, such networks also consolidate spending across all major categories — from direct, indirect and logistics to contingent labor and services, travel and capital expenditures — on a single, integrated platform in the cloud.
Through the transparency made possible by digital networks, organizations can quickly draw meaningful insights from the sprawling troves of data residing in their supply chains. Just as importantly, they can do the same with the vast information they retain about customers. In the process, organizations can adjust their logistics and marketing spend accordingly, from the largest supplier or customer to the smallest, each differentiated by unique attributes requiring tailored solutions.
When we make relationships personal, whether between buyers and suppliers or between a fabled prince and his beloved flower, success tends to follow. It was true when Saint-Exupéry wrote his parable, and it’s perhaps even more so today in a world seemingly awash in data. Yet data, when carefully cultivated, are the seeds from which businesses grow enduring relationships with customers and with each other. With the right tools and technology, these seeds take root and blossom.
About Tifenn Dano Kwan
Tifenn Dano Kwan is chief marketing officer for SAP Ariba and is responsible for leading and defining the global marketing vision for the business. Previously, Tifenn served as vice president of SAP Ariba’s Integrated Marketing organization. In this role, she created and led a unified audience, go-to-market, and solution teams to deploy end-to-end strategies to impact the awareness and adoption for IT, finance, procurement, and supply chain customers. Prior to that, she was the head of go-to-market launches and brand platform at SAP Ariba, responsible for delivering a consistent and compelling brand experience strategy for all customers and the successful execution for innovation launches. Tifenn joined SAP in 2006 and has since held various leadership roles across the marketing organization including those in channel and partner marketing. Tifenn holds a Masters in management from the Audencia Business School as well as a Law Degree from the Institut Catholique d’etudes Supérieures.