SAP caused a stir when it unveiled SAP C/4HANA, its new customer experience platform, in June. Some of the hubbub...
centered on the fact that SAP C/4HANA was not really a new product but was an amalgamation of several products that were formerly marketed as Hybris.
SAP subsequently retired the Hybris brand itself, renaming the division that it acquired in 2013 as SAP Customer Experience. SAP's intent is to redefine a CRM market that's dominated by Salesforce and focus on the entirety of the customer experience, rather than just the relationship part. The Hybris brand was seen as limited to e-commerce, as evidenced by a blog post by Kevin Cochrane, chief marketing officer for SAP Customer Experience, that explained the rebranding.
"You may have seen the recent Overstock.com ads that poke fun at its name, trying to clear up confusion that it doesn't sell overstocked goods," Cochrane said in the blog. "Hybris has always had a strong brand recognition, but some still affiliate the name only with commerce -- which is certainly an important aspect of what we do, though it's not the only thing. Commerce cloud is one piece within the more comprehensive SAP C/4HANA suite."
But Hybris has strong brand recognition in the space, and SAP has not always rebranded the cloud companies that it has acquired, other than placing SAP in front of the old name (a la SAP Ariba or SAP SuccessFactors).
This isn't the first time SAP has created confusion or even hostility toward a brand change. When it acquired BusinessObjects in 2007, SAP changed many of BusinessObjects' well-known product names, sometimes with less interesting monikers. For example, Xcelsius became SAP Dashboards, although many old customers continued to refer to the product by its former name.
Mixed responses to SAP C/4HANA
So, what does a rebrand mean for a product like Hybris that has well-established recognition? Does SAP risk alienating the customers and partners who have worked with the old name for years?
The answers to these questions are mixed. A survey by Global Enterprise Partners, an enterprise technology recruitment agency based in Amsterdam, found that 36% of the respondents felt negatively toward the rebranding, while 22% were positive and 42% were neutral.
The sample size was relatively small -- about 80 respondents -- but it appears to reflect the sentiments of the Hybris community accurately, according to Jayantie Seosahai, senior recruitment consultant for Global Enterprise Partners. The main reason why people have a negative reaction is that it's seen as Hybris moving away from its core e-commerce function and being sold as more of an ERP product.
"Hybris has nothing to do with SAP as its built on Java, and rebranding it to SAP S/4HANA's customer experience makes it sound like it's more of an SAP product containing all the SAP modules as well, which is not the case for the e-commerce stack," Seosahai said. "So, the negativity for the rebranding was more from the developers working in the e-commerce space and coming from a Java background, and they just felt the new name was going to cause confusion. It will move away more from the e-commerce, and [as a result] they may have to get into different skill sets."
Jayantie SeosahaiSenior recruitment consultant, Global Enterprise Partners
On the positive side, Seosahai said that Hybris professionals believe they can now expand their skills beyond e-commerce to work with more SAP products. Most are taking the change in stride, however.
"People are still calling it Hybris, so it's going to take some time where maybe, in a year or two, it's started to be more integrated, so these people might not even see it as a positive or negative thing -- it's just neutral," Seosahai said. "Especially in IT, most of the people are aware that it's a fast-paced market, and they have to deal with name changes all the time, and it's going to take time before it's actually implemented or integrated into all the consultants that will work with it. Nobody really talks about Customer Experience or SAP C/4HANA yet, so it's going to take some time before it actually comes through."
Rebranding success depends on name quality
Although rebranding is always somewhat risky, SAP gets a mixed grade for C/4HANA and SAP Customer Experience, according to Holger Mueller, principal analyst and vice president at Constellation Research. The biggest risk is if the new name is worse than the old, but Mueller believes this is not the case here.
"Hybris is close to hubris, which is the old Greek way of overestimating yourself, and even the founder said it was probably not the smartest name they could have come up with at the time," Mueller said. "SAP C/4HANA was a lengthy strategic move by SAP, so they didn't pull the name out of a hat, and to a certain point, you can give SAP credit because it's in line with the S/4 naming."
Renaming is always a bit confusing, said Mueller, who recommends that SAP should consider renaming all of its acquired cloud brands (SAP Ariba, SAP SuccessFactors, SAP Fieldglass and SAP Concur) under the /4 brand.
"For consistency purposes, SAP should do the same thing going forward. But who knows? They deny officially that they will do that," Mueller said. "For salespeople in general, it might be a good idea because it gives them something new to sell."
SAP should get some attention because of the rebrand, but any confusion will settle down once customers know that C/4HANA is essentially the same thing as Hybris, Mueller explained. But SAP faces a bigger challenge in trying to redefine CRM as customer experience.
"Customer experience is so much more than what software is -- there's so much more involved in it," Mueller said. "But if they want to fight Salesforce -- which is the main idea behind this -- you have to call it the same thing. So, CRM would have been a better name, and I don't think the Customer Experience branding will last too long, but it's too confusing and too fluffy."
The constant churn of IT name changes
Name changes can be disconcerting for customers, according to Joshua Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, although it's not an issue he's heard from Hybris customers.
"It's pretty common for customers who identify with a particular brand to be concerned that the brand will disappear in an acquisition and they'll be beholden to some megabrand they may not like as opposed to the cool, hip brand they signed on to originally as customers," Greenbaum said. "This can be exacerbated by the fact that some of these customers may have negative impressions of the acquiring brand."
SAP needed to create the C/4HANA brand to have a common goal of a fully integrated customer experience for the company and its customers, Greenbaum said. That goal will only happen after SAP makes the individual pieces of the puzzle, like Hybris, work with each other.
"C/4 HANA customers will end up with a completely different experience than stand-alone Hybris customers, and in my opinion, that differentiation is meaningful, and giving that experience a different brand is important," he said.
The overall name change game is a little different, however.
"Those of us who observe the industry get a little tired of the constant churn, particularly when the brand police get involved and create six-word names that no one in their right mind would ever use of their own free will," Greenbaum said. "Happily, C/4 HANA is blissfully short and follows the S/4HANA branding closely, so on an annoying scale of one to 10, this brand name is pretty much as close to zero as possible."
SAP has bigger naming issues than C/4HANA
The name game is underwhelming because it's typical across the software industry for acquired products to lose their brands, according to Jon Reed, co-founder and principal analyst of Diginomica.com.
"I look at acquisitions less as a naming thing and more, in general, how effective was an acquisition," Reed said. "There are multiple things, from product integration to serving existing customers to retaining talent and leadership. Overall, I think SAP has done a pretty good job with SAP Hybris so far, with the Hybris products breathing new life into SAP's CRM strategy, which desperately needed a big push. And the home-built CRM cloud products were not getting it done."
SAP has had much bigger naming issues with other products, Reed explained.
"I almost think it was worse with SAP BusinessObjects products, which went through the ringer in terms of losing their brand, getting it back to some extent [and] losing it again now with emphasis on SAP Analytics Cloud," he said. "If I had to pick one gross naming violation in the SAP family of products, it would be the relentless insistence on calling it the HANA Cloud Platform, even though it was utterly misleading, as HANA had very little to do with it and you didn't need a HANA license. That was finally corrected with the name change to the SAP Cloud Platform, but it took a long time."