Meet the $30bn brand trying to ‘consumerise’ B2B

CMO Paul Acito explains how he is using marketing to “humanise” the 3M brand and target customers in their personal life.

3M Wonder
Still from the 3M Wonder campaign.

Have you heard of 3M? It may not be the most familiar name, but the business claims you are never more than three metres away from one of its products. A $30bn business spanning 46 technology platforms with more than 91,000 employees across 200 countries, 3M might just be one of the biggest organisations you’ve never heard of.

The consumer facing ‘personal life’ group, most famous for Post-it notes and Scotch Brand Tapes, represents 15% of 3M’s business. The company’s biggest sector, however, is the infrastructure-focused industrial business group, which on the B2B side sits alongside 3M’s electronics and energy arm, healthcare business group, and safety and graphics organisation, supplying everything from respirators to bus wraps.

Now the B2B giant is taking its message out to consumers as it looks to highlight how much science impacts everyday life in its latest campaign.

Paul Acito, 3M CMO and vice-president of corporate marketing and sales, describes his customers as educated, curious people who range from aerospace engineers and nurses to dentists and doctors. While they may use 3M products in their professional life, the brand is now keen to highlight the fact they are still consumers.

“Even though only 15% of our revenue comes from consumer products, everybody is a consumer. So really the campaign is a double play where we want to show that even in your day-to-day personal life, you’re encountering 3M everywhere,” Acito explains.

“It follows on from us seeing the consumerisation of B2B and so that’s why we’re going to find our target customers in their personal life. We’re humanising the brand.”

READ MORE: The B2B struggle – Why are marketers still under pressure to prove their value?

Launched in the US earlier this month, the ‘Wonder’ campaign will roll out across 13 countries later this year, an important move given two-thirds of 3M’s revenues originate outside the US.

It is built on insight from 3M’s State of Science Index 2018, released in March, which canvassed the opinions of 14,000 people in 14 countries. The research found that even though most people are fascinated by science, they only understand it at a macro level. Furthermore, nearly 40% of respondents said they did not think their life would be any different without science.

The campaign tackles this issue head on, showing how consumers interact with science every day, as well as asking how innovation can answer the questions of tomorrow. One film shows a commuter imagining if buses could drive themselves, while in another a mum wonders what would happen if homes ‘could help around the house’.

While children were not a target for this campaign, the brand’s research also found 92% of respondents want their children to know more about science. 3M chose to highlight children’s relationships with invention through its ‘Skate Night’ short, which shows young roller-skaters asking what would happen if phones were ‘people-proof’.

The Wonder campaign acknowledges that consumers do not necessarily think about 3M’s products, but rather are focused on finding solutions to everyday problems.

“The door they enter to view 3M is not a product door. They don’t say, ‘I’m looking for very high bond tape’. They’re dreaming about autonomous vehicles or smart roads or intelligent safety products. Those types of questions are the ones they’re asking themselves and we have answers,” says Acito.

“The whole point of the campaign is that it’s the newest chapter intended to broaden how people know the company by highlighting all the different ways we are in their lives.”

All marketing is digital

The increasing convergence between the worlds of B2B and B2C encourages Acito to believe that now is a great time to be a CMO of diversified business like 3M. A hallmark of this convergence is the availability of technology, once reserved exclusively for B2C, rapidly moving into B2B.

“I personally view all marketing as digital marketing, so it’s a great time to be a B2B CMO. My mantra is if marketing equals online, and online equals software, then marketing equals software. So we built out our martech stack. It’s the same stack we use in consumer and B2B,” Acito explains.

3M is using data and insight to analyse this convergence in behaviour, tracking customer journeys to identify the similarities between how consumers operate in their business and personal lives. To support this work 3M has a “very large” agile marketing department within the company, which starts every project by mapping out the customer journey.

“We map out what we think their journey is based on data and insights, and then we put assets in place so they can encounter them the way they like to search for information and this allows us to continually have a closed loop data feed,” Acito explains.

“As that journey shifts, because of things going on in their lives, the data comes back and we can alter the placement of assets in real time, so it’s a new approach to marketing.”

3M Wonder
Still from the 3M Wonder campaign.

He sees the main advantage of agile marketing as the ability to alter your campaign at the speed of the customer, which for 3M can range from a six- to nine-month product lifecycle in the electronics sector to 12- to 14-year cycle in the aerospace industry.

“You’ve got to be able to respond and even in industries which are at different speeds things can change overnight,” Acito adds. “The world is sometimes a volatile, uncertain and complex place and you’ve got to be able to respond, so it’s all about collaboration and making sure you’re following the customer on their journey.”

Managing global teams

With thousands of people working across sales, marketing and service it is impossible for all marketers to report directly into Acito. The global nature of the business also means marketers have a degree of autonomy at a local level, plugging into the strategy and brand direction set by the core corporate marketing team, who report into the CMO.

Acito is keen for the focus to be less on work structure and more on creating cross-functional teams to drive innovation. Known within 3M as ‘agile sprints’, the company gathers together 12 to 15 people who work for around two weeks on a single challenge. Despite coming from a variety of functions and different countries the co-located teams work together to achieve clear goals.

The CMO strongly believes innovation and marketing cannot be kept apart, especially in a science company like 3M, which breeds a culture of curiosity and discovery. Seizing the crossover opportunities between B2C and B2B means focusing on collaboration, resisting the urge to take a top-down approach and embracing agility. 

READ MORE: Product innovation or marketing strategy – What comes first?

“Everybody in the company is always thinking about new products whether you’re in marketing or customer service or you’re a PhD in the lab. You don’t think about the connection between consumer and B2B very often except in a company like ours,” says Acito.

“We might invent microfibres to be used in a TV display and they end up on a sponge for consumers. Because of the convergence marketing is in parallel with the way we use those 46 technology platforms, so our marketing technology platforms are shared across both B2B and B2C.”

Penny Wise, marketing director at 3M’s industrial business group will be appearing on the Digital Transformation stage at The Festival of Marketing in October. For more information go to The Festival of Marketing website. 

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