‘I want to rewire 3m for the future’

Our new Strategic Play series will take an in-depth look at companies’ digital strategies. To kick off, Maeve Hosea talks to 3M’s e-hub chief James Simpson about how he has transformed the multinational’s approach

You will come into contact with one of 3M’s products 17 times a day, according to the company’s research. The multinational is one of the biggest technology companies in the world, delivering innovation across six core business sectors from healthcare to telecoms. Yet most of its marketing has relied on traditional channels, with trade shows and direct mail leading the way. Until recently, that is.

The company broke the traditional mould last year when it launched a digital-only campaign to push its car cleaning range, which took its marketing strategy to a new level. Since then, the manufacturer has focused on using that digital initiative as a template to repeat the process across its 45 businesses and 55,000 products.

The Cleanest Car campaign, which was designed around 3M’s latest car care range, saw the manufacturer collaborate with leading car detailing blogger Paul Dalton through www.thecleanestcar.com. This website invited consumers to upload pictures of their car before and after getting it cleaned and polished. The campaign ran for five weeks and the winner – selected by the public – won a trip to Christian von Koenigsegg’s factory in Sweden for a spin in the manufacturer’s new sports car.

“You don’t get the kind of benefits we’ve got from The Cleanest Car without embracing some of the technology in the digital arena,” says James Simpson, digital marketing manager, UK and Ireland. “It is about creating case studies to sell into the other relevant leaders in 3M – to be able to say why digital is important.”

Part of Simpson’s remit when he joined 3M two years ago was to show how digital marketing can change the company’s route to market.

“We are trying to make digital core to the overall marketing mix,” says Simpson. “That is about engagement within the company to start with and then showing what is available, with the primary driver focusing on the fact that digital is measurable whereas some of the traditional methods are not.”

A consummate digital marketer with experience on the agency side, Simpson believes you can get more bang for your buck with digital. “Digital marketing delivers more for less,” he argues. “For example, £1,000 spent digitally will get far more reach than the same money spent on some traditional advertising.”

Simpson heads 3M’s central digital marketing e-hub which drives its interactive marketing in the UK, providing consultation, idea generation, negotiation and delivery to the businesses. The primary task of this hub is to engage with the range of 3M businesses within the larger organisation, and the team is inundated with work from 3M marketers wanting to use digital. “We are certainly fully engaged with all of 3M’s businesses and they understand the importance of digital,” Simpson says. “It’s just that some haven’t applied it fully. Where I see digital making the biggest impact is in breaking down the business silos.”

3M has 45 businesses under six business segments. And all these businesses sell to the end-user through a network of distributors. To make things more complicated, the diversity and differing ages of the six business segments, which range from healthcare, industrial and transportation through to consumer and office products, mean 3M customers have often placed themselves in silos without realising the sheer scale of 3M’s businesses. It is therefore feasible that a customer might buy a 3M respirator from one retailer but buy eye-wear from another brand because they don’t realise 3M sells eye-wear too. 3M believes that, because there are no geographical or business boundaries online, digital will put it in the centre of everything.

“Asking what 3M does will result in varied responses ranging from Post-it Notes to adhesives to healthcare, where relationships with each need have been formed, but generally don’t mix,” says Simpson. “Through 3M.co.uk [the corporate site] we have an excellent opportunity to open the breadth of our brands to a wider audience and ensure customers can enjoy the full 3M offering.”
Simpson says there are crossovers within all businesses. “We have the cross-selling element on 3Mselect.co.uk [the online store] and are developing a way to use the same functionality on 3M.co.uk, but it isn’t live yet. We are also doing elements of cross-promotion within our catalogues, but again it is at an early stage. The pilot on 3Mselect.co.uk has worked well and can be backed up with sales data, which we struggle with on 3M.co.uk.”

We are trying to make digital core to the overall marketing mix. that is about engagement within the company to start with

James simpson, 3M

Two years ago digital would have been a small section as an add-on to a 3M marketer’s plan. It accounted for about 5% of spend in 2008, but last year it totalled 25% and this year it is going to be closer to 35%. Simpson attributes this change to the ability to demonstrate what can be done and how it can be achieved. Statistics to shout about include an increase in traffic year-on-year by 75% to the company’s 46 sites and additional microsites.

3M has also trebled its email communication, which Simpson explains is a result of streamlining the internal processes and reducing the costs which has in turn helped engage marketers within the company.

“There have been multiple benefits to 3M, primarily that we can target specific campaigns to the relevant audience,” Simpson says. “This isn’t rocket science, but has meant we have been able to send the right people to the relevant content and this has generated greater sales.

“Email is still the number one form of communication within the business-to-business (B2B) markets. We have started doing some social forwarding within the business-to-consumer businesses and will be applying this to the relevant B2B businesses.”
3M’s e-hub team comprises a search engine optimisation expert, two developers and a CRM specialist. Simpson has created a network of freelance designers the hub can call on and its activity is also integrated with the company’s contact centre. In addition, 3M has a network of agencies that it works with for various online and offline campaigns.

“We have some large, well-established marketing agencies and also some specialist agencies covering social media and video development,” he says. “We don’t engage agencies for SEO (search engine optimisation) because it is too difficult for an agency
Search has been a phenomenal growth area for 3M. Three years ago a Google search would not reveal the company’s core brands. Now, by contrast, its core brands feature in the top two or three of page one in natural listings on Google and as a consequence traffic has grown 75% over the past year with half of it coming from Google.

“The important element here is that people are landing three or four pages into their online journey, and will be presented with not only detail and datasheets on the product but more and more videos sharing knowledge on how to use and apply the product,” comments Simpson. “The step change here is all about keyword research and application. Any new site or content added to 3M.co.uk is based on keyword research, so we’re optimising for the products customers are searching for rather than the names we may have given them.

“Keyword research is the first part of the process, ensuring that the architecture of the site is designed correctly. For those products that are already on the site, optimising by adding the keywords to the existing content will deliver higher natural search results. Optimising all pages for relevant keywords has meant that the majority of our products now feature on page one of Google. Owning the search is key when you have 55,000 products.”


Micro-site type games have been a big success for the business’s varied brand portfolio. “My belief is generally to try things online, with the motto, ’what is the worst thing that could happen?,’” Simpson says. With its Post-it Notes, 3M recently reaped the benefits of a drawing game, which has been viewed by millions. The campaign works as an online multi-player Pictionary style game where each player is invited to draw words onto a virtual Post-it note to be guessed by other players out in the ether.
More recently, the Post-it Note Shopping Genius demonstrated its worth to retail consumers. The free widget not only finds the best prices for five key items, but will keep track of any changes. It functions by connecting to the www.shopping.com interface and tracking the price of the selected products.

Other brands Simpson admires in terms of their approach to digital marketing include Amazon, with its targeted messaging and the way it strikes a balance between relevance and frequency; and First Direct, which manages to make an online bank engaging.
Simpson has also been inspired by the “A hunter shoots a bear!” Tipp-Ex video campaign which takes interactive marketing to the next level by getting the hunter character in the video to use the Tipp-Ex product in the accompanying banner ad. “The narrator asks the viewer in collaboration with the hunter character to interrupt the shooting of the bear and say what you want to do with it instead,” explains Simpson. “This might include ’hugging with the bear’, ’dancing with the bear’ and so on – it is very clever.”
3M’s distributor relationships are also being affected by the company’s new emphasis on digital. “We have a vast network of distributors ranging from those that do not yet see the value digital can bring and those that are very engaged,” says Simpson. “But we are beginning to see the sons of those traditional companies taking over the reins and, as they are part of the digital generation, a whole shift is happening.”

Template for the future: 3M’s collaboration with a blog on car care campaign

Many distributors are driving sales, traffic and conversion online, but they have their own challenges. It is in 3M’s interests to help distributors in the digital space as this will improve customer satisfaction for both parties. 3M assesses what help it can offer depending on distributors’ e-capabilities and their levels of engagement with the corporation.

Working closely with its distributors, 3M is aiming to provide video content, rich imagery and the latest data sheets in a format that is easy for the distributors to integrate into their systems.

“We can pick off the engaged distributors and work with them, sharing videos and knowledge around SEO and content, therefore sharing assets that will add value to the customer journey,” explains Simpson. “The journey has to be as slick as possible because if the customer doesn’t find what they are looking for they will simply go to the next listing on Google.”

In the future, 3M envisages exploiting a wide range of developments in the digital sphere. Simpson says engaging with mobile apps and sites is an obvious fit for future development as well as continuing to digitise its content. “It is not very exciting from a digital marketing perspective but it is critical to have fully digitised content which is easily found by anybody,” he says. “It will not win awards but it will improve the way people interact with our business.

“Using digital to gain efficiencies, I want to rewire 3M for the future.”

case study: scotch

“We have to make products stand up for themselves so that the person buying it goes ’Wow, that is exactly what I was looking for,’” enthuses James Simpson, digital marketing manager at 3M.

With its Scotch brand of sticky tape, 3M has generated widespread consumer interest through a digital pass-the-parcel game. Live until mid-December, it connects with simple human emotions around opening presents and winning prizes and has generated more than 200,000 plays. Aside from engaging customers with the brand by using a game format, the campaign serves to build a database for the business.

Measurability is one of the most important aspects of marketing, and 3M admits struggling to see the full customer journey because of its complex distribution model. With metrics critical, Simpson argues some should be about return on objective as much as return on investment.

“What is it that the marketer is trying to do?” he asks. “In terms of the pass-the-parcel game, almost 250,000 people have seen the Scotch Pop-up Tape Dispenser in action, as well as winning prizes and seeing the product portfolio.”

distributor’s view

Iain Millar
e-business manager

We are experts in safety. Our brand values are centred on reliability and innovation, and high service levels to help make the workplace safer.

Arco is a multichannel business which incorporates catalogue, web, telephone, account management and trade counters. We are now finding our customers are increasingly web and email oriented. As a result, we have ambitious web goals and see digital marketing at the heart of our strategies.

We are determined to transform Arco into an e-centric organisation. To date we have embraced website and email marketing. Search is another big area we are engaging with and our experience of pay per click and search engine optimisation (SEO) is increasing fast. We are also exploring the potential for affiliate marketing and social media.

Arco has been working closely with 3M on a number of digital initiatives. For example, we are supporting the launch and promotion of new ranges through dedicated, optimised landing pages that are then linked into various email campaigns and offline promotional activity. In addition, we are working with 3M to ensure that our online product descriptions and copy are optimised from an SEO keyword perspective and also that the content is suitable for selling straight off the webpage without the context that is provided by the supporting data in a paper catalogue.


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