Thursday, July 18, 2024

How 3M brings cross-functional groups together and develops content marketing that sticks

As you might expect from a company like 3M, the road to content marketing success is paved with Post-It notes.

They fill the various panels of a white board, and each color represents something different. The yellow Post-Its, for example, refer to tactics, while blue ones are stuck next to calls to action or things with measurable linkage to business objectives. The fuchsia ones? Those make sure no one forgets about the information that will need to be gathered about how customers and segments will need to be engaged, and when they get handed off to sales.

3M content marketing
Carlos Abler,
Global Content Marketing Strategy Lead, 3M

To Carlos Abler, global content marketing lead at 3M, the Post-Its are only one of the tools he and his team uses to get cross-functional teams working together to improve how content is developed and the results it generates. What really matters is the process, which involves seven different exercises that get them thinking about topics 3M should talk about, the touchpoints where the content needs to live, typical CTAs and scoring parameters. Abler walked though his approach in a keynote at this week’s Uberflip CONEX conference in Toronto.

In one recent session, for instance, Abler said 45 3M employees gathered for a three-day stint to discuss a content marketing strategy for one of its subsidiaries. The participants included those in marketing, sales, technology, communications and other functions. The end result was four major initiatives that were forecast to bring $9.1 million within a year.

According to Ablos, this kind of coordination is increasingly important in a large enterprise like 3M because the nature of the customer or target can vary widely. In some cases it’s easy. 3M owns a dental business, for instance, which sells equipment to dental practices and other firms who buy medical supplies.

“There’s not very much cross-sell . . If you wanted to create a blog or a magazine, it’s relatively clear who should run it and own it,” he said. “But if you have a customer who everyone wants to talk to, who owns this and what’s the experience like for the customer? You wind up with content pieces trying to impregnate the mind of the person, but without a lot of orchestration.”

In some cases 3M can address this by convening editorial boards across the company who weigh in with ideas about topics, for instance. The cross-functional workshops, however, can get into a lot more granular strategic planning. One exercise asks participants to not only choose relevant ideasbut to map them across channels such as e-mail, eBooks, webinars and so on. Others identity what Abler called “quant goals” such as the measurable changes in audience behaviors, and then connect those to organizational key performance indicators.



The “Strawman Initiative,” meanwhile, asks everyone to cover off all the questions that sometimes get overlooked in creating great content, such as the audience pain points that are being addressed, distribution and success metrics. The best part, Abler said, is that even if someone in sales or IT isn’t a born storyteller, the cross-functional workshops have a way of unleashing team members’ strengths.

“Some of the skills and processes that emerge out of content marketing optimize things that we were expecting marketing and sales to do as a matter of course,” he said.

Abler said the concept of “co-designing” content is the best way to truly engage customers, and is even more important than gaining executive buy-in for such initiatives in the first place. The big challenge, he added, is making such event happen at all.

“It’s hard to get people to take two and a half days for something like this,” he admitted. “Sometimes you have to truncate it into a day.”


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Shane Schick
Shane Schick
Shane Schick is the Editor-in-Chief of B2B News Network. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and was the founding editor of Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.