Content is never simple, but content at a multinational conglomerate is particularly complex. How do you cultivate a content vision? How do you scale a content approach? How do you manage changes in roles or processes? Those are only a few of the many tough questions at hand. I admire the way Carlos Abler has embraced the complexity at 3M — and thrived as a result. I had the opportunity to talk with him recently about some of the secrets to his success and am delighted to share the conversation with you.
I started with 3M as a user experience and content strategist consultant, and was approached for a full time role as a “Content Czar,” leading content marketing strategy. I decided to take on the role because 3M’s size and diversity offer extraordinary opportunities for content. As a $32 billion company, 3M offers 50,000+ products across 70 countries and over 100 markets. The company provides an incredible breadth of products and services to a wide array of customers and contexts, and the internal expertise here that can be leveraged for value-added content is possibly second to none.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the “rock star” content marketing publication Amex OPEN Forum. (Editor’s Note: Yes, it’s one of our favorites.) 3M’s potential to create dozens of these types of high-value publications across our markets is quite substantial. Conglomerates such as 3M offer, within a single organization, an opportunity to create publishing synergies across verticals that would normally be divided between truly separate companies. So the opportunity to develop a unified content strategy manifesting federations anchored by audiences, publications, production, and content management and so forth is huge. 3M has, as its birthright, the ability to build a media empire, built on internal expertise, which is a true and foundational differentiator.
During 2012, I focused on getting my bearings. We successfully implemented an enterprise product information management system, which personally was a good initiative to get to know more areas of the business and more people throughout 3M.
During the first quarter of 2013, we launched a content marketing acceleration program called Content to Customer, which is now called Content to Revenue to clarify the connection between content and revenue. This program has been critical to our progress through today. This program has allowed us to ambitiously think “enterprise empire” while also achieving incremental change regarding content. Content transformation is a long war if ever there was one, especially in a conglomerate. While I can’t share specific case studies due to confidentiality, I can explain more about the program.
The Content to Revenue program is a productized toolkit of workshops, frameworks, and detailed resources designed to help accelerate 3M’s ability to build competency for developing content across the customer relationship cycle. This program creates a systematic and repeatable approach to considering a number of important factors for each area of the 3M business. Some example factors include:
The workshop and framework focus on defining the vision and high-level plan for content, including strategy and tactics, and the other resources aid with carrying out the plan.
There are two key contexts that the workshops address.
Firstly, as content is a key anchor for digital transformation, we have larger cycle visions that set multi-year goals for evolving how the organization goes to market more effectively with value added engagement across all touch-point contexts. Key collaborators include global business leadership, functional area leads, marketing operations, and early adopter representatives.
Secondly, there are smaller cycle visions and road maps that crystallize into content initiatives. These are tightly coupled with marketing strategic planning. The workshops are learning-while-doing opportunities where people apply processes that should become part of ongoing practices resulting in enhanced marketing agility.
For the given business, all customer-facing cross-functional roles are brought together, ideally into a three-day workshop. For example, there may be 45 people from marketing, sales, customer care, and technical services. We complete an orientation and collaborate on a series of seven exercises, most of which take about 90 minutes. These exercises build progressively on one another as follows:
I’ll share an example from a recent workshop to show how productive this approach can be. We worked with 45 people over three days. The group was composed of portfolio managers, segment marketers, sales roles, customer care roles, and key global support functions. After laying the foundation in exercises one through five, we completely fleshed out four content initiatives during exercise six. We had defined the strategy as well as tactical ideas such as lead scoring to represent $9.5 million in increased revenue — all within 90 minutes. Considering the majority of participants had little or no content marketing experience prior to these workshops, the fact that after a few days they were able to hammer through well-grounded strategic initiative development exercises was something of a triumph.
Yes, we have appropriate people across 3M work closely together. Everyone works in silos to some extent normally, so it’s important to develop a coherent vision for content that the organization is building toward. We also ladder up to revenue goals and deployment goals such as marketing automation, data management, analytics, CRM (customer relationship management), etc. If we don’t develop content marketing as a competency in the business, those tools will not get used or not get used to their potential as an interoperable technology ecosystem that maps to a holistic customer process. That, in turn, affects tool adoption, value realization, and ultimately ROI.
We also closely consider the human resource impacts. What does a transformational end state look like? How does this map to skill sets we have? What is our road map for evolving roles today? For example, there is an opportunity to evolve marketing communications roles from order-taking agency managers to strategic facilitation managers and agile marketing anchors. The content marketers should marshal our strategic workshops, editorial, and subject matter experts (SMEs) instead of just acting as campaign project managers.
We also look at our services. What do we need from our hours and competency standpoint and how does that balance with the opportunity we face? For example, if we want to get aggressive in social engagement and influencer marketing for events such as a trade shows, trainings and webinars, and realize, “Oh wow, in 2016 we have 200 events for one subsidiary,” we have to ask hard questions about prioritization and resource readiness. The question becomes, how much money do we want to leave on the table? And what does that look like against our competitors?
We also consider different levels of the business at 3M and their different roles in our content capacity.
Yes, at 3M the Content to Revenue program establishes content capacity for four levels: corporate, services (e.g. internal agency), business groups, and divisions. I’ll give a brief overview of the levels.
So we strive to define the appropriate content-related vision and capacity for each level as needed.
As inspired as I am by Carlos Abler? Don’t miss the resources available here in Content Science Review to build your organization’s content capacity.
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