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.

For context, could you give us an overview of your role at 3M?

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.

What is an example of your vision for content at 3M?

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.

With such rich potential comes complexity. How did you start to tackle the content situation at 3M?

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.

We’ll take you up on that. Tell us about the Content to Revenue 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:

  • Individual customers vs. account-level customers.
  • Clients with multiple sites/plants worldwide.
  • Complex customer lifecycles and account lifecycles, including situations such as people purchasing from multiple divisions within 3M.
  • The content ecosystem and competitive landscape within a particular market.
  • Our technology and human resources.

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.

In our research of content leadership, we find defining content vision is a critical success factor. How does the workshop approach content vision and capacity for opportunity at 3M?

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.

  • Vision and ideas for the content product(s) and the media network ecosystem in support of business strategic goals.
  • The technology infrastructure required for managing customer engagement and the content supply chain implicated by the content vision.
  • The human resources required to execute, which define competency development, hiring, and vendor agendas.
  • Change management requirements to take from our is-state to our should-state.

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:

  1. Proper strategic preparation for content initiative development.
  2. Strengthening topical understanding and how topics can play out across multiple assets and media channels.
  3. Mapping value relationships between customer needs, goals, and aspirations and tying content product delivery to the corresponding customer’s jobs to be done related to how they achieve those goals.
  4. Mapping content to customer journeys.
  5. Creating close-loop content ecosystems mapped to customer journeys through linkage that produces measurable engagement.  
  6. Tying content to quantifiable goals and how this connects to key performance indicators and analytics.
  7. Content initiative development.

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.

Collaboration and preparation seem key to making these workshops so successful so quickly. What are some other factors that make the Content to Revenue workshops successful?

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.

What are the levels of content capacity at 3M? Enterprise and other levels?

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.

content strategy at 3m
Identifying the levels of content strategy at 3M


  • Corporate – This level largely focuses on broad digital transformation issues to sustain our content capacity as a pillar of how we go to market. We consider how to invest in our infrastructure and ecosystem as well as how to replicate and implement it globally. Furthermore, integrating content programs with those that are dependant on content is key at this level. For example e-commerce, marketing, and customer management technology deployments and related initiatives will not flourish if content isn’t a fully aligned competency. The corporate level also needs to address critical fixes and governance that are unlikely to emerge organically from departmental silos, such as URL of global database rationalizations. And as the gatekeeper of the parent brand, corporate is needed to help ensure that global brand awareness and standards are supported. In a conglomerate, corporate entities can play a coordinating and investment role in publication properties that don’t align to single P&Ls. Though the revenue-generating and deep expertise activities and expertise sources are accountable within the business, which is where their center of gravity lies.
  • Business Services Entities – This level covers our internal agencies and operations, especially how to build and maintain them to better serve content needs for business groups and divisions. This is the case for what I call “strategy as a service” as well as ongoing turn-the-crank operational and administrative support.  
  • Business Groups – From a content perspective, business groups are to some extent an administrative layer that helps deploy and manage global initiatives. The majority of content action really happens at the division level. That being said, there tends to be a lot of affinity between divisions within a business, but some groups have a higher affinity than others; for example, health care is a comparatively high affinity because it aligns to the same industry, although a diverse one. That being said, the business group level in essence is like a micro-conglomerate within a macro-conglomerate, therefore the executive integration that needs to be achieved at the group level mimics what needs to happen at the corporate level. Except that the business group leaders will be closer to P&Ls and will care about very different metrics than the corporate level functions. For example, awareness metrics and traffic driving to business level publications may be relevant to the corporate content entity, but conversion funnel metrics rolled up at the business group level are where the focus is for those with P&L goals.
  • Global and Local Divisions – The divisions cover actual sales, engineering, technology, and customer care goals and functions for our products and services in various markets. The global level focuses on aligning content capacity with our revenue targets and strategic goals around the globe within the division. The local levels extend these global goals and programs but also iterate on them with locally specific go-to-market requirements. To increase relevance and expand our market penetration, we must have our digital act together, and the local teams are the front lines optimizing moving contacts and leads through scored stages of the pipeline with the appropriate qualifications so that sales can spend less time prospecting and more time closing and being of service to the customer. They are accountable for ensuring that value added content is being delivered at the right stages of the customer journey and that business functions are engaged properly at particular moments in the journey.

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.

The Authors

Carlos Abler is Leader of Content Marketing Strategy at 3M. In pursuit of a unified enterprise content strategy, Carlos leads initiatives that accelerate customer experience and content marketing maturity across all levels and customer-facing departments of the organization, all for the purpose of creating happier customers and stakeholders while increasing revenue. Carlos has a 30+ year track record of directing and creating mixed media communications in a wide variety of disciplines and clients, including marketing, theater, entertainment, education, information design, and civil society initiatives. Past clients include Thomson Reuters, Microsoft, General Mills, AARP, Johnson & Johnson, History Channel, Smithsonian, Columbia University, and Gyuto Tantric University. Awards include Webby Awards, WSIS World Summit Award, Bronze Anvil, W3 (Gold, Silver, Best in Show), and Communication Arts Interactive Annual for Information Design.

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, an end-to-end content company that turns content insight into impact. She has advised or trained hundreds of leading brands and organizations as they close the content gap in their digital transformations. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as a top instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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