As a household name and a global brand, 3M has certainly earned its accolades. Instead of resting on its laurels, it's constantly reinventing itself and localizing products to better serve international markets. Leading the innovation initiative is Raj Rao, whose title of VP Global eTransformation might be the first clue that he and his team are undertaking cutting-edge projects spanning the world over. 3M's strength is in its vision, launching time-tested products into the 21st century by partnering with companies like Evernote. It has also wholeheartedly embraced the cloud and social media, both tools that Rao uses to position 3M's as an eCommerce pioneer.
More than just a purveyor of masking tape, 3M has always sought to research and develop new technologies. Its products are ubiquitous, from traffic lights to the tiny but mighty Post-It note, which is as useful as ever in an ultra-wired world. 3M strives to keep its products relevant by reimagining their functionality and integrating them with new digital technologies.
"Recently we unveiled an innovative partnership between our Post-It brand and Evernote," Rao says, pointing to a prime example of an offline product going online. "We have an exciting pipeline of innovative solutions that exemplify the inherent technology strengths in diverse 3M markets and channels."
Another way 3M stays at the forefront of its industry is by keeping its ear to the ground, listening for new ideas and unaddressed consumer needs. "Social media has also become a source for inspired ideas that translate to new products," Rao says. "For example, in China we developed a new line of pedestrian safety solutions, based in large part on social media listening programs that identified unmet needs and a groundswell of interest in new solutions."
Like many large companies, 3M has to balance worthwhile risks with quarterly profits. "'Should I optimize the current portfolio to drive margins, or should I create new products and invest in telling a new story to my customers?'" Rao says, summing up the dilemma. "I think it's a fine balance."
To address the issue, 3M coordinates carefully between both rather than sacrifice one for the other. 3M's marketing initiatives have concentrated on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. They also utilize YouTube, which has a plethora of shareable content. Concurrently, eCommerce initiatives are rolled out, testing price points, package design, and other consumer-facing features.
Why is it so important to live online, particularly on social platforms? Rao answers that 3M wants innovation and higher price points to coincide; in other words, higher prices matched by higher quality items. "This can only be achieved when marketing activities are closely aligned to these objectives and allow us control over the conversations we need to have with the customers, versus relinquishing that to the channels," Rao says.
Creating Home Bases Abroad
Another balancing act that 3M has had to perform takes place in the ultimate big top: the global market. With over 25 global brands in a range of markets from consumer to electronic, it has been necessary for 3M to deliver satisfying consumer experiences. To sustain the kind of research and development that's necessary to juggle so many products and services, Rao cites a hefty R&D budget: $1.5 billion.
Creating localized customer experiences also necessitates a change in internal thinking. Rao comments on how 3M trains its employees to think outside of the box: "The big challenge is designing learning experiences for different levels of the organization that foster a new level of understanding, yet challenge us to break free from current channel or buyer/persona silos that are no longer relevant."
In the global markets, 3M utilizes social media to gain insight into consumer needs. In Latin America, for instance, 3M brands actually launch new product offerings on Facebook and other social media channels. This enables them to immediately gauge consumer response and observe what needs to be tweaked. It also provides insight into how consumers might use or view products in ways different than how people might in another country.
Success abroad is no easy feat for any company, even one as storied as 3M. So what's the takeaway on building a new home base abroad? Rao says that the key is "... to have courage and be prepared to risk losing some of the cultural heritage that has become embedded in our operational DNA."
In partnership with The CMO Club, The CMO of the Week series profiles CMOs who are shaping, changing and challenging the world of modern marketing. For Neisser's complete interview with CMO Award Winner Rao, click here.