3M has always been known as one of America’s most innovative companies. In its 112-year history, the consumer packaged goods giant has introduced a variety of consumer and business-facing products.
Others you might not be as familiar with, like the first hypoallergenic surgical tape (invented by 3M in 1960) or the now ubiquitous Thinsulate thermal insulation, designed by the company in 1979.
Those are just four of 3M’s 50,000+ product lines. Its marketers, of course, don’t expect you to know them all. Even if you were aware of a dozen products, 3M’s work would not be finished, they tell Mashable.
Rather than singularly pursuing brand awareness, 3M’s marketing strategy instead emphasizes the utility of the company’s offerings and how those products can be applied to make tasks, projects and relationships simpler and more creative.
“We want consumers to see the relevance of our technology,” says Remi Kent, global brand strategy leader in 3M’s Consumer Business Group.
“Post-it, for example, isn’t about the stickiness of the Post-it,” she says. “It’s about how Post-its can add many small touches to your life — like helping you remember facts, send a personal message to a family member or organize your life.” It’s what the technology brings to consumers’ lives that makes the company’s marketing stick.
Post-its’ most recent campaign, “Go Ahead,” aims to showcase the subtler ways sticky notes can make a difference in a person’s life. In a series of videos, titled “Dream Big,” “Inspire,” “Start Fresh” and “Reach Out,” mothers, teachers, friends, co-workers, sons and many others use Post-it notes to complete a wide range of tasks, as well as to creatively communicate with one another.
What makes the commercial sing, Kent says, is that the Post-it applications featured in it — like a mother sending her son to school with a warmly worded Post-it note placed in his lunch bag, or a teacher using Post-its to teach math to her students. These vignettes don’t come from 3M’s marketers. Instead, they’re sourced from 3M’s users, who are frequently asked on social media to share how they use Post-its in their lives.
“‘Go Ahead’ takes Post-it beyond the analog use of writing a note,” Kent says. “It inspires creativity and taps into the human connection that teachers have with students and that moms have with their families.”
Finding Modern-Day Relevance
In addition to feeding 3M’s TV campaigns, user-generated content from social media has also informed the company’s marketing team about what habits its consumers are adopting, Kent says.
In 2012, 3M examined trends through social listening and discovered that large segments of its Scotch tape consumers were passionate about the “maker movement” — an ascendent DIY subculture of engineering, robotics and crafts enthusiasts who would rather get their hands dirty making a device than buy it from a store.
Though identifying the maker culture was a step in the right direction for 3M, it also forced the company and, more specifically, the Scotch marketing team, to reexamine their brand images. How would Scotch get 20-somethings to use the brand’s nearly 90-year-old technology on something they just created with a 3D printer?
Kent says Scotch shifted its messaging away from function (i.e. how strong the tape is) to how Scotch tape can enable creativity and aesthetic beauty. To support that messaging, Scotch launched its Expressions line, which offers 100 tapes with a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns.
“The brand has gone from the ‘mend and repair’ advertising like Scotty McTape, which is cartoonish and not as relevant, to Scotch Expressions, which is focused on millennials and empowering creativity and self-expression,” she says.
The Importance of Content Marketing
Appealing to DIY’ers and millennials is now deeply ingrained in 3M’s marketing tactics. To reach this cohort, the company endeavors to be where they are (on social media) and also in conversation with them.
The latter marketing philosophy has begun to pick up steam with America’s major brands, who, through metrics, are seeing that most consumers turn away when advertisements and content talk at them, not with them.
“Historically, the Post-it brand — just likely many brands — had spoken to consumers or at them,” says Jennifer Stoltenow, global marketing communications lead for 3M’s Post-it brand. “Since we’ve been engaging in digital, we’ve had an opportunity to test messaging and hear what people are excited about, which we can go and reflect in campaigns.”
3M’s largest content-specific marketing gambit to date has been its 3MDIY web portal, a hub for DIY mavens to scour project ideas and discover step-by-step projects.
“Instead of delivering a product-specific story, we’ve created a community of DIY’ers and given them content specific to the project they’re working on,” Kent says.
This year, Post-it has reworked its digital philosophy and introduced a content-first platform that deemphasizes product placements in favor of building community and serving relevant content. As Post-it has retreated from product placements on site, it’s experienced a major uptick in many important digital metrics. Stoltenow says the amount of time consumers spend on Post-its’ site is up 50% since it went content-focused. Additionally, users are spending 20% more time on various pages of the site.
A Post-it Marriage
Metrics aside, 3M’s marketers say they’re most pleased when customers take to social media to share stories about how 3M products have positively impacted their lives.
— Aly (@alykate) April 4, 2014
In San Francisco this year, for example, downtown residents and workers played hangman, drew characters, wrote messages and made tentative plans to meet by deftly arranging Post-it notes on office windows. They then tracked the movement by creating an “sfpostit” hashtag.
One story, however, stands out from the rest. Post-it community members on Facebook alerted the brand to a couple whose marriage was, quite literally, created by Post-it notes. The story goes that a man and a woman worked in a office together. Eventually, they began flirting with one another using Post-it notes. Eventually, the man used another Post-it note to ask the woman out on a date.
When the time came for the man to propose to his girlfriend, you can guess how he did so — via Post-it note. She said yes, and the story was brought to the attention of the brand team, who knew they had to get involved with the wedding. For the ceremony, the company designed flower bouquets and a backdrop made of Post-its.
“We were able to pull this information from our community, celebrate our consumers and show how we can unlock opportunities with the Post-it brand,” Stoltenow says.