Interview with Director, Brand and Core Marketing, 3M

“From a brand perspective, regardless of the product or market we are serving, we consistently remind customers, and even our own employees, that it all starts with 3M innovation and connecting ideas. This is the core and treasure of our capability, making 3M truly unique as a hub of proprietary technologies that can yield new and creative solutions in a way that other companies are unable to match.”

Given the breadth of industries you are part of and serve, how do you work to achieve a position of leadership for 3M that maintains broader stakeholder relevance?

With a company as globally diversified as 3M, relevance becomes a challenge when communicating the big picture. We know we have earned and will continue to earn our leadership position in numerous markets. This outcome is driven by world-class R&D, product commercialization, superior supply chain management, and customer-focused business/marketing leadership. From a brand perspective, regardless of the product or market we are serving, we consistently remind customers, and even our own employees, that it all starts with 3M innovation and connecting ideas. This is the core and treasure of our capability, making 3M truly unique as a hub of proprietary technologies that can yield new and creative solutions in a way that other companies are unable to match.

How does the 3M brand factor into the way you demonstrate your leadership in Corporate Citizenship? How do you communicate about both performance and perception in this area?

The 3M brand is prominent in every aspect of our leadership in Corporate Citizenship. Our employees are our brand ambassadors.

We have actively communicated our efforts around sustainability to 3Mers since before the term “sustainability” existed. We have awards-based activities for employees, such as the “Pollution Prevention Pays” and “Innovation Power Pitch for Sustainability” programs that encourage employees to get more actively involved in corporate citizenship, which in turn increases their ambassadorship. This month, we’re activating our first “Sustainability Week,” a series of events and discussions entirely focused on encouraging employees to better understand and get involved in creating a better world—and to do so both at work and at home. One key piece of the week is empowering employees to talk about these topics via social media and with families and friends.

Our award-winning volunteer efforts are substantial. Last year, around the world, 3Mers shared nearly 300,000 hours of service leadership in communities.

Globally, we have core platforms that pay homage to the work of students, teachers and the environment through funding of innovative programs, bearing the 3M name, but supporting the service of others. We actively support and communicate our partnerships with organizations like The Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Brands.

3M’s brand is inextricably linked to the 3M Foundation. Celebrating its 60th year, the 3M Foundation has contributed over USD $1.3 billion dollars in cash and products during this time to communities in the United States, supplemented by generous international donations.

Our brand is also prominent in the products we create that contribute to creating a better world. Whether it’s products that offer a sustainable advantage, or product donations like Nexcare™ bandages or Post-it® school supplies, we are not just a company that creates product, but cares for people and the environment. We continue to tell our corporate citizenship stories through enhanced marketing materials, more web content, and an annual sustainability report.

3M people, 3M products, 3M programs and the 3M purse—all bearing the 3M brand—have contributed to 3M’s recognition this year of substantial honors for its leadership in Corporate Citizenship in the US. These awards include 3M earning the United Way’s Highest National Honor, the Spirit of America, and the Mentoring Partnership’s First Corporate Mentoring in Excellence Award.

How are you hoping people will view 3M differently after experiencing the brand in leadership forums such as SXSW and more consistently in social media?

3M’s culture of innovation, one that is defined by idea sharing and inventive collaboration, has defined the success of our company for more than a century, and that won’t change. So it’s not about getting people to view us differently. I think it would be more accurate to say that we’re always looking for new and relevant ways to bring the richness of our story to life and connect with new audiences. I think it’s easier to do so when your brand is more tangible in a consumer context. For 3M, while we certainly achieve that exposure with beloved and iconic brands like Post-it® and Scotch®, we also want to open people’s eyes up to the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get through a typical day without coming into contact with several 3M products or technologies on numerous occasions. This is because so many of our products are embedded or “inside” other products, consistently optimizing performance and outcome to make life easier around the world. As we develop future generations of employees, business partners, and customers, we want to encourage greater understanding of who we are as a company—what we stand for from a values perspective and what we deliver from an innovation perspective.

Given the need to educate customers in important emerging markets about what 3M stands for, can you be credibly seen as a leader where you are not as well known?

The short answer is yes. When you combine the breadth and depth of world-class expertise, a drive to be locally relevant, and a robust product portfolio across numerous markets with a proven capability to scale, we know we can get there quickly. For years, we have successfully evolved the company, expanding into new geographies, industries, and markets. It doesn’t happen overnight. We take an approach that is strategic and thoughtful, always mindful of the balance needed between our global capabilities and being locally adaptive and relevant. This focus on performance and leadership is applied to every phase of the process, from manufacturing to design to packaging, customer service, marketing, brand communication, and so on.

How do you envision customers influencing your work to build a consistent understanding of your brand globally?

When you work for a company like 3M with such a broad reach across multiple markets, it would be impossible not to see your customers as critical advocates and storytellers. Some of this happens organically, as with any manufacturer these days, in the age of social media. Customers are not shy about sharing their experiences with our products and people, so it’s important to be inclusive, engaged, and responsive. We also take every opportunity, when telling our own stories, to involve customers when possible, as their testimonies of experience and use of our products brings added credibility and relevance to industry (or consumer) peers. This is a strategy we’ll continue to embrace as we tell (and share) the 3M story of making a difference in the world.

How does customer opinion and behavior currently affect and influence 3M’s leadership and how you go to market, and do you have any examples?

Customers are almost naturally involved in our innovation process at times, as we work collaboratively to understand how processes and solutions can be invented, changed, or improved. Our work is about making a difference in people’s lives, and customers are contributors—they help us find solutions.

What brand outside of your sector do you admire for its leadership abilities—and why?

I very much admire the Coca-Cola brand. I admire the consistency with which the brand is managed. No matter where you go in the world, it is a consistent experience with the brand—from logos, to colors, to heritage, to the feel-good essence of the brand, it is unwavering. And yet, at the same time, they are able to balance that global consistency and understanding with an ability to deliver local relevancy. That is amazing brand leadership.