As a Client Partner at Bazaarvoice, I’m often asked,”How do other companies do it?” From digital strategy to building cohesive word-of-mouth (WoM) programs and internalizing WoM, what is the secret sauce? To start answering these questions, I’ve interviewed two industry thought leaders, whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past few years: Tom Laier, Global eCommerce and eMarketing Manager for the Consumer Business Group at 3M, and Jon Shen, Senior Director of Interactive Marketing and Consumer Promotions at ConAgra.

To learn more about how enterprise businesses execute digital strategy, I spoke with Tom and Jon about their formalized process for responding to consumers online. Digital Center of Excellence (or DCOE) is an industry term for a centralized team of consumer facing organizations that focus on digital. I use the term broadly throughout this post, but it’s important to note that neither of the interviewees actually refers to their teams as DCOEs.

What is a high level summary of your DCOE?

Jon Shen: Our team was created in 2005 with a single person, and over the years has grown to seven team members currently providing expertise across our portfolio of consumer foods brands, as well as a few private [label] brands and commercial businesses. In addition, we lead multi-brand platforms such as ReadySetEat that benefit the portfolio of brands.

Tom Laier
Tom Laier, 3M

The Interactive Marketing team’s goal is to ”Connect consumers with the food you love wherever and whenever they desire.” We partner internally with other Centers of Excellence (COEs) to build integrated marketing plans on behalf of brand general managers. This requires our team to have deep digital expertise (most team members have spent the last decade in digital marketing with other customers or digital agencies) and strong relationships with our agency partners.

Tom Laier: The Consumer eHub (Our COE moniker) began in January 2010, and serves to keep 3M Consumer Business Group brands (think Post-it® Brand, Scotch® Brand, Scotch-Brite™ Brand, Nexcare™ Brand, and Command™ Brand) visible and relevant in an always-on world.  Key COE functional areas include eMarketing, eCommerce, Digital Asset Management, Traditional & Online Media, Multicultural and Consumer Insights.  Our teams work hand-in-hand with our brand teams managing communication plans and operational execution in concert with Marketing, Marcomm, and Agency partners.  Additionally, working with our Sales team and retailers we optimize eCommerce consumer touchpoints along the path to purchase.

How has your DCOE evolved since inception?

Tom Laier: Initially we staffed up core functional areas and added subject matter experts to accelerate digital expertise.  Many in our group are new to 3M and have valued digital experience with agencies, other CPG companies or retailers.  As brands have continued to shift media spend and drive towards digital engagement we have taken more direct control for media placement and refined processes, allowing for global replication and acceleration of winning tactics. Additional disciplines added to our group include Consumer Insights and Multicultural teams, this has been a great fit allowing for more holistic plans and strategic total market efforts towards our key consumer segments.

Jon Shen
Jon Shen, ConAgra

Jon Shen: When the team was created we built and maintained websites. Over the years, with emerging consumer habits and technology, the broader marketing team evolved into a paid (Media), earned (PR/Social), and owned (Interactive) model for the digital space. As the ”owned” pillar, our expertise has expanded to be more focused on certain skills and behaviors that provide value across the digital ecosystem. So whether it’s understanding the consumer path-to-purchase, creating an omnichannel presence, developing social media apps with our earned partners, building mobile experiences or creating online advertising, our expertise spans technology, creativity and nerdery (analytics mindset).

Did the team face any initial internal resistance?

Jon Shen: Fortunately, our CMO has been instrumental in creating the COE model and is very supportive of interactive marketing as a specific expertise.

Tom Laier: 3M has had many centralized service models over the years so this was nothing new for our teams.  Initially, as with any new shared services function, there were some who had concerns about getting their fair share of service.  To address these concerns we stayed close to our stakeholders by continually integrating our teams on a daily basis, aligning objectives and through relentless prioritization.  As an organization we are seeing a definite advantage to having a centralized function versus every division establishing separate digital teams.  The efficiency has come from cost savings, process refinements and acceleration and adoption of new tactics.  The capacity issues can still arise from time to time but we balance the internal workload and flex with agency support.

What are the various responsibilities of the DCOE?

Tom Laier: As mentioned above, our functional areas include Brand Advertising, eMarketing, eCommerce, Digital Asset Management, Consumer Insights, and Multicultural.  All functions work together and our open collaborative environment allows the teams to produce great brand experiences that resonate with our consumers.

Jon Shen: As the ”owned” pillar within the broader marketing team, we provide deep expertise that’s difficult for business owners to acquire across all facets of marketing. It’s impossible for a general manager running a business to know all the details on opportunities such as addressable media, iBeacon technology, f-commerce, and online rebate apps.

We bring value and expertise across the portfolio, something that is a challenge for an expansive roster of brands and businesses, and something that’s hard to identify as a single brand or category owner. [Further] we partner with our agencies and push for great ideas and solutions in a different manner since many of us sat on their side [of the table] during our careers.

Who do you serve?

Jon Shen: In addition to working across the consumer foods brands, private brands and commercial businesses, ultimately it’s our current and potential consumers, but also internal stakeholders. We report up through the CMO’s global marketing organization.

Tom Laier: [We serve] the consumer, our retailers and [key] stakeholders (e.g. brand marketing and sales teams).

What have been the top two to three outputs of the DCOE that have impacted your business in a positive way?

Tom Laier: We have gained efficiency by scaling programs and successes across multiple brands.  Specifically, account engagement focused on partnering to improve the customers online experience and shopping journey have seen big gains. Moving brands to a consumer focused strategy that provides solutions content (and UGC!) versus always leading with a product’s features and benefits story (see Mashable article) has been a big win. Additionally, our ability to share global best practices and accelerate adoption and training for consolidated enterprise technology solutions has helped drive our brand message more consistently.

Jon Shen: Broadly, our top success is that we’ve been able to prove out the value of digital marketing, which over the past five years has changed the internal conversation from ”Should we spend in digital marketing?” to ”How much can we spend in digital?” It’s now a significant portion of our annual marketing spend, which is great given consumer habits and trends.

What future goals/opportunities does the department have? What do you aspire to become?

Jon Shen: This one is easy to answer… with everything becoming digital, mobile being just part of how we live and most experiences being social by design, at some point we will quit using words like digital and mobile to describe our COEs. Those will just be an engrained part of how we think about the consumer connections, engagement and content.

You’ll notice that we don’t’ use the words digital or interactive marketing in our team’s goal to connect consumers with the food you love wherever and whenever they desire. This has been our mantra for a few years now.

As such, I jokingly say that my future goal is to engineer myself out of a job because our marketing will be fully inclusive. But we will always need expertise around technology, creativity and nerdery!

Tom Laier: We look to continue improving the user experience as our consumer evolves their shopping behaviors and retailers evolve their commerce experience.  Additionally, we will refine methods of managing global content needs for a business that services many consumer segments in many different categories and departments (e.g. hardware, office, craft, drug, household).  With a test and learn mantra, improving capabilities around data insights and value generation through deep analytics will also be at the forefront of what we aspire towards.  Lastly, staying ahead of the changing consumer path to purchase augmentation as technology and behavior evolve, [as we started the interview] always keeping our brands visible and relevant to our consumers.

I’m completely inspired by the foresight and vision of these thought leaders. I would agree with Jon that we will all drop the words digital and mobile from our vocabularies, and simply talk about content. We’ve all been feeling the evolution of paid, earned, and owned, how has your organization handled it? It’s been fascinating to work on this side of the fence and watch as mindsets have shifted from what should we invest in digital to how much can we invest.

If there is a heaven for the nerdery departments of the world – we’ll see you there!