It’s a rare situation—DuPont is one of the oldest companies in the U.S. and is still considered one of the most innovative and creative. DuPont as a business entity dates all the way back to 1802, and since then we have invented, or should I say “reinvented,” ourselves again and again. In the 1850s, after half a century of developing and selling explosives, we shifted our focus to chemicals and energy. In the 20th century alone, we came up with Lucite, Nylon, Dacron, Tyvek®, Kevlar®, amidst countless other world-changing breakthroughs. But something happened as the 21st century approached. DuPont realized that we needed to change tracks once again, and not simply from one product line to another. We needed to change the nature of the company itself to one that expands innovation from the labs to a global community of collaborators working together to solve the myriad challenges facing a changing and growing world. As we like to put it, we have created a $34.8 billion “global collaboratory.”
Today we operate across diverse sectors from sustainable solutions and communications and electronics to agriculture and nutrition and health. The bedrock concept underpinning all of our work is that we would all be better off if everyone’s collective ingenuity was put to use to help feed the world, protect people and the environment, and reduce human dependence on fossil fuels. That might sound like corporate spin, but the truth is that these goals have underscored a fundamental shift in who we are, what we do and how we do it.
And so we needed a fundamental shift in how we told our story. We waived traditional marketing activities and, instead, decided to speak with (not to) the world about the challenges we face together and the solutions we can co-author. We have been running a content experiment of sorts for years now, having pulled back from the kinds of entertainment and sports sponsorships that formerly defined us, and poured the vast majority of our communications budget into content. We took this risk because we believed that content can unlock true collaboration inside and outside our walls. I think our work here can be a model in the same way our global collaboratory is. I ask you to indulge me as I describe how content can be much more than just marketing – it can be an intrinsic part of a company’s offering.
When DuPont began its transformation in 2010, we knew we needed a vehicle to lift awareness of our brand while also shifting the perception of who we were to who we have become. We didn’t think that our story lent itself to 30-second television spots or to single magazine ads. These vehicles work well when you are selling things like snack crackers, but can be limiting when you are trying to solve global issues.
If we were going to help retool our society for the challenges of feeding itself, weathering disasters, and creating a sustainable energy future, we needed the active engagement of the entire community, not just the businesses and institutions that are our customers. And the way to do that hasn’t changed since the days of cave paintings. Storytelling. DuPont made storytelling one of our products in order to help as many people as possible to grasp the full dimensions of the problems we all face living on this planet.
This content campaign consisted of three pillars: food, energy, and protection. We built content that was topical, transformative, and likely to spark conversation—whether it’s with everyday people on the ground looking for help with life’s real challenges (like how to plant rice more efficiently), or policy creators, thought leaders, elected officials charged with feeding entire nations, and everyone in between. For example: We launched a Food Security Index, ranking countries on how successfully and sustainably they are feeding their people with adequate and nutritious food.
To bring the content to life, we partnered with some of the most authoritative content providers on the planet. We formed a landmark collaboration with the BBC for “Horizons”–a documentary show, sponsored by DuPont and developed independently by BBC World News, inviting the world to help us find some answers by using entertainment to start a conversation. Now entering its third season, Horizons maps out the future of global business and predicts which companies will change the way we live our lives over the next decade. It is the second-most watched show on BBC World News and has already reached 245 million people. Horizons does more than just provide fodder for a conversation—it hosts one, too. We created mini-documentaries in social channels and put on global forums for world leaders in order to focus on solving the world’s toughest problems.
We launched a major print and electronic collaboration with National Geographic centered on the global milestone of a population of 7 billion. With Fortune, we built a major partnership consisting of three co-written whitepapers that were promoted in advertorials and supported by a series of 21 short films. All of that will culminate in Fortune Global Forum in Chengdu, China at the beginning of June.
YouTube and Twitter continue to be hubs that help us spread the word. We’re also learning from consumer-centric businesses how to bring behavior-based targeting and content to DuPont—by creating the likes of a new crop-protection site, where people can plug in their specific concerns about their situation and get customized help.
We believe we’ve created the first comprehensive use of content, and we really do see that content as one of DuPont’s main products. It may not make money for us in its own right, but our collaborative storytelling does foster greater profitability in many of our businesses. Our research shows that 22 percent of mini-documentary viewers said they were more likely to view DuPont as “future facing” and 26 percent were more likely to strongly associate DuPont with protecting the environment.
The global collaboratory only works when it is a true collaboration, uniting governments, businesses, and people together in a quest to ensure food security, human protection, and energy sustainability. Advertising, it is said, is disposable, while content is distributable. I’d like to amend that a bit: Turning our society away from the disposable will require widely distributable answers. By diving below the surface of problems, our content is helping us all get rolling toward those solutions.
Scott Coleman is Chief Marketing and Sales Officer of DuPont
[Recycling with seedlings: Elnur via Shutterstock]