What is yellow, created completely by accident, and sold more than 50 billion times each year?

Is this a fun Marketing riddle? Or is this today’s brand of focus? 👀

Sold 50 biliion times each year? Can’t be a brand, those are outrageous numbers.

Well it IS. 

Marketing Student, today’s lesson focuses on a product that changed the way the world received messages, and we’re not talking about the iPhone.

Let’s jump back to the 1970s…

3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) Scientist Spencer Silver was intently researching adhesives when he struck a gold mine…an adhesive that stuck to a variety of surfaces without bonding tightly to them.

It was sticky, but had a “removability” characteristic. And this discovery was so profound that they tossed it to the side and ignored it. LOL.

Spencer was focused on developing tougher adhesives. One that could stick on a wall and then on a fridge and then on a book didn’t interest him.

But then at work one day another 3M scientist, Art Fry, was complaining about the tiny scraps of paper he used to mark the hymns they sang church and how they kept falling out of the hymnal.

Only if there was a way to bookmark the exact hymns without damaging the delicate pages.

AHA, Spencer had JUST the solution, his removable adhesive!

This is creativity in FULL effect. Being “creative” doesn’t just pertain to the abstract creative you use in your ads, but with every aspect of your go-to Market strategy. From the way you source your product to the way you solve customer’s pain points, creativity can be used in ALL of it.

Silver and Fry partnered, beginning their iteration with the product. 

3M’s corporate headquarters became the testing grounds for their product, placing the sticky pieces of paper throughout the offices, and handing them out to employees to try.

Silver and Fry gave minimal direction for the 3M employees on how to use the product and instead observed the discovered use cases by employees. 

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Within weeks they realized fewer employees were using them as a means to mark their page on a book or in a memo and more were using it for quick communication with coworkers.

I mean they both are scientists, so am I surprised they were Marketing savvy enough to find product market fit before investing loads of cash into the product? Yes LOL.

By initially seeding the product to 3M employees, the pair was able to get incredibly vital feedback on their product that refined their approach to the market. This also forced the scientists hands, IN A GOOD WAY.

This ensured that they were designing and Marketing their product with the end consumer in mind. Too often companies design and market for their own egos, flashing their G2 badges on their websites, celebrating hitting revenue goals (YES celebrate internally), but ultimately your customers only care about how YOU can help THEM.

LISTEN to your customers, and if they aren’t your customers yet, but they’re in your target demographic, LISTEN to them.

This gave the scientists enough confidence to take the product to market, releasing in 4 cities under the name Press ‘n Peel. AND…


The groundbreaking tech saw mixed results and 3M pulled it off the market.

Silver and Fry knew their product had legs, they just needed a way to get it up off the ground. They revisited the free sample strategy (DOUBLE down on what works) and executed a MASS sampling effort in Boise, Idaho. A “Boise Blitz” as some called it. (I love me some alliteration.)

Taking their initial customer feedback that the product was primed for quick communication, the scientists focused on giving free samples to executives and their assistants. It turned out to be a HUGE success

90% of the businesses receiving free samples re-ordered. 90 freaking percent.

Today’s equivalent of freemium pricing in the SaaS world, the free samples gave consumers a taste of what 3M offered, they realized how much more efficient communication between executives and their assistants was with the notes, and ALL buyer hesitation was removed.

Plus leveraging a little bit of consumer psychology doesn’t hurt. The reciprocity principle is powerful, if you go above and beyond for a brand, consumers are more likely to feel the urge to do the same for you (aka buy your product and become a brand ADVOCATE).

The scientists officially relaunched in 1980 under the name “Post-it Notes” and took the world by storm.

Post-it Notes have become THE STANDARD of office supplies, your office isn’t official unless you’ve got Post-it Notes. 

As of 2016 3M produces and sells more than 50 billion Post-it notes every year, and the official Post-it Note app has a 4.7 star rating with over 10,000 reviews on the Apple app store. Those tiny sheets of paper have become a money-making machine.

OH one more thing. When you think of Post-it Notes what comes to mind? The color yellow? Yes. That is years of effective branding and alignment. 

Also the color yellow is associated with creativity and innovation, what do consumers use Post-it Notes for??

It’s the little things that set the best brands apart.

Daniel Murray
Daniel Murray
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