Faaez Samadi
Feb 27, 2017

Fusing science and comms to create new markets at DSM

Angelique Paulussen talks about the joys and challenges of 'issues marketing', and heading comms for an under-the-radar brand aiming for nothing less than changing the world.

Angelique Paulussen
Angelique Paulussen

It’s not often you talk to a senior communications professional about creating entirely new markets from nothing. But when that executive works for a brand that makes totally new products that could change the world, it comes with the territory.

Such is the lot of Angelique Paulussen, senior vice president of communications and external affairs at Dutch science company DSM. Originally a mining firm, it has evolved into a health, nutrition and materials operation. Chances are you will eat or drink a product containing something from DSM today.

“We’re the biggest nutrition ingredients maker and vitamin maker in the world,” Paulussen tells Campaign Asia-Pacific. This category includes everything from the vitamin C in your orange juice to enzymes in your beer, cheese or yoghurt, she says. "The other side is material sciences, things under the hood of your car, or in your smartphone. We have Dyneema, a fibre which is 10 times stronger than steel but a lot lighter. We make ingredients for paint....”

For a company with such a broad reach across the scientific spectrum, and one which is primarily a B2B company, the communications and marketing remit is unsurprisingly complex. Paulussen believes B2B marcomms is “far more sophisticated” than B2C, and especially at DSM where the function is quite literally market changing.

“If you’re in the B2B space, you’re working with one customer, but you also need to know what’s in the value chain before and after that customer,” she explains. “If our key point is we’re selling solutions to global challenges, then you really need to know the whole business context as well.

“Sometimes we know there’s an issue and we have to tell the customer that we can influence the whole sphere around it.”

Creating demand

Thus we come to the most interesting aspect of Paulussen and her global comms team’s work: that of creating markets for products that have never existed before.

Example: DSM has created recyclable carpets. Ordinary carpets cannot be recycled, and are one of the biggest landfill problems today. It’s a significant innovation, but nobody knows about it. So, Paulussen says, the comms and marketing units have to engage in what the company calls “issues marketing”.

“You have to talk to stakeholders to create this new market, because people don’t know carpets are recyclable," she says. "So we first have to make consumers aware of the problem, and then present our solution. We are creating certain markets that simply aren’t there yet.”

Similarly—and this is an innovation particularly relevant to Asia, Paulussen says—DSM has created a new fortified rice product that sees vitamins and minerals built into a manufactured grain that's indistinguishable from natural-grown rice. This is superior to the common approach of fortifying rice by spraying nutrients on natural-grown grains, because people tend to wash rice before cooking, the company says.

This could be a game-changer in terms of tackling childhood malnutrition, but again, there is no market yet. Advocacy, government and stakeholder relations, and solid marketing strategy are needed to solve this issue, Paulussen says.

“Our focus for Asia is nutrition improvement," she explains. "If you really want to tackle malnutrition, you look at normal habits and see if you can fortify them. There are lots of studies showing that if you can get a child the right nutrition early and sustain it, you can actually raise the GDP of that country. So there are quite a lot of nations here in Asia that we can still help.”

Marketing such innovations is a constant, exciting challenge, Paulussen says, and feeds into her belief that B2B is a harder nut to crack than B2C.

“Do you first talk to the NGOs so they campaign about the problem?” she asks. “Or to the government? Or to trade federations that give the right certification? So the whole approach is different.

“And we also still do quite a lot of business, because we supply the solution. It’s very sophisticated campaigning that is beyond just selling ice cream or chocolate. It depends a lot on both communications and marketing skills.”

DSM’s core commitment of responding to social challenges through innovation also serves its needs as a business, Paulussen says.

Things such as a partnership with the UN World Food Programme, providing nutrients and minerals—“lots for free and some we sell, after all we are a business not an NGO”—has boosted the company’s brand and “helps our credibility when you’re talking to companies like Nestle and Unilever”.

DSM's Bright Minds Challenge promoting science on Twitter

Paulussen’s comms teams and the marketing unit are no strangers to digital media either, she stresses, despite being B2B. A recent solar energy campaign in China was conducted exclusively through social media, as is DSM’s work with the Ocean Cleanup project.

The company has a reasonable presence in Asia but is looking to step this up, with key focus markets being China, India and Japan. Paulussen already has comms teams on the ground, admitting that “diversity in Asia is sometimes underestimated from Europe; you think you can just translate a press release and send it out”.

For an innovative science company, Asia represents a lot of fertile ground, Paulussen says. But, more importantly for her, there are a lot of places for DSM and its products, with the help of its marketing and communications teams, to do some good.

“That’s why we’re such a cool company,” she states simply. “We’re really doing things that can change the world.”

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