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7 content marketing lessons from Coke [case study]

Author's avatar By Danyl Bosomworth 16 Nov, 2012
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Are they The Real Thing?

I read yesterday that Coke have a new revamped corporate website, a nice example of responsive design. Not your average corporate site and a major step in implementing their 2020 vision for marketing. It's a site that's much closer to being a consumer magazine title than what we might expect from a large corporate website.


Are Coke a little late?

I've mixed feelings about Coke being positioned as pioneering in modern marketing, listening to them you'd be forgiven for believing that their Content 2020 vision is somehow leading edge, world changing stuff. They are "ahead of the game" compared to some corporates on one hand, I guess, yet on the other hand, especially given their size, they're way behind the pace.

To top it off, they're seriously embarrassed by Red Bull when it comes to inspiring and market leading content marketing, in fact marketing in any form. I have no doubt that they gaze enviously at Red Bull these days - how times change from the 1950's Coke billboards, where spending more cash than anyone else pretty much guaranteed your success [link Seth], not the case in 2012.

“Coca-Cola can no longer rely on 30-second-TV-centric brand communications...

 we must instead create the most compelling content in the world... 

we have to have fat and fertile ideas at our core.”

Jonathan Mildenhall, VP Global Advertising Strategy & Creative, Coca-Cola

Provocation over conversation?

The area where Coke's position feels a little contrived to me is where they talk about "provocation," which doesn't sound so 'social'? That word starts to feel a little like the usual big brand "hey look at our ace stuff," complete with Facebook advertising and promoted tweets, as opposed to actually being a part of the social conversation. In reality, it'll be difficult for Coke to genuinely be a part of the social conversation, as you'd suspect a lot of the conversation around their brand is not a conversation they'll be so keen to have.

That said, nor is their problem unique - after all is Coca-Cola any more unhealthy, a product than say Red Bull - less so, probably. So it stands then, make your content amazing enough, I'm thinking Old Spice Guy, Tippex's Hunter and Red Bull's Stratos or Art of Flight, and of course that social conversation actually looks after itself, the brand is halo'd even if people aren't necessarily a fan of the product.

“The hot thing is to talk about being publishers. We have this belief in great, real content and creating content that can be spread through any medium as part of our ‘liquid and linked’ strategy… my team, the digital communications and social media team, has been re-formed in the last year to look more like an editorial team at a long-lead magazine… with a production schedule and an editorial calendar.”

Ashley Brown, Director for digital communications and social media, Coca-Cola Company

Coke's Content 2020 marketing vision

Coke do have a serious vision though, and it's always worth taking time to see what we can learn for our own brands and organisations.

Video 1

Video 2

I've summarised our 7 take-aways below and also embedded the videos below so that you can watch them yourself.

7 content marketing lessons from Coke

When you watch the videos you'd be forgiven for immediately thinking that this is the usual brand or corporate rhetoric, but if you dig deeper there's, not surprisingly, much that we can take from what Coke are saying. The majority of the messages are things you'll have heard before, more than once most likely, but the Coke spin is equally interesting.

  • (1) Big brands are publishers - brands like Coke are accepting that they need to act like publishers in order to earn consumer attention, we all do. That they need to engage with their consumer and not dictate to them. The reality is that Red Bull is leading this [link] drive more than any other consumer brand, especially in Coke's market. Coke talk about "Liquid and Linked" content, which is interesting.
    This is 'uncontrollably great content' to you and I, content that's made of connected molecules of branded content that don't become detached from the overarching story, or liquid. Nice analogy, though again - Red Bull is already doing it, what's more "gives you wings" than guys flying through the air on bikes, snowboards or more recently, in Felix Baumgartner's case, breaking the sound barrier 24 miles above the earth with nothing but a parachute.
  • (2) Content needs to be great - I think the recognition from Coke that they need to "…produce liquid ideas (and content) that earns a disproportionate share of popular culture" is really important. They appreciate there is no longer a market for brand messages and advertising. And, content is not made equally, it needs to be 'stand-out' stuff. It's key if we recognise that marketing has genuinely moved inbound, away from outbound and interruptive, the goal being to earn attention and build trust, and sell later. Importantly, Coke also recognise that they need to be the "ruthless editor" too, that they don't want to "get lost in noise", or worse, become irritating to their genuine fan base.

  • (3) Have purpose - it may of course be full-on corporate rhetoric, who knows, but I'm a big fan of Coke's over-arching purpose for content. No, not sales! But to "make the world a better place," this being their "guiding star". It's a strong mission statement that they can be held account to by their fans. Now of course you can argue a sugar rich product range is far from making the world better, so let's judge this from a pure content marketing stand-point. There's a huge creative opportunity when a brand like Coke want to make the world a better place, it's also differentiating from Red Bull. The idea of Coke's "Live Positively Principles" sounds like a big area to expand into from a content marketing stand-point and can work with an unhealthy product.
  • (4) Great ideas and creative - this was a real, stand-out element of their video for me, I'm often critical of modern marketing due to lacking, well, in actual marketing over what is more often than not little more than 'channel strategy' and 'optimisation'. It all misses the point of what marketing is about, people. So when a brand like Coke wants to create space for "big, fat, fertile thinking", about ensuring "big, fat, fertile creative briefs," and committing to bigger thinking at the heart of all briefs - "seeking bigger transformational actions over small incremental thinking", then they're talking my language. And, I can believe in their future success, too. After all, what is more important in marketing than imagination - I can tell you - nothing. The rest looks after itself, just look at the most successful marketing around for proof. If you take one thing from Coke, this (combined with the next point!) is it.
  • (5) The importance of data - this was the other real stand-out point for me, and if I am honest a real surprise. "Data is the new soil for ideas to grow…", says Coke, "data whispers are the new messiahs." They could not be more right. We've never had access to so much intelligence should we choose to use it. I think Coke are spot on to recognise the importance of data as a part of creating those big fat, fertile creative briefs. And then, of course, appreciating that they need to be brave, to measure what happens, to "iterate, iterate, iterate" and improve what they do based on what they learn at implementation. Good stuff, Coke.
  • (6) Storytelling binds content together - you'll probably be familiar with the idea of course, but Coke have again brought some useful insight to the table. Looking beyond the marketing BS of "we must develop incremental elements of a brand idea, dispersed across multiple channels of conversation to create a unified brand idea," or something to that affect, they talk of "value and significance". Recognising that the world's most engaging content must have real substance, it must engage and spark conversation. Stories need to be expressed consistently through every possible connection and anchored to a "guiding star." This, they believe, will enable them to have a real impact on popular culture, through world-class, relevant creative.
  • (7) Strategy and commitment - I genuinely appreciate Coke's 70%-20%-10% model for content creation. It brings a simple and useful model to the table, I believe. They're thinking about proper content strategy here. 70% of content, they say, is bread and butter content, it'll be low risk and keeps in the game, it'll take 70% of the time resource. 20% of their content will be more innovative, it will work harder to engage the audience at a deeper level, it will carry some risk. 10% of content is high risk, based upon brand new, creative ideas - that this will also (importantly) supply the base for tomorrow's 70% and 20% content. This tells us that Coke appreciates that this is big stuff, that content marketing takes time and requires real support and investment, again we can look at Red Bull to see this playing out for real.

Let us know what you take from this in the comments - is it useful or just marketing or corporate rhetoric?

Author's avatar

By Danyl Bosomworth

Dan helped to co-found Smart Insights in 2010 and acted as Marketing Director until leaving in November 2014 to focus on his other role as Managing Director of First 10 Digital. His experience spans brand development and digital marketing, with roles both agency and client side for nearly 20 years. Creative, passionate and focussed, his goal is on commercial success whilst increasing brand equity through effective integration and remembering that marketing is about real people. Dan's interests and recent experience span digital strategy, social media, and eCRM. You can learn more about Dan's background here Linked In.

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