Sales & Marketing

Redefining a Century-Old Story: Coca-Cola’s 4-Step Digital Transformation

Coke Adobe Campaign

After spending 130 years building a global brand, Coca-Cola is prepared to up the ante. Just 12 months ago, the company embarked on an aggressive 5-year digital transformation journey, according to David Godsman, Coca-Cola’s chief digital officer, while speaking recently at the 2018 Adobe Summit.

“Since 1886, we’ve essentially been on a journey. We began as a small consumer goods company and spent a number of years perfecting our product, then ultimately brought it to the masses,” said Godsman. “But we’re facing a new world. A digital world, and this is a world that is somewhat unknown to us. It’s a world where we need to learn more about our consumers, understand their behaviors, their preferences. It’s a world where we need to personalize at scale. And ultimately, it’s a world where we now need to bridge the physical and digital worlds together because our consumers don’t go anywhere without their mobile devices.”

To shift the traditional brick-and-mortar company to a digital-first business, Coke identified four critical areas of focus:

Experience transformation: How to create more relevant, more personalized experiences for consumers and the retail customers who serve them.

Operational transformation: How to make the company better from the inside by using data and technology to accelerate and remove processes and, ultimately, remove the barriers that exist.

Business transformation: How to create disruption within the company before external factors do.

Cultural transformation: How to change the fabric of a company that views itself as a traditional CPG.

“This is one of the hardest things we will do as a company,” admits Godson. “We are asking traditional brand marketers — who are brilliant at creating brands and executing campaigns — to become experience makers and think about the world differently.”

One of Coca-Cola’s greatest advantages is its scale. Serving 1.3 billion consumers globally, the company engages with about 18% of the world’s population every single day. This gives it the opportunity to take advantage of an abundance of data to create personalized experiences.

The challenge? All consumers are different. From different behaviors and preferences, to how they each choose to engage — mobile, computer, social, augmented reality, virtual reality, and now voice. “That’s a strange animal for us because it removes your brand, your packaging, and your point-of-sale capabilities,” notes Godsman of the last tool.

Coca-Cola has something it refers to as “Kiss the past hello,” its way of explaining the importance of learning from the past. That includes the good, the bad, what works and what didn’t, the storytelling and the composition work that was done as well. Evaluating how the consumer is changing, and how they’ve changed thus far, the story continues with the iconic Coca-Cola bottle.

“I invite the creative community to completely reimagine the word experience,” says James Sommerville, vice president of global design. “Everyone on this planet has the right to work with Coca-Cola and reimagine that experience. It starts with the packaging, the product, and looking at how we can further evolve our story from looking at our history.”

In China, the company is releasing cans designed with characters depicting iconic landmarks of a specific city. Someone from that city may recognize themselves — it’s a level of personalization, but at a community level. Consumers can then scan the can with their mobile device and the characters come to life.

With the #CokexAdobexYou campaign, Coke teamed with software company Adobe to invite consumers to create a work of art celebrating the brand, sport, movement, strength, and unity using Adobe Creative Cloud tools. Attracting more than 900 submissions, the campaign is an example of consumer enthusiasm for the brand.

“We are a company in transformation,” says Godsman. “Digital enables us to bring these experiences to the masses at scale, and technology is required to do that. In the end, we see a future as a company that is a co-creation environment with our consumers."

"We don’t see a world where we will continue as a traditional advertiser in that sense, and we know that if we go hand-in-hand with our consumers in the future, we’ll earn their hearts and minds," he continued. "We’ll continue to earn the right to be a part of their daily lives, and hopefully, if successful, we’ll help them live more fulfilling lives.”