LAS VEGAS – You wouldn’t think that a 130-year-old beverage company whose products are consumed by more than 10,000 people every second needed a digital facelift but, Coca Cola CDO David Godsman told the crowd at the recent Adobe Summit marketing conference, you’d be wrong.
In fact, Godsman told the audience, the Coca-Cola Company is only 12 months into an ambitious five-year digital transformation plan that aims to convert what he called a “traditional brick and mortar business” into a “digital-first business” by concentrating on four specific “focus areas”: experience transformation, operational transformation, business transformation, and cultural transformation.
“We’re facing a new world,” he said. “We’re facing 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 preferences, their behaviours. It’s a world where we need to personalize at scale… and ultimately it’s a world in which we need to bridge the physical and digital worlds together, because our consumers – your consumers – don’t go anywhere without their mobile devices.”
Coca Cola is hardly a stranger to transforming its business, he noted – established in 1886, the company didn’t begin its aggressive expansion outside North America until the 1950s, and it wasn’t until 1960, when it acquired Minute Maid, that it began significantly expanding its portfolio. (Today the company owns 3500 products such as Dasani water, which is consumed by nearly 30 million people every week in the U.S. alone, and is sold in more than 200 countries).
“We have [focused on], essentially, from that time to this moment, perfecting our distribution,” Godsman said. “Perfecting the way we bring our product to the market and ensuring that we execute without absolute certainty.”
But today, he said, that’s no longer enough.
Coca Cola’s goals with its four focus areas are:
- Experience transformation: Creating more relevant, personalized experiences for our consumers, and for the customers who serve them;
- Operational transformation: Using data and technology to accelerate new processes and remove redundant ones “making ourselves better inside,” Godsman said;
- Business transformation: Disrupting its own operations before others disrupt them first; and
- Cultural transformation: Changing the fabric of a 130-year-old company that, for most of its history, has viewed itself as a traditional consumer packaged goods firm.
“I think… this is one of the hardest things we will do as a company, in full transparency,” Godsman said. “You’re asking traditional brand marketers who are brilliant at creating brands and executing campaigns to become experience makers. To think about the world differently.”
An unparalleled opportunity – and also a challenge
Coca Cola does, of course, have one significant advantage over its digitally transforming counterparts: Scale.
It reaches approximately 18 per cent of humanity every day, Godsman said, and that gives the company an unparalleled opportunity to create personalized experiences.
But that opportunity also carries a challenge, he added:
“Our consumers are different. They have different behaviours, different preferences… [they] engage with us in very different ways… in mobile, on web, in social, through AR.”
Coca Cola’s response, he said, has been to embrace that challenge as an opportunity to create a unified, omni-channel experience that helps it reach customers around the world, regardless of their language or location, and unifies them under a single brand experience.
More importantly, Godsman said, digital platforms have allowed Coca Cola’s audience to actively participate in the creation of brand experiences such as Pakistan’s Coke Studio and its “Share a Coke” campaign, which began in Australia.
“Talk about experience makers,” Godsman said, sharing a series of user-generated tweets. “Our consumers are experience makers… and this happens tens of thousands of times per day because of their love and affinity for the brand.”
— Erik Zou (@zou_erik) March 25, 2018
— Milton Gold™ (@miltongold) March 23, 2018
— TheBarkingBullDawg (@Hitch914) March 22, 2018
“In the end, we see a future as a company that is a co-creation environment with our consumers,” he said. “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, ultimately we’ll win their hearts and minds.”