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It's the Journey That Matters: Coca-Cola Opens Up With Story-Based Web Refresh

Posted by Shirley Brady on November 12, 2012 07:02 PM

The New York Times' Stuart Elliott broke the story this morning about Coca-Cola relaunching its corporate website. Armed with that revamped website, Coca-Cola now wants to break more of its own stories.

While maintaining the same website address for the Coca-Cola Company, the content is now arranged and commissioned to resemble a slick magazine or digital media brand's website, with the emphasis on storytelling from around the world. The inspiration came from the top, as Elliott recounts, when chairman and CEO Muhtar Kent charged his marketing and communications executives to refresh the company's old employee magazine, Journey, which ran from 1987 to 1997, for the digital age.

Having spent 2011 celebrating Coca-Cola's 125th anniversary, they were inspired to tell the forward-looking journey of the Coca-Cola company's multitude of brands in a more engaging, digital fashion — taking a page from Journey to reimagine the company's online and digital presence in a fresh, more engaging way that incorporates social media and blogging from around the world. The relaunched website (its first relaunch since 2005, after being launched in 1995) is described by NYT's Elliott as "the company's most ambitious digital project to date" for good reason.

Ashley Brown, director of digital communications and social media for the company, walked Elliott through what's new on the more editorially-focused website, which creates, aggregates and curates content while maintaining the core functions of a corporate website (careers, investor relations, press releases, executive bios). It's not just content marketing, either, with a focus on original content that's not just self-promotional.

Brown says the goal is to spark a debate, and host differing points of view, while showing the totality of Coca-Cola in a way that surprises and establishes a lively brand voice, one that Brown says had to be created "from scratch" with this launch. So how would he sum up that voice, as expressed through the new digital home of the Coca-Cola brand? "Smart, fun and fearless" — not exactly words you'd associate with the world's biggest brand. And that's the whole point.

The other goal was to rip up the staid confines of a traditional corporate website, which can be, well, boring, and see more of the 1.2 million unique visitors to the website each month become repeat visitors.

Today, visitors to the new Coca-Cola Company site will find a story on an educational project in India on the homepage, featuring a journalistic headline ("Head of the Class") and dateline (New Delhi), an approach that would not look out of place on the website of TIME or the New York Times. Indeed, Brown says he and his team, along with agencies Perfect Sense Digital and The Wonderfactory, audited those websites and many more, drawing inspiration from a number of smart digital properties: National Geographic for its use of stunning visuals, Slate for its tone ("slightly irreverent but still serious"), even Google's Think Quarterly online journal.

An example of the content across the newly Journeyfied Coca-Cola website, which features 80 original stories at launch:

  • The first tab, tellingly, is Stories, where you can read the lead story — about how Marlen Esparza, one of the "eight-pack" of Olympic athletes that the company helped sponsor to compete in the London 2012 Summer Games, inspired a young woman to follow her own dreams. Or find out how the 2011  Japanese earthquake and tsunami inspired the "impossible vending machine."
  • Check out Opinions to find out why Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola SVP of integrated marketing communications, thinks an Ad Age column on women in the workplace misses the point.
  • Click on Brands and you won't just see a list of the company's legion of brands worldwide, although that's just a click away, but an integrated social hub that humanizes those brands by pulling in their conversations on Google+, LinkedIn and Twitter (Facebook, while important, is tougher to pull in).
  • The Videos tab highlights some of the company's most creative work — its campaigns — such as its Coke Zero viral marketing ploy for the new James Bond Skyfall opening that turned unsuspecting Londoners into agents on a mission.
  • The Blogs tab is the home for internal and external voices (including Interbrand CEO Jez Frampton) to weigh in. Under the banner of "Unbottled," Coca-Cola's first ever corporate blog was given a sneak peek in September, when the blog quietly launched to start building up conversations with content that would be more "liquid" and shareable on social media, as Brown told PR Week. Naturally, you can read Brown's blog post on today's launch of Coca-Cola Journey, which "consists of 674 article pages and 772 asset pages. For launch, our team of original contributors created more than 80 original pieces. We uploaded 715 images to pair with content, and there are an additional 523 downloadable hi-res images for media use. Finally, we posted and categorized 5,354 YouTube videos."

All this content isn't cheap, entailing a multimillion-dollar commitment by Coca-Cola — and takes planning and time, of course. There's now an editorial calendar that's teeing up digital content four to five months out, managed by four full-time employees for the corporate website in addition to 40 freelance writers and photographers, not to mention the global and regional marketing and PR teams tapping into the entire Coca-Cola network of 700,000 system associates (staff and bottling partners) worldwide. That network of people has the potential to generate about "16 million Coke stories in the social graph," Brown says of the social reach and potential to find and share stories and content ideas.

While Coca-Cola is widely viewed as a pioneer among brands on social media just based on its massive footprint of followers, it's now getting serious about engaging in a meaningful way, he adds, so this is about more than relaunching a website — it's about taking the company to the next phase on social.

"We're now stitching everything together: Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn," Brown says. "Over the last four months our tweets, for instance, have become not about 'broadcasting' but engaging, and driving to real content that inspires. We're looking at 'Journey' as your sit-back, high quality, 'learn something new'" digital portal to all things Coca-Cola. The blogs, he adds, are "your lean-forward, very snackable information and breaking news — informative and dynamic."

Put it all together, and you've got a branded, corporate version of 1,001 Arabian Nights — stories and insights that draw you in, hopefully, again and again. 

"We have an iconic brand, but from water to education to empowering women to creating the 007 video that makes you smile, there was no one property that told that total story," Brown says. "We had brand pages, but there was nothing that knitted it all together into the story of us. We live in an incredible social age, but our web properties had been created in an era before social media. So we wanted to take all that great storytelling that we were sharing internally and share it with the world. We want to share a Coke perspective and Coke's POV, but this doesn't mean it's entirely Coke's POV. We want to have credibility and spark conversations." (Indeed, Brown told Elliott that a viewpoint by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's made it his personal mission to shrink the size of soda beverages, would be welcome on the new website — virtually unthinkable before.)

The digital overhaul isn't just Coca-Cola's external facing corporate website; the corporate intranet (myKO, a reference to the company's stock ticker) is also being overhauled with a focus on stories as a way to boost internal brand engagement. While the internal employee portal isn't visible to non-employees, making it more social and local helps the company "mobilize our own associates. We're really doubling down on content — real content."

Reiterating what he told Elliott about the more transparent, inclusive and lively digital presence and voice (make that voices) of Coca-Cola, Brown says the company is up for a debate with this magazine-style approach: "We're going to make mistakes, of course, but risk is a good thing — sometimes you don't succeed. We want to be where smart people go to read smart things they have to share with their network." After all, it's the journey (and who you meet along the way), not the arrival, that matters.

Below, Coca-Cola's look back at its online evolution:


Ess-Jay-Vee United States says:

Love the storytelling approach... more companies might learn from this.

November 13, 2012 12:07 AM #

jeff United States says:

Very interesting concept, they do say that narrative is the strongest  form of persuasion and engagement. Love the brand and hope they keep the innovation coming!

November 13, 2012 02:06 PM #

Jack Dodd United States says:

Great story. It's brilliant that a brand as large as Coca-Cola recognizes that no one story tells the whole brand story, since they touch so many lives as a corporation. Even more brilliant that they would welcome stories from concerned voices like NY mayor Michael Bloomberg's regarding reducing soda consumption. By inclusion of controversy and dissent they become immune to it.
Publishing note: Brand Channel might consider using Tynt, since a story like this is going to get passed around via cut-and-paste. That'll increase your visibility.

November 19, 2012 03:04 AM #

Comments are closed

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