Opinion: Coca-Cola Is on a Journey – But Is It the Right One?

By:  Adam Kleinberg Feb 28, 2014

Adam Kleinberg

Adam Kleinberg is co-founder and CEO at Traction.

Coca-Cola is on a Journey. The brand has re-imagined its corporate website as a content portal with, get this, actual great content. Some of it is about the brand, but some isn't.

Does it make sense for Coke to become a publisher? Will it succeed?

This approach to content marketing has been very successful for other brands. American Express OPEN Forum has become a very legitimate small business publication. Red Bull has launched Red Bull Media House, a self-styled “multi-platform media company.”

Coke, however, is a bit more heavy-handed in its content marketing efforts. Some might say clever. Others might say oafish.

Coca-Cola’s fundamental strategy is sound: I had zero reason to visit Coke's corporate site yesterday. Today, I might go there because a story pops up in Google or my Facebook feed. I might even just go there to see what's new.

According to Ashley Brown, head of social and digital at Coke:

“We want Coca-Cola Journey to be a place where thoughtful people indulge their curiosity about the world around them, engage in a civil discussion and hopefully learn a little more about one of the world's best-known companies. For our part, we commit to be an open, transparent, and honest host and a thoughtful curator.”

Clearly, this commitment is evidenced by Coke inviting me to question their strategy right here on the pages of their own website.

But AmEx has a customer-centric approach to its content marketing efforts. AmEx's approach is a clear exchange of relevant value.

Coke, on the other hand, has a brand-centric approach. One story claims New Yorkers are “lining up” against the City's ban on soda.

Are they really?

Is that the kind of blatantly self-serving content that is going to get me, Mr. Consumer, to come back?

The bottom line is: Coke wants this to be a place where people indulge curiosity and engage in discussion. But, is that the relevant value people want from Coke?

Answering that question will determine this platform’s ultimate success.

Ironically, it is Coca-Cola’s universal appeal that will make this a difficult challenge. AmEx OPEN creates content savvy small businesspeople want. Red Bull creates content thrill-seeking young men want.

Coca-colacompany.com takes a scattershot “something for everyone” approach to content—sports, innovation, Charlie Brown’s Christmas special. Instead of the focal point being what people want, it becomes The Coca-Cola Company.

Overall, this is an amazing effort. There is some great content being created, but I can literally hear the compromises and justifications being made:

"How will this contribute to revenue?"

"Why should we spend millions on this content if it's not promoting Coke?"

"Can't you make the logo bigger?"

Overall, I applaud the effort from Coke. But I'm not giving them a standing ovation yet.

When Coke gets that content marketing is about really about putting the customer first, then I'll really jump to my feet.

A Coca-Cola Perspective:
Our Journey Has Just Begun

By:  Ashley Brown Feb 28, 2014

Adam raises many great points, and I agree with many of them. 

Consumer-centric content is the future (and I would argue it’s the now too), and that notion underpins our “shared value” principle.  Coke believes that, if you give us your time, you should get something back – be it a laugh, a smile, or a nugget of interesting information you didn’t know before.  All of the content that we green light for publication is evaluated through that lens. We always ask ourselves: “If I didn’t work here, would I find that interesting?  Would I share it with my friends?”  Most of our story ideas don’t meet that bar.

A good example of how we’re delivering that value is our Food section. Shortly after launch, we noticed several recipes climbing in page views, and Coca-Cola Cake’ was a top organic search term.  Three days later, we launched our Food page just in time for American Thanksgiving, and it’s now one of the most popular sections of Coca-Cola Journey.  We didn’t plan a Food section, but we quickly responded to what our readers wanted.  And much like the small merchants who find American Express OPEN helpful for business tips, our recipes are making a lot of people happy this holiday season.

We intend to focus our original content on areas where we think Coca-Cola is leading: our marketing and brands, entrepreneurship, innovation, and sustainability.  Our diverse product portfolio allows us to do that from many angles. For example, we’ve profiled a young designer who won Diet Coke’s t-shirt design challenge, as well as Dean Kamen’s revolutionary Slingshot water purification device.  Far from being “scattershot”, safe drinking water is core to both our business and basic human health, and helping young people realize their passion creates entrepreneurial, dynamic communities.  We consider these as important to our business as supporting small business is to American Express. American Express needs small businesses to accept their cards, and Coke cannot succeed unless the communities where we operate are healthy and thriving.

We’re proud of Coca-Cola Journey, and our leadership has been unfailing in their support of both the project and the idea.  The justifications and compromises Adam fears have not, in fact, come to pass.  No one has asked us to make the logo bigger, and our leaders are firmly committed to the magazine’s ambition to tackle big ideas.  We know we’re going to make mistakes, but we’re embarking on a journey—not arriving at a destination. We haven’t proven ourselves yet, and we’re relying on our readers to hold us accountable.

As for Charlie Brown’s Christmas, it’s this week’s third most-shared piece on Journey. It has been a staple of the American holiday season since 1965, and its enduring popularity is rooted in its incomparable ability to make us all smile.  Good grief.

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