RIO DE JANEIRO – As the world’s top athletes set their sights on winning gold, senior leaders from Coca-Cola and 80 of the world’s top retailers gathered just a few miles away with the equally ambitious mission of winning the hearts and minds of consumers in a fast-moving industry.

In his opening remarks at the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils global summit, Coca-Cola President and COO James Quincey explored the challenges and opportunities presented by three interconnected trends shaping the retail business – a powerful youth culture, social and digital technology, and an evolving consumer landscape. He also issued a collective call to action.

“Our companies touch more people and places every day than virtually any business activity in the world,” Quincey said. “We have an opportunity to get out in front of these issues. But it’s going to require us to learn more, to stay curious, and always try to understand the changing trends that are shaping our world.”  

James Quincey speaks at the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Councils global summit in Rio de Janeiro.

‘They Expect All of Us to Step Up’

Atop that list of trends is the booming – and powerful – youth market, which by 2020 will represent 75 percent of the world’s workforce and account for 70 percent of its spending power. And the surge is not limited to the developing or emerging world.

“Even in the more mature markets of the West, you’re going to feel this youth bulge,” Quincey said of the 18-to-30 year-old digital natives flocking to cities. “And feel it profoundly.”

America’s 70 million Millennials make up the largest generation in U.S. history, he added, noting their recent influence on the nation’s political and media landscape and crediting them with shifting societal expectations about careers and family. Millennials are optimistic and fiercely passionate and, unlike previous generations, believe in the role business and government can, and should, play in making the world a better place.

“They expect all of us to step up, be heard, and make a difference – especially the consumer goods and retail sectors,” Quincey said. “They know our value chains reach into virtually every corner of the world. They know we have the resources, the influence and the skills to bring forth positive change.”

And these changemakers are monitoring every move brands and companies make. “Who we are is as important – and, in some cases, more important – than what we produce,” Quincey said.

Millennial technology retail

From One-Way to Always-On

The days of one-way communication from businesses to consumers has morphed into 24/7, always-on conversations – primarily hosted on the world’s 7 billion mobile phones. Commerce is migrating online, too, with the vast majority of books, media and electronics now purchased online. Clothing, home décor and other categories are not far behind, Quincey said, followed by grocery and household products.

Buying habits are only part of the narrative, however. Companies are forced to rethink the art and science of brand-building in the digital age, Quincey said, by embracing emerging social media platforms like Snapchat and dialing into the same wavelength as their target demographic.

“As leaders, we have to live in this youthful world,” he said. “And our businesses have to live in that world.”

Millennial technology retail

Brand Loyalty > Brand Love  

With young consumers now owning both the conversations and channels – and co-owning brands, both big and small – Coca-Cola and other like-minded marketers are trading up brand loyalty for brand love as their definitive engagement metric.

“In this time of instant communication, we need consumers who are avid supporters – raging fans,” Quincey said. “We need them to be knowledgeable advocates. That kind of personal connection and affection is the true measure of advantage for successful brands.”

Quincey highlighted a timely and relevant example – #ThatsGold, Coke’s inclusive campaign for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games – which tapped a group of Millennial influencers from around the world to create and share “gold moments” and invite their social media fans to follow suit before and during the action in Rio.

Thats Gold Rio 2016

Coca-Cola has also adopted a more consumer-centric business strategy, pivoting from a volume focus to a model weighted more against revenue and transactions that offers a greater variety of package sizes, pricing and product mix. The company is responding to consumer demand for greater choice in beverage by introducing smaller pack sizes, investing in low-calorie sweetener innovation and more.

Coke’s new “one-brand” marketing strategy and “Taste the Feeling” campaign is a key output of this new vision.

“We’re moving toward one message, one visual identify, one brand personality and one brand promise – there is a Coke for every person and every occasion. Whether it’s full sugar, non-caffeinated, diet or mid-calorie, a Coke is a Coke.”