From Apple Pay-enabled vending machines to QR codes that use augmented reality technology to trigger song downloads, Coca-Cola used mobile more than ever in 2014 to engage consumers and shoppers, but also to deliver value to retailers and drive operational efficiencies from the bottling plant to store shelf.

And the industry is taking notice. Coke’s innovative programs around the world garnered a “Mobile Marketer of the Year” nod from one of the industry’s leading publications.

“We’re becoming more familiar and confident in using the unique capabilities of mobile,” said Tom Daly, Coke's director of mobile connections. “And we’re doing more than using responsive design or treating the mobile phone as a smaller PC… we’re seeing examples of true mobile-first thinking across our global system.”

Mobile Marketer credited Coke with giving mobile a more prominent role in marketing campaigns around the world, including last summer’s Share a Coke launch in the U.S., as well as its use of second-screen strategies and emerging mobile technology such as Bluetooth beacons.

“At a time when many other marketers are still testing the mobile waters, Coca-Cola has made a major commitment to infusing mobile throughout its efforts around the world,” the publication wrote in a story published Jan. 5. “Many of the firm’s global marketing programs give mobile a central role, with the added step of localizing how mobile is leveraged to the preferences of each market.” 

Mickey Alam Khan, editor-in-chief of Mobile Marketer and Mobile Commerce Daily, added, "Coca-Cola has demonstrated remarkable consistency in purpose in deploying mobile to meet its branding and marketing goals. Few marketers worked their 360-degree mobile marketing plans the way Coca-Cola did in 2014.”

Coke’s mobile work in 2014 extended beyond creative consumer campaigns to include everything from retail promotions and in-store merchandising, to WiFi-enabled kiosks in rural South Africa. The What’s Red (Spain) and Midtown Red (Atlanta) location-based loyalty and rewards programs use beacons to improve the quality of life for people and merchants. And at the World of Coca-Cola, a new mobile app improves the guest experience by unlocking location-based content in the Atlanta museum.

The company's mobile marketing strategy traces back to the 1920s, Daly says, when then-President Robert Woodruff set out to put Coke's brands within “an arm’s reach of desire.”

Now smartphones stand between the arms and desire Woodruff referred to nearly 100 years ago. “The choice we’re making is to have mobile enable desire,” he adds, “and by doing so, make mobile an irrevocable and indispensible part of how we do business up and down our value chain.”

Enabling desire is about payments. More than 70,000 Coke vending machines in the U.S. are equipped to process Apple Pay transactions – as well as purchases with other Near Field Communication (NFC) solutions like Softcard and Google Wallet – via contactless readers that let consumers buy a drink by holding up their phone. 

Looking ahead, Coke will continue to focus on scaling successful mobile programs around the world and exploring emerging technologies like wearables and mobile video.

“We haven’t cracked the code yet,” Daly concludes. “The real challenge is to connect the power of the global Coca-Cola system with the power of mobile networks around the world to the benefit of bottlers, customers and consumers.”