How does a 127-year-old company stay relevant across multicultural, multigenerational, and multigeographic consumer groups in a world in which digital technologies have transformed the way customers and brands engage?
In recent years The Coca-Cola Company has undergone a transformation during which its global and regional marketing teams have been reflecting on and tapping their creative heritage, while also leaning forward to experiment and learn how to engage today’s digitally connected consumers. The company’s marketers have identified nine principles for their business to deliver “work that matters,” and their most recent success culminated in winning the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2013 Creative Marketer of the Year Award. Coca-Cola also came in at No. 14 on Fast Company’s annual ranking of the world’s 50 most innovative companies.
To get deeper insights into these brand marketing transformations, CMO.com contributing editor Steven Cook sat down with Coca-Cola’s Alison Lewis. Lewis has been with the company since 1996, and was named SVP of marketing and CMO for the North America brand portfolio two years ago. Among the topics discussed: her “70/20/10” investment principle model; staying relevant among myriad audiences; marketing-IT alignment; and what Cannes Lions will look like five years from now.
CMO.com: What are some of the biggest megatrends and opportunities you see marketers across industries focusing on today and the foreseeable future?
Lewis: Broadly, I would say that data is something most marketers are very focused on. We’ve always had data, and so that is sort of the irony of it. But the reality of the digital world means we have more data than ever before. And the question is, how do you unlock the power of that data? It is very complex. It requires whole new capabilities in data planning and a segmented-marketing or precision-marketing approach so that you can truly get the right message to the right consumer or shopper at the right time.
I also think most marketers are wrestling with the speed of change in digital, mobile, and social. Where do you get the best investment payback and ROI? Because just when you try something new, and you’ve got the learnings, what you’ve done has probably changed. You don’t want to be chasing the next shiny object. You’ve got to be very smart about where you focus your energy, time, and resources.
CMO.com: How does your team stay on top of the accelerating pace of change?
Lewis: We rely a lot on our agency partners to sort through what is out there today, how will this evolve what will likely be out there tomorrow, and what potential partners are available in different areas, like the listening space or shopper apps, for example. We track on a monthly basis what is happening to make sure we are on top of potential connection opportunities. We don’t pursue a lot of those new things. We try to get to a 70/20/10 investment principle model where 70 percent of our dollars are going to go against more of the tried-and-true, and we’ll innovate inside of this. Then 20 percent of our spend is invested in a little bit more “out there” but not-so-new-to-the-world opportunities that are starting to get scale. And then 10 percent of our spend goes to new-to-the-world opportunities. This helps us continuously learn without taking our eyes off of the base.
CMO.com: As the CMO for the North America Coca-Cola Sparking and Still brand portfolio, what strategic work are you most passionate about?
Lewis: I believe most strongly in the digital, social, mobile space because it is so important to crack the code on this and to understand the value that these bring. I truly believe that if we figure this out, we will get to a 1+1=7 situation. What I mean by this is that we at Coca-Cola still believe very strongly in some of the more traditional mediums...TV, for example, and live TV events, like the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, NBA Finals, and FIFA World Cup. But if you can take these live events and add digital, social, and mobile...that is where you get the 1+1=7 effect.
We have some terrific examples of this, like the 2012 Super Bowl “Polar Bowl” program, which engaged 9 million people, and the 2013 Super Bowl “Mirage” program, which engaged 11 million people. With programs like these, we have been able to recognize the power of the second screen, where 77 percent of people are watching a traditional medium, TV, but also engaging on their digital device. So unlocking this is very, very powerful.
CMO.com: What are the biggest issues you’ve been dealing with, and how have these changed marketing and your CMO role?
Lewis: First, what is different is that you have to build digital competitive advantage in some way. For example, My Coke Rewards is a great example of where we have built over the years a platform where 21 million people are engaging. It is the largest CPG loyalty program out there. But now, in a world where there is more gamification, where there is more social connectivity, where your fans can amplify content…how do you evolve this online platform?
Secondly, it is extremely important to focus on marketing to a multicultural nation. We all have known for many years that the face of America is changing. We are at a point now where most companies in the U.S. will see most of their growth driven by multicultural. So the challenge is, are you truly connecting with those multicultural consumers in a breadth way? It is not just about depth. For example, we made multicultural part of the breadth of our Olympics 2012 programming by connecting with Hispanic and African-American athletes as part of our 8 Pack of Athletes.
The final area is around productivity from the standpoint of driving more value out of every dollar that you spend and making sure that you understand the value of what you are doing. How do you identify waste and double down on taking it out so that you can reinvest those dollars in the marketplace?
CMO.com: How does the Coca-Cola brand portfolio stay modern in the cultural conversation to appeal to new generations while remaining relevant to older generations?
Lewis: First, it starts with being really clear on what each brand is...the positioning. In the case of Coca-Cola, “Open Happiness” is the best articulation we have about bringing happiness and a little bit of a smile to your face every day. Diet Coke is about “Stay Extraordinary.” Coke Zero is about “Enjoy Everything.” But the way you make it relevant is recognizing the ways that you go and connect that brand platform to specific consumer targets. An example with brand Coca-Cola is “The Ahh Effect” campaign, which is a 100 percent digital campaign for Coca-Cola targeted to teens because we know that what teens are about is being online. They can’t get enough content--they watch and engage with the craziest of things--so we go out and engage in the places where they are and in the ways they want to be engaged, while still staying true to the “Open Happiness” positioning.
For brand Coca-Cola with Moms, it is all about the occasions, like Coke with meals...Friday night pizza night...make it better, more special, by having Coke be part of the occasion. This is how you connect with Mom. It is about recognizing the channels you connect in and how you deliver the message, so you are true to what the brand is all about, but do it in a way that works for different generations.
CMO.com: The Coca-Cola team was recognized at Cannes as the 2013 Creative Marketer of the Year. What are some of the key principles that your team used for the work that was recognized?
Lewis: One of the key principles of what makes great work that matters is having a point of view based on a cultural belief. This is particularly important for brands like ours that are much more extrinsic, or emotional, versus a more functional brand. Coke has done this type of creative work for decades with ads like “Mean Joe Green” or “Hilltop.” In Cannes, [one piece of] work that was recognized was “Videogame,” which was an ad that ran several years ago and took a different point of view on video games. Instead of focusing on all of the violence in many videogames and how this was affecting society, we took a different point of view on it and said, what if we saw the good that was in a videogame? So instead of a purse being stolen, someone returned a purse. This was a great example of taking something that was culturally relevant and taking a point of view that was back to the Coca-Cola “Open Happiness” brand positioning.
CMO.com: What were some of the biggest insights you came away with from Cannes to incorporate into the marketing approach with Coca-Cola brands?
Lewis: I think the biggest thing gets back to the data comment I mentioned. All of the digital, social, and mobile companies are truly starting to build use cases behind ROI, and that to me is really powerful. I talked about how CMOs are trying to figure out how to incorporate digital, social, and mobile. The great news is that many of these new companies have partnered with traditional analytics and measurement partners that we already use, like Nielsen, and this fits with our measurement culture. The consistency of this theme at Cannes was amazing. Many of the traditional media companies are not doing as much analytics as many of the newer media companies are. This has the potential to be very disruptive to the marketing function.
The other thing I came away with was the importance of having a culturally relevant point of view. One good example was the Dove Beauty campaign and how they’ve driven a great cultural point of view about how women think about beauty. Another good example was the Mondelez International Oreo work that they did in the social space, and how they tapped into daily cultural insights...it was really powerful. These are some examples of work that rose to the top, and themes that all marketers should be thinking about in terms of developing creative work that connects with people and, therefore, makes a difference in building the love of your brand.
CMO.com: If you fast-forward five years and are back at Cannes, what would be talked about as award-winning work?
Lewis: I think we are going to start to see less fragmentation and more cohesiveness in the totality of the creative work. What I mean by this is that today at Cannes you see siloed work and awards, even though there are integrated marketing awards. I think that as a marketing industry, we are starting to see the recognition that in order to tell a story about a brand, it truly must be multimedia in a way more than it has ever been before, and marketers are starting to crack the code on how to do this. So I think we will see much more integration of how the whole story is told across mediums versus a one-off piece of film. True business results will be part of this. At Cannes, the companies that are being recognized are the ones doing things in a very integrated way, and are the ones who have the business results generated from the work.
CMO.com: With all of the digital, social, and mobile multiscreen creative work you are doing, how are you and your CIO partnering, how is it transforming what marketing does, and what benefits are you seeing from this partnership?
Lewis: When I think about when I started my career over 20 years ago, I didn’t even talk with IT. Then I worked with IT when I needed my computer or Blackberry fixed. Now, everything that we are doing is with IT. So if I think about how we enhance the capabilities with My Coke Rewards, it is done in partnership with IT. If I think about what we did with the Super Bowl Polar Bowl or Mirage program, we could not have done any of it without IT being heavily involved. So now IT has a seat on my cross-functional executive leadership team. They are in my weekly management routine meeting. The CIO and I have a monthly stewardship meeting where we talk about current and future priorities, what’s working, what’s not, how do we get better together. We collaborate on how we scale platforms around the world. These types of conversations are part of my daily routine. IT is now true strategic business partner. IT even facilitates visits for the marketers to Silicon Valley to meet with new startups.
CMO.com: What changes have you seen your IT counterparts make in order to strategically partner?
Lewis: First, they have changed by being very involved in the business and assigning dedicated people to various marketing team functions. They have truly sought to understand what the problem is that we are trying to solve. This is a cultural mindset that the CIO has to drive through. They then help us connect the dots from the problem to potential solutions. They have become a more consultative business partner. We’ve also seen IT piloting a lot more than in the past, and then scale. This test, learn, scale approach is very smart. The pace of work has also accelerated as more solutions can be pulled down from the cloud; you don’t need to build everything yourself.
CMO.com: What lessons would you share with fellow CMOs that you think they should be thinking about now and over the next few years to grow their brands and impact the business?
Lewis: I think they need to be thinking about what is the capability they need to build to continue to drive success three years from now. I often talk with my team about...Let’s imagine that we wake up three years from now: Where do we want to be, and do we have the capabilities to do this work? These are likely unique to the business that you are in. I think the other thing we should all be thinking about goes back to my comment about the fast-changing world we are in...getting comfortable in a test, learn, scale mode...and this involves sometimes shifting internal culture to a fail-forward mentality and approach.
Lastly, I think we should be thinking about the people on your team and making sure you have the right skills and capabilities to where you need to get to, and if not, what skills and capabilities do you need to recruit in. For example, we talked about harnessing all of the new data we have access to. We have a lot of data analytics people, but we don't have all of the data-planning capabilities that we need going forward to help us transition from looking in the rear-view mirror to looking through the windshield, and therefore data planning becomes very important so that you can leverage all of the data you have.