A lot of us remember when the role of the CMO was much simpler. Information flowed in one direction: from companies to consumers. When we drew up our plans and budgets, the key metric was consumer impressions: how many people would see, hear or read our ad?Today the only place that approach still works is on Mad Men. Now information flows in many directions, consumer touch points have multiplied, and the old, one-size-fits-all approach has given way to precision marketing and one-to-one communications. Perhaps the most consequential change is how consumers have become empowered to create their own content about our brands and share it throughout their networks and beyond. It has changed my role as the chief marketing and commercial officer at Coca-Cola, and the company’s approach to consumer engagement as we work to double our business by 2020.
In the near term, “consumer impressions” will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media. But impressions only tell advertisers the raw size of the audience. By definition, impressions are passive. They give us no real sense of engagement, and consumer engagement with our brands is ultimately what we’re striving to achieve. Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level. (I used to think that loyalty was the highest rung on the consumer pyramid until I became the CMO of Allstate Insurance. There, I saw clearly that so much business was driven through personal referrals and advocacy by individuals for their agent.)
So, in addition to “consumer impressions,” we are increasingly tracking “consumer expressions.” To us, an expression is any level of engagement with our brand content by a consumer or constituent. It could be a comment, a “like,” uploading a photo or video or passing content onto their networks. We’re measuring those expressions and applying what we learn to global brand activations and those created at the local level by our 2,700 marketers around the world. For example, in our 24-Hour Live Session with Maroon 5, we captured impressions (the number of online views) but gained tremendous insights from expressions by our consumers — their comments, input on the song that was being created and what they shared with their networks.
So what are the keys to winning in this new era of empowered, engaged and networked consumers? Here are some of the top “expression” lessons we’ve learned so far:
Accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. Don’t fight this wave of expression. Feed it with content that touches consumers’ passion points like sports, music and popular culture. We estimate on YouTube there are about 146 million views of content related to Coca-Cola. However, only 26 million views were of content that we created. The other 120 million views were of content created by others. We can’t match the volume of our consumers’ creative output, but we can spark it with the right type of content.
Develop content that is “Liquid and Linked.” Liquid content is creative work that is so compelling, authentic and culturally relevant that it can flow through any medium. Liquid content includes emotionally compelling stories that quickly become pervasive. Similarly, “linked” content is content that is linked to our brand strategies and our business objectives. No matter where consumers encounter it, linked content supports our overall strategy. When content is both “Liquid and Linked,” it generates consumer expressions and has the potential to scale quickly. An example of “Liquid and Linked” was our FIFA 2010 World Cup program, which was the largest-ever Coca-Cola activation in history. More than 160 countries used a common World Cup Visual Identity System, a pool of television commercials, and a common a digital platform. All were linked by the common thread of celebration.
Accept that you don’t own your brands; your consumers do. Coca-Cola first learned this lesson in 1985 with the introduction of New Coke, but it’s become even more important with the growth of social media. As I write this, Coca-Cola’s Facebook page has more than 25 million likes (fans). Our fanpage wasn’t started by an employee at our headquarters in Atlanta. Instead, it was launched by two consumers in Los Angeles as an authentic expression of how they felt about Coca-Cola. A decade ago, a company like ours would have sent a “cease and desist” letter from our lawyer. Instead, we’ve partnered with them to create new content, and our Facebook page is growing by about 100,000 fans every week.
Build a process that shares successes and failures quickly throughout your company. Increasing consumer expressions requires many experiments, and some will fail. Build a pipeline so you can quickly replicate your successes in other markets and share the lessons from any failures. For example, our “Happiness Machine” video was a hit on YouTube so we turned it into a TV commercial, and we’ve replicated that low-cost, viral concept in other markets.
Be a facilitator who manages communities, not a director who tries to control them. In 2009, we launched Expedition 206. Consumers voted for the three people they wanted to see travel the world as Coca-Cola Ambassadors, visiting most of the 206 countries where Coca Cola is sold and driving an online conversation about what makes people happy around the world. On every step of their 273,000 mile journey, the ambassadors blogged and created all the content. Our role was to facilitate their journey, which was no small task. We had to give up control of the content, so our ambassadors could share their own experiences. In an era of consumer expressions, seek to facilitate and participate with communities, not control them.
Speak up to set the record straight, but give your fans a chance to do so first. Of course, not every consumer expression will be positive. You have to be part of the conversation so you can set the record straight when you need to. Even better, we’ve found that our fans make online communities self-policing. When our Facebook site was targeted by an activist group whose members posted negative messages, our fans responded with messages of support for our company, and our fans challenged the use of the community for activist purposes.
Marketing has changed dramatically since Doc Pemberton poured the world’s first glass of Coca-Cola in 1886. On May 8th, 2011, Coca-Cola and our fans around the world will celebrate our 125th anniversary. While I’ll be curious how many impressions our activities generate, I will look most closely to the expressions of our consumers as a better measure of our success in keeping the world’s most valuable brand relevant for the next 125 years.
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