Coca-Cola is piloting a new experience-led approach to integrated marketing

Coca-Cola is piloting a new experience-led approach to integrated marketing

Coca-Cola has introduced a new framework for integrated marketing communications, called integrated brand experience (IBX), as a pilot in South East Asia, part of a strategy to modernise the way it markets to potential customers.

With habits becoming increasingly fragmented, both online and offline, and access to information forging a new savvier generation of consumers, Coca-Cola’s one of a few brands experimenting with the concept of ‘experience’ to understand the more complex task at hand.

The business has briefed its agencies in the South East Asia region and started to plan and execute creative and media strategies based on the new approach. Currently, the pilot is only in the region but learnings from it could be shared with other parts of the world.

The Drum spoke to Pratik Thakar, director of integrated marketing communication of the Coca-Cola ASEAN business unit, to understand how the business plans to become more modern in its communications approach.

Thakar says one of the starting points was to look at how it had already evolved its strategy from being about a big core idea, to creating connections, and finally to storytelling. He said that brands now had to do more than telling stories, they had to take actions to be relevant. This means that as a brand Coca-Cola has to have a real point of view now as people want to understand what a brand stands for.

“Storytelling is good and it will always be good, but ‘story doing’ is important because consumers, particularly millennials, they want to see brand behaving in a particular way, rather than just telling you different messages. Because you can tell a great story, but if you are not behaving as a brand in a particular way, then they will say, ‘hey, you are a hypocrite brand’,” he explains.

Another key part of the Coca-Cola comms strategy to shift into a new area is the move from creating awareness, to occasions, to engagements, to now focusing on habits. A big influence on this is that Coca-Cola has diversified its product range to include teas, waters and juices, so it wants to start creating different habits, some healthy habits, that people associate with its myriad brands.

“Every afternoon, maybe I need a coffee or someone else needs a Coke or someone needs something else. I see some people do this when they come to the office, the first thing they do is they make coffee and then they go to their desk. We have to understand those habits,” he explains.

He gives the example of when people go to watch the movies, the habit dictates that you are quite likely to want a Coca-Cola as it’s a treat, whereas another habit may be to have an iced tea drink as a 3pm pick-me-up at work. For a brand like Coca-Cola, he says the key will be partnering with the right people to create these habits, such as food delivery brands like Foodpanda, which also generates a new type of e-commerce channel for the brands.

Ultimately, however, it’s about creating a platform that guides the different parts together to integrate around experience. “All those elements we need to connect, particularly where e-commerce is growing very fast. So we need to connect all those elements. So it's not what TV commercial we do, but it's how it all integrates around brand experience.”

Thakar admits that the idea of experience isn’t necessarily new, citing businesses like Starbucks and Singapore Airlines as those that have created businesses off of experiences, but he says it’s a new way for an FMCG brand to think.

“Experience is not new, but I think for a brand like Coke or the Coca-Cola Company in the packaged goods industry, we have to think differently. We have these old rules, but you need to break those rules,” he says.

One important reason to break the rules, according to Thakar, is that focusing on metrics and goals like being ‘top of mind’ doesn’t work as well as being habitual. He cites an example of travel, where a luxury brand may be top of mind but habits and the new experiences dictate that people now also look at Airbnb, even though Airbnb may not have been top of mind.

“We don't want to tell our consumer to drink only Coke all the time because it doesn't make sense. But we have hydration brands and w we have cocoa and coffee and all those kinds of choices. We need to make sure those choices come to you when you need them. That's where the whole marketing and marketing communication game changes. Earlier we used to sell and need to get people’s mind share, so what we need to do is I need to shout louder and spend more. I beat the entire town red and then expect everyone to read our content. But this mind share is not important anymore. You need to ask ‘what role do you play in people's lives?’” he adds.

The next step is putting this thinking into the market in South East Asia. A test is already running in Indonesia and new markets will use this model soon. He says all the key agency groups have been briefed but that the next steps are around benchmarking and creating an index of measurability to the concept of integrated brand experience (IBX). To make this easier, some of the relationships that Coca-Cola is holding with agencies is on a more integrated level, by using one agency holding group per market.

“What I do is I look at how I can consolidate things in Vietnam with one holding company, and in Thailand in one holding company and another in Indonesia. That could be another way of looking at any complicated region like South East Asia. Every market has a different agency with different strength, I don't want to do a kind of cookie-cutter approach,” he says.

He’s also looked at the changing roles within his own team, re-writing job descriptions, fit for the new type of client-side marketer that needs to understand a more complicated ecosystem.

The new experience-led way of looking at integrated comms is very much in pilot stage but it will be encouraging for the industry to learn from the bravery of pushing a new agenda, and taking agencies along for the ride.

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