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Brand Strategy Agency Leadership Coca-Cola

Selling the experience: Why, for Coca-Cola and Adobe, product marketing is not enough

By Rich Harper, Head of Digital Marketing Services

Brew Digital

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October 12, 2023 | 8 min read

The world’s most enviable brands sell not their products but the experiences their products can unlock, argues Brew Digital’s Richard Harper.

Two people, toasting with glass bottles of Coke

How are Coca-Cola and Adobe leading a new marketing paradigm focused on experiences? / Bradley Pisney via Unsplash

In the digital era, the world is arguably changing more rapidly than at any point in history. What’s ‘cool’ one day has completely fallen out of fashion the next, influencers can make or break products with an endorsement, and a seemingly innocent social post could lead to a boycott.

In this new world, it’s no longer a winning strategy to simply ‘sell’ a product. Yes, consumers want to know what it is that you’re promoting, but why is your product the one they should choose? It’s not just the features; it’s the feeling. Your brand needs to speak to the consumer on an emotional level. How do your values align with theirs? Are your actions attuned to your wider messaging?

The goal is to position yourself as the answer to the consumer’s need at the time they first think about it. Your aspiration is to be the default. Think Google for search, Hoover for vacuum cleaners, Photoshop for image manipulation, or Coke-Cola for soda. They might not necessarily be the best, but if we name their product category, these are the first brands we think of. That sort of brand awareness is invaluable. Of course, it takes significant time to build up.

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Adobe: Building the creator community

Adobe has played the long game in its digital marketing strategy. Former chief marketing officer (CMO) Ann Lewnes took a huge swing way back in 2010, committing 75% of its entire marketing spend to digital. That’s 2010: just four years after Twitter was created, and the same year that Instagram was launched. That move is now regarded as having truly kicked off digital marketing as we know it today, and it allowed the company to entrench itself and its toolset as part of the growing digital consciousness.

In subsequent years, the company has further leaned into the creativity unlocked by its products, rather than the products themselves. Campaigns have focused on what the Adobe community has created, celebrating users, and building an idea of who Adobe is for.

This is perhaps most saliently captured in their ‘Honor Heroes’ campaign, released during the pandemic. It was wholly focused on people, not products, and the piano cover soundtrack is a grade-A way to evoke emotion.

Coca-Cola: Bottles of happiness

Coca-Cola has similarly focused on experience, rather than the product itself. Ignoring the challenges of trying to meaningfully convey taste and mouthfeel through an advert, Coca-Cola instead has focused on creating identity-driven campaigns that speak to who you are as an individual, and what drinking Coke says about you. This has included massive personalization efforts, such as the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, and the now timeless ‘Holidays are Coming’ Christmas ads.

Manuel ‘Manolo’ Arroyo, Coca-Cola’s CMO, has spoken about Coca-Cola’s approach to marketing, including its shift from TV ads to live events and digital activations, and its thought process around commenting on socio-political events: “Our job is to sell beverages. It’s as simple – and as complex – as that. We welcome absolutely everyone… [But it’s a different thing] to make a statement that basically favors one against another. It is not our job to enter that.”

The company tries hard not to appear to endorse or criticize any particular group, presenting the brand as a company for everyone. I’ve written previously that the over-opinionating trap can cause more problems than it solves. Coca-Cola is the perfect model for speaking only when there’s something valid to say.

Arroyo has also shifted the company away from focusing on (just) the relationship between ads and sales, and instead exploring market saturation through event sponsorships. Tying brands like Sprite to the World Cup and the 50th anniversary of hip-hop makes an association with the audience, without having to directly market the product.

The evolution of lifestyle marketing

These are just two examples of the countless brands that have advanced the concept of marketing beyond simple product-centric messaging. Both have embraced digital platforms, live events, and sponsorships. In doing so, they have positioned themselves as lifestyle brands; these are the brands to embrace when you’re cool and creative.

Both have built strong brand identities and made significant investments in aligning their values with consumers’. They no longer sell the product – they don’t have to. They sell the experience, the emotion, and the camaraderie that the product represents. They connect to audiences on a deeper level, pitching a vision or ideal that people are willing to buy into.

Companies looking for marketing inspiration should look to brands like Adobe and Coca-Cola as inspiration. Let the product speak for itself, and spend more energy and time building an audience that will advocate on your behalf.

‘Sell the value, not the feature' is an old marketing adage, but it still rings true. Modern brands are showing the benefits that it can bring. Make sure that you are taking advantage too.

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Brand Strategy Agency Leadership Coca-Cola

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We are not your typical digital marketing agency. We are a full service agency that places trust, partnership, and human connection at the centre of what we do.

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