Simon Miles, Digital Director at Coca-Cola Enterprises, will be among the keynote speakers at the Figaro Digital Marketing Conference in London on 17 July.
Below, Simon tells us how the 128-year-old brand stays relevant in the 21st century, discusses communities and technology, and explains why even Coke’s marketing strategy isn’t immune to the British weather.
‘Manage the Present and Invent the Future’ is the title of your conference presentation. What can we expect to hear about at the event?
I’ll be addressing a conundrum facing everyone working in the digital space at the moment. Everything’s moving so quickly. You need to deliver your numbers and manage your current business but at the same time you need to know where things are going, what to test and what will be scaled in the future. There’s a flurry of information, new capabilities, new technology – how do you know what to go with? A lot of brands get this wrong because they focus on the technology. In fact, you need to stay focused on your consumers and their objectives. Look at the technology which is supporting that. I’ll be discussing how to stay focused on your consumers.
Coca-Cola is a brand with a heritage stretching back 128 years. What are some of the challenges in keeping the brand relevant in the digital era?
The landscape has fragmented so much over the last 20-odd years. Consumers have less time, and brands are also under much more pressure to get in front of people. This is something everyone faces. For me, competing for attention on multiple devices means understanding a couple of things.
The first is knowing what your consumers are trying to do. For us at Coca-Cola, consumers might be planning a week’s meals. In the old days that would have involved going through cookbooks. Now it might be looking at recipe apps or retailers’ social media sites. The question for us is how we ensure we’re present in all the spaces where people are going for that information.
The second thing is making sure the content itself is relevant. We don’t just want to pump out brand messages. We want to think about what’s in the shopper’s mind – are we talking their language? Rather than saying ‘Buy Coke ‘cos it’s great’ – which it is – we’re more likely to say ‘Are you planning for the match on Thursday night? Don’t forget your soft drinks.’ Coke is part of that. It’s a challenge for brands, but we all need to listen more.
There’s a school of thought now which says that although brands are producing more and more content, consumers are becoming harder to reach as they filter out irrelevant or unwanted messages. Do you think that’s accurate, and if so how do brands like Coca-Cola deal with the paradox?
It probably is accurate. The old tenet ‘the shopper is king’ is more true than ever. Consumers are in control. If you don’t want to receive information from a brand, you just switch it off. But I still believe that by being smart about how you talk to people – if you make your conversations relevant and contextual – you’ll get through. The brands that’ll survive in the long run are the ones that are really clear about what they stand for.
I’m fortunate working for Coca-Cola because everybody gets what we stand for: people understand messages about happiness, sharing and so on. If we stick to what we’re brilliant at and then find new ways to talk about people, I think we’ll be fine. But in the case of brands that don’t stand for anything, consumers are going to ask why they should look at your video, or whatever it may be.
Real-time marketing is one way to make that connection between a brand and its consumers more immediate and contextually relevant. What role does it play in Coca-Cola’s strategy?
It’s fairly early days in this space, so like everyone else we’re trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. We have been experimenting though. For us there’s one fairly obvious trigger in our marketing: the weather. If it’s hot and sunny people are more likely to buy a Coke than they would be on a wet Wednesday in January. We’ve been looking at changing the number of banner ads when we know the forecast is good. That’s an example of contextual relevance triggering our marketing in real-time. If the weather reaches a particular temperature, a certain plan of activity is triggered. It could be the messages we place on an ecommerce or mobile site, or it might involve more new-fangled technology. For example, fridges with doors that are actually interactive video screens to which we can upload specific information if it’s a beautiful, sunny day.
Another angle we’re looking at involves the use of geo-location data. Knowing someone is in a specific location can trigger certain activity. If you’re in a railway station at 12.30pm, say, and there’s an Upper Crust kiosk there, we may well be sending you messages about a particular meal deal that Coke is involved in. Those are the sorts of areas where we’re looking to become much more instant.
What role do online communities (on social media or elsewhere) play in helping Coca-Cola achieve its business objectives?
Communities are increasingly important and it comes back to listening and being smart about what’s on consumers’ minds and how you respond to that. Opinions are formed very fast and spread very quickly on social media.
We’re working closely with retail partners such as Asda and Ocado. Coke’s own Facebook page has 83 million ‘Likes’ and people are going there because they’re looking for cool content to share. But if you’re on the Ocado or the Asda Facebook page, you’re in a different mind-set – you might be a mum looking for recipe inspiration or deals. That shopper mind-set requires different content. It means understanding what your communities are looking for and being able to provide something they want. Community doesn’t just mean concentrating on your own brand site. It’s about how you promote your product in other areas.
‘Inventing the future’ is the second part of your presentation title. What are likely to be some of the significant factors in digital marketing over the next couple of years?
Something I often say to my team is ‘just because you can, that doesn’t mean you should.’ You need to keep in mind where your consumers are at. We’re not all going down the street on hover-boards wearing Google Glass quite yet. If you want to go at scale now, you need to be where your shoppers and your retailers are now. A degree of pragmatism is required in the short term.
Last year we launched a new product, Vanilla Coke. For years on Amazon you’ve been able to pre-order books and DVDs before they come out, but no one had ever done this with a FMCG product. So, before Vanilla Coke was launched you could pre-order it at Ocado. It sounds obvious, but it really sped up the adoption rate, which is hard to do in FMCG, so it solved a real business issue for us. It got picked up on social media where it got a lot of coverage, but there’s nothing revolutionary there. It’s something Amazon had been doing for years. Sometimes the solution is more obvious than you think.
We’re also looking at trends like wearable tech and the internet of things. My advice in areas like these is not to be afraid of failing. We try a lot of stuff that doesn’t work, but we learn from it. Don’t be put off by the fact that something might not work out of the box, because it’s probably not going to. Learning quickly and adapting is the secret of success.
The future, I like to say, is here. It’s just not very evenly distributed. By that I mean most of the things that are going to be big probably exist already. For marketers it’s a case of joining the dots between how something’s being used now and how it might be used – in your sector or industry – in the future.
Interview by Jon Fortgang