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Monday, September 26, 2011

Coke targets "empowered" consumers

ATLANTA: Coca-Cola, the soft drinks giant, is transforming its marketing strategy in a bid to engage the current generation of "empowered" consumers.

While Coca-Cola has produced some of the most iconic ad campaigns of recent times, Muhtar Kent, its CEO, suggested the rapid evolution in popular habits and attitudes means it faces new challenges.

"In the past we needed premium advertising to create effective consumer impressions," he told the Harvard Business Review. "Today consumers are much more empowered. You need to communicate with them."

One central component of the evolving marketing landscape is Facebook, the social network, where Coke's brand page has 33m fans, having originally been developed by two enthusiasts.

"We have ... the largest Facebook page of any single brand - and it wasn't even created by us," Kent said. "You still need great advertising, but that's just part of a dialogue."

More specifically, he asserted that the value of the Facebook audience lies not least in the insights which can be drawn from their opinions and comments.

"They tell you things that are important for your business and brands. Today consumers are buying products not just for the quality but also because they believe in the character of the companies that produce those products," Kent said.

Coca-Cola has a key advantage in this area, having long attempted to foster meaningful emotional bonds with its customers, now living in over 200 countries worldwide.

"Coca-Cola is much more than just the product. It's about universal refreshment, about moments of happiness," Kent said. "It's not that Coca-Cola represents the American flag. It's a unique representation of optimism."

Similarly, sustainability is also becoming a priority for many shoppers, and needs to be "embedded in your business as opposed to inserted in your corporate social responsibility report," Kent said.

Although the Coca-Cola name enjoys almost unparalleled awareness, Kent argued its parent prefers the "house of brands" model, which has yielded substantial success so far.

"Think about the signature bottle - you can touch it in the dark and immediately know it's a Coca-Cola. Therefore the company name won't work as an umbrella for all our other brands. We have 15 separate billion-dollar brands," he said.

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff, 26 September 2011

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