Coke Opens Data-Driven Happiness, Builds Out Marketing Decision Engine

SoftDataFor 128 years, Coca-Cola has distinguished its brand through mass media, but consumer tech titans like Apple, Microsoft and Google have usurped its top spot among the world’s most valuable brands, as rated by Forbes.

“That’s indicative of the world we’re living in,” said Michael Weaver, director of data strategy for The Coca-Cola Company, speaking Tuesday at the Ensighten Agility summit in New York.

Although consumers still appreciate the brand’s Super Bowl TV ads, the changing data landscape has opened new opportunities and invoked new challenges.

For instance, “We don’t own our own retail channel, so you don’t automatically know who’s buying your products or what their path to purchase is,” Weaver said.

While Coke’s mass media efforts primarily focused on recruiting new drinkers to the Coca-Cola family of beverages, it is strategizing how to combine demographic, psychographic and contextual data to incrementally suggest brands to existing customers – for instance, by recommending Dasani sparkling water to a current buyer of Glaceau Vitaminwater. 

The goal is ultimately to dish up individualized discounts, tailor experiences by device and integrate the brand at the center of customers’ lives.

To do so, Coke is bolstering its data strategy. It has built a successful digital loyalty program for 15 North American brands through the My Coke Rewards program, which is its foundational first-party data asset, representing 24 million US households.

But affinity-based data has its limitations because it doesn’t always encompass a wide swath of customers, and it’s mostly restricted to offline transactions. And millennials, which represent less than 23% of My Coke Rewards members, are averse to loyalty programs.

“Other than the PIN codes consumers enter at, we didn’t have much visibility into digital behaviors apart from that,” Weaver said. “We don’t sell our products online, so I’m not always trying to drive a consumer somewhere or drive a click with a banner.”

The brand is collecting information on behaviors it observes through social authentication. For example, consumers can use their Facebook or Google logins to access some of Coke’s owned properties and features.

When that authenticated info is matched with word-of-mouth chatter from, say, signals from the public fire hose, it’s able to form certain insights or improve the experience. Weaver added these insights are “all used responsibly and always within the boundaries of privacy.”

In addition, Coke is building a cookie pool with Ensighten to serve as the basis of a device graph.

“The challenge is to measure digital marketing effectiveness and relate it back to purchase data,” Weaver said. “We could buy data out in-market and match our exposure files against Kroger or Safeway’s data sets, but that’s a bit of a black box – you don’t get to see the models – and that’s caused us to step back a bit.”

Weaver pointed toward greater data ownership among some of the big CPG players like Kraft and P&G.

“We’re all starting to build out our own infrastructure, which will be a trend,” he added. “The balance is in favor of [those] who own their own infrastructure.”

Coke uses Ensighten as its common tag management solution and interim data layer, which it integrates to its homegrown consumer database. It doesn’t use traditional web analytics, because, Weaver said, those data environments tend to be siloed, whereas Coke needs to be able to export online data to its data management toolset.

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