By Mark Sherbin published December 6, 2013

Foster a Creative Content Marketing Culture: 5 Takeaways From Coca-Cola

jonathan mildenhall-from coca colaMarketing pioneers like Apple, Southwest Airlines, and Kraft Foods have one important characteristic in common: creativity. Without a creative bent, your content marketing is just more white noise in a steady stream of subpar content.

Fortunately, a little inspiration can go a long way. From cola-imbibing polar bears to personalized “Share a Coke” viral content, Coca-Cola knows creativity. Jonathan Mildenhall, Coke’s VP of Global Advertising Strategy and Content Excellence, sat down with Michael Weiss at this year’s Content Marketing World and shared some great tips for fostering a more creative content marketing culture.

(For more, watch the video below.)

Jonathan Mildenhall from Content Marketing Institute on Vimeo.

We pulled five of Jonathan’s tips that really resonated with us. They’re practical, inspirational, and essential for content marketers at any size company.

Far too much content out there just behaves like noise and gets in the way of consumers’ lives. For the Coca-Cola Company, it’s really important that we have a quality threshold [of] excellent content consumers would actively seek out for themselves.

Takeaway: Quality will distinguish your brand more than quantity.

If your content marketing program focuses on quantity, what time is left for creative thinking?

Quality content requires ideation, collaboration, and planning. Focusing on output numbers is the wrong approach. It limits what you can do in a creative capacity to really try different high-quality approaches and drive better business results.

Shifting focus from quantity to quality helps for practical reasons, too. Pushing content just to get it out there can have nasty consequences for your brand’s image. In contrast, thoughtful content marketing has a longer lasting impact on your customers.

“I think a lot of marketing organizations have become obsessed about producing [content] as opposed to stepping back and being really, really strategic about the quality of content and the quality of consumer need that that content can actually meet,” Jonathan explains.

It is the most chaotic aspect of marketing: Outstanding creativity will always fight process.

Takeaway: Creativity requires method AND madness.

Today’s data capabilities have given the scientific facet of content marketing a much larger role. But creativity is still at the forefront of the world’s most influential marketing programs.

“Get flexible and comfortable with a very chaotic and (what would appear to some people) a very disorganized process,” Jonathan says. “There is always a method to the Coca-Cola madness, although when you’re in the epicenter of it, you’d question whether or not there is one.”

Creativity thrives in chaos. Some of the best ideas your content marketing can use to stand out will come from keeping processes open. Hang on to schedules, templates, and other prebuilt and structured elements of your content marketing — but don’t be afraid to ditch them when inspiration strikes.

If we are going to do in the next 10 years what it took 125 years to do, it means there are no sacred cows. It means received wisdom knows no place. Every single principle about going to market, about marketing, about creativity has to be rethought.

Takeaway: Question everything you’ve ever learned about marketing.

It took a long time for marketers to understand that interrupting an audience member’s day with incessant sales messages is no way to acquire loyal customers. Now that we’ve buried that marketing model, what other new ground can we break?

Most importantly, how can you stand out if you aren’t doing anything new? It’s a question content marketers should consider every day. Like any good business initiative, differentiation gives you the opportunity to be the best at what you do.

And don’t forget to keep raising the bar. “We’ll be constructive but incredibly discontent because what we did last year is not good enough for next year,” Jonathan adds.

Study the rules. Learn from your experience. Acquire all the knowledge you can about how companies are changing the face of marketing. Then push all of that white noise into your subconscious and start with a blank slate. You shouldn’t be relying on expert knowledge as a road map. Instead, you should be using it as a guiding light for original ideas that set your company apart from the competition.

If you are a company that is averse to failure… if you’re a company that won’t embrace risk … if you’re a company that won’t even set aside a small part of your marketing budget for innovation, for failing, so that it can actually impact the learning of the organization, then you don’t really deserve to grow.

Takeaway: Failure is a requirement of your content marketing.

Do a search for “content marketing failure.” Just about every result on those first few pages points out where other organizations have failed at content marketing — which is unfortunate, because no one wants to talk about the benefits of failure.

Jonathan Mildenhall represents a brand that has a rich history of marketing success. However, that success has also been steeped in failures. The New Coke campaign, for instance, is widely considered one of the biggest marketing missteps in history, yet it spawned a new culture of risk-taking at the Coca-Cola Company.

Creativity requires risks, and risks sometimes end in failure. But some of the best lessons you can learn about content marketing come from failure, so embrace it.

Organizations get to a big size and think, ‘Well, now we’ve got to outsource everything.’ I challenge that. I do think that a startup mentality and a cross-functional bunch of people working and sweating problems can yield untold creativity for many companies.

Takeaway: Brands differentiate themselves from within.

Creativity can’t produce value without identity. Even a new approach to an old idea still represents the brand that produced it. Creative content marketing must come from within. Nobody knows your company’s culture like the people who live it every day.

“I believe companies that outsource all of their creative energy, expectations, deliverables, and ideas won’t really grow as fast as [their] competitors,” Jonathan says.

In content marketing, outsourcing has its place. But truly organic creativity comes from within — from account managers, sales reps, managers, field workers, and anyone else who is close to the day-to-day activities that power your organization. They have the insights you need to power a more creative content marketing program. Tap into those insights to find the unique angles that’ll thrill your audience.

Sound off

How do you inspire a higher level of creativity in your organization’s marketing program? Share your strategies with us in the comments.

Author: Mark Sherbin

Mark Sherbin is a freelance writer specializing in technology and content marketing. He shares occasionally insightful information at Copywriting Is Dead, where he promotes authentic communication between organizations and their audiences. Contact him at msherbin@gmail.com.

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  • http://www.kairos-vision.com/ KairosVision

    This is very thought provoking. Thank you for this post. I’ve learned quite a few things from it

  • William J. holland

    Regarding your question on “sound off”: to assist in the management of creativity requires a time commitment explaining how to attract/retain (customer) participation, chiefly through educating company principals of the limits of linear didactic stress that encapsulates much of “the professional world”, customers, especially the young, don’t live in lieu of refined, dominating assimilating social institutions, but instead are thriving in a mythos of tribal night. Get the “suits” to loosen up, it unleashes a lot of creativity. Secondly, true creativity is destroyed in a culture of inflation. A human being can thrive in an environment where inflation is tamed.

  • http://www.writtent.com/ Alexandra

    Coca-cola is a great role model of successful content marketing. I think everybody who works with content should use its tips. Thank you!

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  • Edward Baldwin

    This is another instance where content marketing’s tendency to focus on tactics becomes a stumbling block. Interrupting in a more “creative” way is still interrupting (e.g., Burger King’s “meta” preroll). All the culture in the world won’t help your content do its work unless you have first determined what your target audience wants from your brand. Data should be used to do more than measure performance after the content has been deployed. It allows you build behavior profiles and use cases. Step One (Strategy): define your value to your audience. Step Two (Execution): get creative on how you deliver that value.

  • kelly rodts

    Jonathan is not only a bright light for the creative community, but a genuine asset and advocate for The Coca-Cola Company. This is a man that talks the talk and walks the walk. It’s refreshing to see someone with so much influence and growing power, be so talented, genuine, authentic and real. He personally embodies the key brand attributes of Coca-Cola. Exciting to see what’s to come in the next +10. If JM has his way, we’ll all be talking about it. The good, the bad and the risky. GO! JM GO! Please surprise and delight us all. We’re waiting!

    • http://www.contentmarketinginstitute.com/ Michele Linn

      I agree, Kelly. I am truly inspired by Jonathan!

  • ivman

    some creative coca cola floor display http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17yia3EQQbQ