By Stephanie Tilton published February 15, 2012

Coca-Cola’s Content Strategy: 3 Lessons for B2B Marketers

If B2B marketers are looking for more reason to take up the content marketing torch, they should look no further than The Coca-Cola Company. As CMI’s Joe Pulizzi said last month, Coca-Cola is betting the farm on brand content marketing.

What’s fascinating about Coca-Cola’s foray into content marketing isn’t just that a beverage producer has recognized the value of using content to engage its audience. Coca-Cola has actually produced two videos (see videos below) that outline the reason for this new initiative and how it plans to execute its plan. And B2B marketers can learn three important lessons from this.

Lesson 1: Define a content strategy aligned with corporate objectives

Coca-Cola didn’t just jump on the content marketing bandwagon for the heck of it. First, it defined a strategic corporate goal of doubling the size of its business. Then it studied its target audience, the marketplace, and the latest marketing trends, and identified an opportunity in the mix.

Coca-Cola had seen three shifts in the marketplace and marketing:

  • Consumer behaviors are changing online
  • Companies can’t separate their messages from “technology” and social networks, such as Twitter
  • Companies can develop deeper emotional connections with audiences through storytelling

When all was said and done, Coca-Cola recognized that content marketing could help it grow business by provoking conversations about its brand in this new environment. The idea it came up with: Create stories that are so compelling, they take on a life of their own and fuel conversations and brand engagement.

Key take-away: Develop your content strategy based on corporate goals and research.

Lesson 2: Outline content goals with the audience in mind

Coca-Cola has zeroed in on the fact that storytelling has evolved from one-way to dynamic conversations in today’s hyper-connected world. With this in mind, it plans to create stories that add value and significance to people’s lives, and that get expressed through every possible connection.

To achieve this goal, Coca-Cola will develop multiple bits and types of content — all interrelated stories — and distribute them across numerous channels. But rather than create this content in a vacuum, Coca-Cola plans to develop content tied to the umbrella theme of “live positively,” which is top-of-mind for consumers. Coca-Cola refers to these two types of content as tent-pole and tent-peg content. In other words, the umbrella theme is the main support for the content strategy (tent-pole), while the interrelated stories (tent-peg) make it all come together to create a unified, coordinated brand experience.

Underpinning all of this is Coca-Cola’s own definition of content excellence: the creation of ideas through brand stories so contagious they can’t be controlled (i.e., they’re liquid) and innately relevant to business objectives, brand, and consumer interests (i.e., they’re linked).

Key take-away: Create a content strategy that is based on themes that matter to your audience — but that intersect with what you offer — and detail the goals at the highest and lowest levels.

Lesson 3: Develop a road map and plan

Coca-Cola has taken the time to outline how it will create content that helps it reach its goals. To take advantage of the wealth of data at its fingertips, the company aims to establish itself as a leader by sharing thought-provoking ideas. These ideas will be captured in strategic briefs, which serve as the launching pad for the creative briefs that will guide content development.

At the same time, Coca-Cola realizes it needs to be creative and adaptive in its approach to developing content — and that many people will need to be involved in the process. In addition to working with its agency and internal talent, it will turn to what it terms “industry collaborators.” While the various parties will call upon different processes to develop content, they’ll all be guided by the same principles:

  1. Inspire participation among the best
  2. Connect creative minds
  3. Share the results of efforts
  4. Continue development
  5. Measure success

Though some person(s) will govern the flow of all this content, Coca-Cola wants to encourage creativity and bravery. It knows that some ideas may fall flat, but only by taking risks can it come up with truly inspiring ideas and stories. In fact, it’s developed a formula for developing its “liquid content”:

  • 70 percent will be low-risk, bread-and-butter content that supports the overarching theme but can be developed fairly quickly
  • 20 percent will be an expansion of the bread-and-butter content that works
  • 10 percent will revolve around completely new ideas

At the same time, the company is well aware of the deluge of content, and will aim for ruthless editing so it doesn’t just add to all the noise out there. In other words, Coca-Cola recognizes that it needs to continually reimagine, not just replicate, its content.

Key take-away: Lay out a plan that specifies how you will execute your content marketing strategy.

B2B marketers who are embarking on a content marketing initiative should take advantage of this opportunity to learn from a global leader. Check out the videos below  covering Coca-Cola’s content strategy for inspiration. Then let us know what lessons you plan to apply.

Author: Stephanie Tilton

Stephanie Tilton is a content-marketing consultant who helps B2B companies craft content that engages prospects and customers, nurtures leads, and advances the buying cycle. You can follow her on Twitter @StephanieTilton or read more of her posts on Savvy B2B Marketing.

Other posts by Stephanie Tilton

  • AJ

    Great article Stephanie!
    The 3-steps you outlined are great.
    My goals are to focus on B2B companies that do not have someone helping them execute a marketing system for business growth.
    Your 3-steps are perfect to make sure my content strategy is on the right track to help me execute.
    Thanks for sharing 🙂

  • Stephanie Tilton

    AJ, Glad you found value in the article. I’d love to hear the results of applying these steps with your clients. Keep us posted! 

  • Stephen Bateman

    Hi Stephanie 

    On the one hand it’s good to see coke waking up to the power of user generated content – they had two choices: continue to spend money on meaningless add campaigns that won’t resonate with anyone or open up to storytelling which puts customers – happy ones and unhappy ones – at the centre of their circle, brand, business – but we’ve yet to see if the brand can succeed with a story in the same way old spice did (using all mediums in the marketing communications mix). However, my personal feeling is that Coke’s core product is uncool, unhealthy, chemical and addictive and that they will struggle to counter junkfood and obesity campaigns – so, they can throw all the messaging and storytelling they like at the brand but it will struggle against the backlash from educated consumers and lobbying health and wellbeing activists. In the UK Coke acquired a smoothy company called Innocent – this is the kind of brand they are more likely to find success with as it is a company the kind of story-telling and PR events hat resonate with today’s caring society
    My own sense is that Coke being Coke , they will kill the story rather than nurture and enhance it because Coke, like so many legacy companies, puts profit and stakeholder value before customer value. But I’d love to be proved wrong so please keep me posted on examples of storytelling that work for coke Cheers – Stephen 

    • Arjan Richter

      Interesting thoughts. Maybe it will be like Shane Snow was saying in an article about BlackBerry: “Sometimes winning means sacrificing your queen.” She used Apple as an example: “Apple cannibalized its iPod when it released the iPhone, but it changed the entire mobile phone game by doing so.” Maybe Coca Cola will be less about Coke in the future? We’ll see what happens because they’re going to take 7 years to implement this new strategy.

      Shane Snow’s article:

  • Stephanie Tilton

    Stephen, You raise a host of issues that companies certainly need to consider should they decide to try to engage via stories; namely, what negative brand perceptions need to be addressed/overcome in the process. It will be interesting to see what impact this content strategy has on Coke’s ability to grow market share. Perhaps the move is closely tied to events such as the Innocent acquisition. But for certain, Coke will kill the initiative if it isn’t ultimately boosting the top line. Let’s hope Coca-Cola does give it enough time so we can see how it all unrolls.

  • John Mihalik

    Hi Stephanie,

    It’s great to see such a huge brand getting “it”. Definitely uplifting. This undoubtedly helps to validate content strategy as a prime time concept and I for one hope Coke succeeds!  The three steps you layout suggest they are really thinking strategically about content. I think we’ll see a flood of brands following in 2012 and that gets me psyched!  Thanks for putting this together.   

  • Stephanie Tilton

    Hi John
    You hit the nail on the head — regardless of whether or not Coke succeeds, marketers everywhere can learn from the strategic approach to this initiative. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!


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