Coca-Cola strategy VP: Creativity at the heart of real-time digital interaction

The brand's VP of strategy development and ecommerce for North America, Monica McGurk, says marketers need to become more empowered to meet the demands of real-time interaction with consumers

Monic McGurk, VP of strategy development and ecommerce, Coca-Cola
Monic McGurk, VP of strategy development and ecommerce, Coca-Cola

Communication between brands and consumers is at a premium thanks to real-time digital and social exchange, and has heightened the role of creativity and authenticity in marketing, Coca-Cola’s head of strategy claims.

During an interview with CMO as part of ADMA’s Unplugged webinar series, Coca-Cola VP of strategy development and ecommerce for North America, Monica McGurk, said creativity and innovation remain vital to marketing, even as digital and data disruption changes how consumers expect to interact with brands.

It is the speed at which marketers must showcase creativity that has fundamentally altered, she said. In her role, McGurk is responsible for identifying market trends and how they may impact Coca-Cola’s business long term. She also leads the North American ecommerce channel and works with the brand’s digital channel teams.

“At base, we still need to understand consumers and shoppers in a deep and meaningful way; we still need to communicate a core reason to interact with our brand… and our standard for creative excellence is heightened,” McGurk said during the webinar.

“That said, we have had to realise that our brand is now owned by consumers. We learned this in the 1980s with the launch of New Coke. Consumers told us they didn’t like us messing with their memories, childhood and brand, and that’s even more true today.

“A digital landscape means two-way communication is at a premium and we’re in constant dialogue with our consumers. Every campaign needs to be constructed to reflect that.”

McGurk added the real-time nature of interactions with consumers is at an all-time high.

“With that speed comes the need to really trust and empower our marketers,” she said. “You can’t go through a five-step approval process to respond to an Instagram post or a trending Twitter topic; if we make a mistake, we don’t have weeks of evaluation time like we had with the New Coke campaign in the 1980s – we have hours or maybe minutes.

“On the flip side, we need to have the creative insight to recognise those moments where we have an incredible opportunity to connect over social and digital media, and seize them.”

As an example of Coca-Cola’s efforts to be both creative and more responsive, McGurk pointed to the US version of its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign, which originated out of Australia. The campaign encourages consumers to share a Coke product featuring a personalised name with family and friends, and record their experiences digitally.

One post was from a couple who used their experience opening up cans of Diet Coke with different names to announce their impending pregnancy to friends and family. In response, Coca-Cola’s marketing team sent the couple a shipment of cans featuring every name available in the campaign to help them start the process of choosing a name for their child, McGurk explained.

“It was great way to respond in that moment and epitomises the engagement we can foster when we get that right,” she said.

Coca-Cola is also working to infuse creativity into business planning and strategy with distribution partners and retailers. The company recently established a customer innovation centre where partners can experience new products and packaging, mocked up retail environments and equipment advancements. It also maintains virtual reality centres.

Readers can check out the full webinar at ADMA's Engage website, under 'resources' tab

Data is another growing part of development, and the beverage company is working to unite its own and partner information assets to spark fresh insights and further embrace a ‘test and learn’ methodology, McGurk continued.

“We’re adapting to that principle of piloting things, moving quickly to gain insight from experimentation, and constantly building on those learnings,” she said.

“I’m be kidding if I said we’d mastered that – we are on a journey – but what we’re learning is what that means in practice. It’s about being very explicit upfront on what our learning objectives are, what assumptions are we trying to validate, what risks we want to learn about to mitigate or manage. Part of this is also figuring out how to do rapid prototyping, so we can get real feedback from the market place and refine plans before we go too far in order to optimise the return on that investment.”

McGurk admitted the explosion of data has the potential to trigger “analysis paralysis”, and said the way to overcome this is to be action oriented.

“We need to be clear about the questions we’re asking and how we’ll make the decision, and recognise there is some risk that comes with that,” she said.

“But if we are collectively bringing our best thinking to bear on this data in a cross-functional way, and connecting data streams we weren’t able to do before, we will get better at it over time.”

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