The Public Relations Strategist

The Real Thing: Conveying Brand Purpose Through Brand Journalism at Coca-Cola

April 26, 2016

[courtesy of coca-cola]
[courtesy of coca-cola]

In today’s marketplace, successful brands must do more to engage with — and retain the trust of — consumers who increasingly look beyond individual products to determine whether the corporate brand purpose is one with which they wish to align.   

As a result, the landscape of corporate communications is changing rapidly. Clearly it’s a new frontier for those of us in the PR profession in how we communicate with consumers who tell us what information they wish to receive, as well as when, how and in which format they wish to receive it. In response, the Coca-Cola Company and a growing number of other global companies are using digital brand journalism to communicate, engage and convey brand purpose.

To reflect this evolution, in late 2015, the U.K.’s Marketing Week introduced “The Top 100 Companies for Brand Purpose,” an index that evaluates which companies do the best job of “adding meaning to products and services that enable consumers to trust and connect with a brand on an emotional level.” The Coca-Cola Company is honored to be among those included on this list. After all, brand purpose is what prompted us to launch our multichannel, multimedia content platform, Coca-Cola Journey, in 2012.

Journey, our company’s corporate website turned digital magazine, publishes original content about our company’s brands, business, history and culture, as well as general interest stories reflecting our values and passion points — from innovation and social entrepreneurship, to food and fashion, to sports and entertainment — all supplemented by user-generated content.

Why Coca-Cola Journey?

Today’s digital communications is one of the most competitive arenas for companies and brands. Consumers, especially millennials, are not passive readers of content. They’re active content creators and storytellers in their own right, via everything from selfies to blogs and tweets — and increasingly sophisticated in their approach to engaging brands they patronize. For brands to cut through the clutter, they must meet consumers where they live digitally — with authentic, relevant content.

Journey allows us to deliver both original storytelling and business messages that might otherwise go untold — supplementing earned media coverage and traditional marketing efforts and enabling direct interaction with critics and fans alike, while also supporting the work of our colleagues on our internal communications teams and brand social channels.

With Journey, we embrace the role of storyteller; publish content about universally important topics, social causes and company news; and ultimately convey brand purpose with internal and external audiences through:

  • Promoting real-time engagement and encouraging open dialogue among shareholders, employees, partners, customers, journalists and other interested parties, including transparent conversations about our business
  • Forging strong and healthy communities worldwide through our support of human rights initiatives and 5by20, the Coca-Cola Company’s commitment to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020
  • Addressing issues of clean water and an environmentally sound world, including our goal to replenish 100 percent of the water we use to manufacture products by 2020
  • Celebrating global diversity and inclusion through the support of a myriad of community initiatives, and as demonstrated by our customization of culturally relevant content in 12 languages via 20 international versions of Journey
  • Helping foster unity, camaraderie and healthy competition through efforts such as our ongoing sponsorship of the Olympic Games, World Cup and Special Olympics

With the embracing of storytelling comes the responsibility to consistently communicate in real time and in a human voice. Whether it’s announcing company news, responding to a breaking issue or as part of the daily news cycle, we aim to bring news to life across a wide spectrum of editorial categories, ranging from innovation to giving back to our blog, Unbottled, which focuses on the people behind our brands and the real-time issues impacting all who have a vested interest in our company.

With Unbottled, we publish opinion pieces that reflect not only the company’s viewpoint but which also speak to whatever topics might be making headlines that week, such as reporting on studies and actions taken on behalf of human rights issues within our extensive agricultural supply chain, or shaping our quarterly earnings coverage by featuring comments from our CEO about factors that contribute to the latest financial results.

While Journey allows us to proactively and reactively tell the stories about the people and company behind the brand in an authentic voice, it also provides opportunity for dissent or critical comments about the company and our products. As we all know, readers who aren’t engaged enough to share their opinion won’t share your stories. Conversely, stories that are based on reader engagement, user-generated content or interviews almost always perform better than those without.

If we do our job well, then Journey turns readers into contributors, leveraging user-generated content to tell and share their own stories about the impact our brand has on their lives, and brings even more authenticity and credibility to the Journey platform.

How to measure the impact

While The Coca-Cola Company is fortunate to enjoy significant brand recognition, we have a mind-changing opportunity to humanize a global company that millions of consumers think they already know. As such, the Journey team is not in the business of driving views, but engagement. And while impressions and other traditional metrics matter, the determining factor in a given story’s success is how many readers Like, share or comment on it. 

We continue to learn from our readers, who tell us what they want to read and share, and from our fellow brand publishers who have motivated us to step up our game.

To help measure Journey’s impact, we developed a proprietary metric to evaluate the organic reach and engagement of each piece of content published on the site. Expressions of Interest (EOI) calculates engagement by assigning a quantitative score based on referrals from social networks, shares, SEO traffic and total visitors.

The team also pays close attention to bounce rate and time on the site, primarily to measure reader interest in a topic rather than the success of an individual story, which helps the team in shaping and determining content. 

Deploying such an approach has helped us achieve our engagement goals to date. Apart from the careers page, the two most visited sections by Journey’s more than 1.6 million monthly visitors are history, which showcases the ways in which our brand has played a role in the lives of millions of consumers around the world over the past century, and sustainability, which points the way to the future by providing in-depth stories about the company’s efforts to create a better world.

With challenges come opportunities

It’s not an easy feat for any company to build and cultivate a purposeful brand. We’re constantly learning from our hits and our misses, and exploring new ways to use the Journey platform to engage readers in ways that build both brand love and corporate trust. It requires commitment at the highest level, patience and an overarching strategy applied through the entire company.

In today’s ever-changing technology landscape, retaining effective brand communications is even more challenging with consumers’ ability to engage, shape and respond to the companies, products and media they value, through digital means. But it’s also an opportunity for meaningful two-way communication that is imperative to a company’s relevance and success.

Since launching Journey more than three years ago, brand journalism has allowed us to connect directly with readers in a more effective way, conveying brand purpose while promoting authentic dialogue, real-time engagement and, ultimately, corporate trust.

Ben Deutsch
Ben Deutsch is vice president of corporate communications at The Coca-Cola Company.

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