Thursday, July 28, 2011

Coke Fiends and Content Strategy

The Coca-Cola Company has unleashed a new type of soda fountain into the world. They've put some online marketing muscle to work to promote it. But is it enough?

My wife is an unapologetic Diet Coke enthusiast. When she breathlessly told me about a new sort of soda fountain at the local Dairy Queen, I was curious.

What could make a soda fountain new? Isn’t it just soda? Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, and maybe lemonade and root beer?

I was in for a surprise, as this was no ordinary soda machine. This was a Coca Cola Freestyle machine.

The Coca Cola Freestyle soda fountain

Warren Buffett, Freestylin'
This thing is kind of a big deal. Most soda machines offer 8-10 choices. That is it. I’ve seen some convenience store fountains with more exotic options, like a shot of cherry flavor. Beyond that, the soda fountain world has been fairly static for decades.

This soda fountain changes all of that.

With a footprint smaller than a regular soda fountain, this one boasts not only a touchscreen, but a MIND-BLOWING array of options. Over 100, in fact.

Thirsty patrons touch the screen to choose a brand (Coke, Sprite, etc.) and then choose an optional flavor. Brilliant. Did I mention that there are over ONE HUNDRED OPTIONS?

How has the Coke Freestyle machine been marketed?

Well, there is a sign in the window at the DQ. And another at the cash register. But what is happening online?

They have a slim microsite set up, primarily to point people to these three things:

They've set up a Twitter account, @ccfreestyle:
  • Listening for terms like "drink machine" "100+" etc. in addition to the brand names
  • @ replying to mentions of those terms, asking "What did you like?"
  • Getting little to no response (I've been there. It can be tough.)

They've also established a Facebook page.
  • Running a "Fan of the Week" contest
  • Offering lots of "What's your favorite?" questions
  • Allowing users to post images in a largely unfettered fashion (not going to link to that one)

They have apps for Android and iOS.
  • Primary function: a memory game mimicking the Freestyle's touchscreen
  • Also includes a Freestyle machine locator map, via GPS
  • Game-ified badge rewards for high scores and use of the Freestyle locator
  • Apps can link to users' Twitter and Facebook account to share scores/badges

Looks nice. Game play? Check. Direct interaction? Check. But, I can't help but feel that they've stopped a bit short.

Coke fiends and their friends

Many real-world Coke fans are more than enthusiastic. Fiendish, even. They already devote status updates to the brand. I've seen more than one person add it to their social network bio. With this level of devotion, a does a considerable opportunity await? YES.

The Freestyle machine begs for deeper engagement. It already has a touchscreen and an OS, for Pete's sake. Just think of the possibilities. A couple of examples:

  • Challenge drinkers to try all 100+ choices, track progress and share
  • Award badges for different achievements, share them via Twitter and Facebook
    • All Coke flavors tried
    • All sodas in orange flavor tried
    • Number of different machines visited
    • "Mayorship" of machines (to borrow from Foursquare)
  • Facilitate the invitation of friends for competition
  • Issue QR codes from the machine send status updates via the app to Twitter and Facebook ("Drinking a Pibb Zero from @ccfreestyle.")
  • Create a Freestyle Re-mix: make-your-own mix of sodas, name it, and submit it

These things go one step beyond brands interacting directly with the consumer. They allow people to have a conversation facilitated, originated, and/or augmented by the brand that bridges the gap between the real world and the online world.

B2C interaction is VERY important. But, the brand-facilitated consumer-to-consumer interaction is more organic. It's happening between one brand advocate and other potential brand advocates.

Cue the QR code

Bridging the gap between online and offline

Tosca Fasso, Content Strategist at Razorfish, recently wrote a blog post about the blurring of online and offline worlds. She writes:
"Publishers are creating linkage points between offline and online media to build an ecosystem of opportunities for audiences to connect with their brands."

There is a major shift happening. It's already having a significant impact on content creators and those tasked with content governance.

The technology now exists to make these online/offline connections in a swipe or two on a mobile device. How does that fit within the core strategy and business goals, if at all? How can these advances be shared across department lines? Shared across other spaces? How can they be best put to use?

Ms. Fasso continues with this in her closing paragraph, detailing the impact this has on content strategy:
"It’s time to start thinking about handoff opportunities, places where our work can pass the baton. Done right, these integrated efforts can help build optimal experiences for users while helping brands meet users where they are..."

Coke has built some of the foundation for bridging the gap between online and offline worlds with the Freestyle soda fountain. They are engaging people on Twitter and Facebook. They've got social-graph connected apps with game layers and rewards.

By further fostering that online/offline connection, Coke could enjoy even greater brand loyalty and engagement.

Not all brands can do this. Not all brands have 100+ of anything worth sharing. And not all brands have Coca-Cola's brand recognition.

As any wise content strategist will tell you, it is not about the tactics. It's about the approach. Tackle those content strategy and social strategy projects with an eye on bringing real-world experiences to the now-ubiquitous social graphs. You'll be even closer to fulfilling those core business goals.

Or one step closer to the Borg. Either way...

7 comments:

Lisa said...

And here I was hoping that of the 100 different beverages, they would offer some of the global Coke varieties that can be tasted at their HQ in Atlanta :).

Jeff said...

Sadly, the user experience of the physical product ruins the innovative experience of the product. It's intuitive to use, and opens a lot of choice to the consumer, but funnels the number of people that can use a soda service station from 2 or possibly 3 at a time to just one. All of the other customers now have to stand in line while someone navigates a dizzying array of choices to make a selection, so getting your drink becomes a three or four minute process instead of thirty seconds.

This effect can also be seen at RedBoxes and similar services.

Clinton Forry said...

Jeff - It's very true. I've seen folks young and old walk up to the machine and take a moment to figure it out.

Like the RedBox Machines, people get the hang of it after a while. But, until then, they'll be holding up the line.

Clinton Forry said...

Lisa - That would be very cool!

rachel said...

I agree with Jeff. However, this problem is somewhat mitigated when there are more machines. My local movie theater has 4 of these things, so you don't have to wait long to use one.

I think the experience would be better if the first screen had the top 5 popular choices. As is, you have to tap twice (I think?) to get to Diet Coke. That's kind of silly.

Clinton Forry said...

Yeah, there is a usability gap in there.It would be great if Coke would track the usage and adjusted the interface based on popularity.

There certainly is a way to do that and still provide options to entice folks to try different flavors.

Amanda said...

I saw one of these at a Moe's restaurant. They are pretty cool!