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Coke refreshes online story

Stuart Elliott/ 23 Nov 12 | 12:36 AM

The company known for decades for promoting its flagship brand as “the pause that refreshes" has refreshed its corporate Web site for a new century, adopting an approach and attitude more akin to a consumer magazine than a business portal.

The company is, of course, Coca-Cola, which has given its site a makeover that executives describe as the most ambitious digital project they have undertaken. To underline the intent to re-present the corporate Web site as an online magazine, it is called Coca-Cola Journey, after a magazine named Journey that was published for the company’s employees from 1987 to 1997.

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The reorganized Web site will offer articles on subjects like entertainment, the environment, health and sports, including longer pieces given prominence in the same way that magazines play up cover pieces. Interviews, opinion columns, video and audio clips, photo galleries and blogs also will be featured.

The main business-oriented content of the Web site — material like biographies of executives, investor information, job postings and news releases — will remain after the revamping.

The Web site draws about 1.2 million unique visitors a month, executives said, a figure they hope will grow substantially with the more consumer-focused philosophy. When the site went live in 1995, it represented the first Internet venture for the Coca-Cola Company. A Web site devoted to the Coca-Cola brand followed, with an extensive presence for the company and its brands in social medialike Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.

The last time the corporate Web site was redesigned was in 2005, “a lifetime in technology," said Ashley Brown, director for digital communications and social media at the Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta. “We wondered, ‘Was it really working as hard for us as it could?’ "

The journey to introducing Coca-Cola Journey began about a year ago when Muhtar A. Kent, chairman and chief executive, “challenged us to find a way to bring back Journey in the digital age," Brown said. “And we thought, ‘Why should our great Coke story stay internal?’ "

The use of the word “story" is significant because the Web site changes are indicative of the growing interest among marketers in recasting their communications with consumers as storytelling rather than advertising. Just as attention is being paid to developing content to use for brand storytelling, an appetite also exists for corporate storytelling.

“The hot thing is to talk about being publishers," . Brown said. “We have this belief in great, real content and creating content that can be spread through any medium as part of our ‘liquid and linked’ strategy."

To make that easier, “my team, the digital communications and social media team, has been re-formed in the last year to look more like an editorial team at a long-lead magazine," he added, “with a production schedule and an editorial calendar."

Four full-time employees are devoted to the corporate Web site, Brown said. And content is also being created by 40 freelance writers and photographers as well as people throughout Coke.

“We are acting as newshounds in the organization," he added. “It’s very much like at a newspaper or a magazine."

A notable difference distinguishes Coca-Cola Journey from most of those media, apart from custom publications or house organs: The storytelling on the Web site will be subjective, not objective, material that is favorable to the brands, products and interests of the Coca-Cola Company.

Although the content comes “with a point of view," . Brown acknowledged, “we want to be a credible source."

For instance, plans call for accepting opinion columns that are at variance with the views of the company, with explanations at the top that “would say, ‘Coca-Cola has a different perspective’ and there’d be space for us to write a counterpoint," he said.

Asked if the corporate Web site would accept an opinion column by, say, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, advocating restrictions on the sale of large sugary drinks, . Brown replied: “Anything’s possible. If you want to mention that to Mayor Bloomberg, I would give you my e-mail. We have a belief here that not shying away from tough decisions is a good thing and gives us credibility."“I’m sure we’re going to make mistakes," he said, “and readers are going to tell us."

Brown likened the approach that will guide him in producing the Web site to the company’s practices in social media.

“On Facebook, on Twitter, you can leave a comment, ‘I am a Pepsi drinker,’ and that will stay on the site forever, or until it gets archived," he said.

The Coca-Cola Company will promote the new version of the corporate Web site with search engine marketing on Google, advertisements on LinkedIn and outreach to the “hundreds of thousands of associates — customers, partners — we have around the world," Brown said.

As for the costs involved, he described them as “a multimillion-dollar effort over multiyears."

Asked to be more specific, he replied, “Multi every year of the multiyears."


 

@The New York Times

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