The Coca-Cola Challenge: How To Personalize 1.9 Billion Daily Sales

The answer rests on the concepts of mobile moments and frictionless experiences, says Coca-Cola VP Scott Ryan.

When it comes to personalization, Coca-Cola isn’t only relying on the 5 million U.S. retailers who are trying to figure out the questions of attracting digital consumers into physical places.

“Personalization” has become become a hot concept for all brands, but given that Coke has roughly 1.9 billion daily sales across 500 brand lines in 200 countries, the challenge would seem to be daunting.

But as Scott Ryan, Coke’s VP, National On-Site & Specialty Retail, there are three points that the beverage giant is focused that is designed to make its marketing and sales more in keeping with the immediate, individual experiences consumers expect.

Coke’s Scott Ryan at Retail Innovation Lounge during SxSW

“There are three brief concepts that we talk about Coke: we’re in this essence of moments, and frictionless experiences, and personalization,” Ryan said, speaking at the Kwolia/Shopgate-sponsored Retail Innovation Lounge during SxSW.

Three-Point Plan

In outlining the specific ideas the reflect those three areas, Ryan specifically pointed to the Share A Coke social media campaign, which featured consumers’ names rendered in the iconic Coke script placed on bottles and on out-of-home screens, and on the rollout of a mobile payment and loyalty feature being rolled to 50,000 vending machines out now.

“First, in asking what does a frictionless experience mean for us, everyone has a wide variety of answers,” Ryan said. “It could be anything from control to ‘I want to have it within two hours’ or ‘I want to have a special product that’s just for me.’ So when it comes to Coke trying to bring those ideas to life for our products and consumers, the Coke Vending Pass makes that happen.”

To get it in the mobile wallets of iPhone and Android users, Coke didn’t want to rely on yet another app, as Ryan acknowledged the confusion from dozens of branded and unaffiliated Coke apps in the marketplace. Rather, a consumer simply texts “VEND” to a phone number that spells “Coke,” which then responds with an offer to download a virtual pass to be stored on their device.

A free Coke from a vending machine that accepts credit cards and has Near Field Communication embedded is part of the initial offer that ultimately connects mobile payments to loyalty.

“When you’re walking within three-feet of one of the 50,000 credit-card enabled Coke-branded vending machines in the U.S., the wallet pass will prompt you to buy a Coke product,” Ryan said. “As you think about the essence of loyalty, the wallet pass can track that vending machine purchase automatically. The next time you walk by a machine, it tells you that it will tell you that you have to buy only nine more Cokes until your next free one. Plus, you’ll also be able to text a free Coke to a friend.”

On the question of whether the machines are best served by the use of beacons or NFC, Ryan told GeoMarketing later that the company is still trying to sort it out the right approach to proximity marketing technology tools.

“There is seemingly a way for us to coexist between the various pathways and that there may be some instances where we use on or other and in some cases both to increase reach, Ryan said. “But this is a journey and something we are still working through to understand the various use cases and what enables us to more effectively service our customers and equipment while also finding new ways to engage and delight shoppers.”

Sharing Is Personal

As for the personalization question, Share a Coke is currently in 45 countries around the world and “has done a great job of re-engaging with our fans,” Ryan said.

The next step in the campaign this summer involves letting consumers create their own flavors from the combination of three Coke products at soda fountains.

“We’re now going to let people share those custom flavors with friends through the Freestyle app,” Ryan said. “It’s a recognition that consumers feel an ownership of the brands they use. In this case, they get to own it as well as create new versions of it that can be shared among their friends. We’re excited.”

About The Author
David Kaplan David Kaplan @davidakaplan

A New York City-based journalist for over 20 years, David Kaplan is managing editor of A former editor and reporter at AdExchanger, paidContent, Adweek and MediaPost.