Takeaways for marketers from a conversation with Coke’s chief technologist
Columnist Rob Rasko chats with Alan Boehme, CTO of Coca-Cola, about how the soft drink giant is evolving technologically by creating a bridge between their company and the entrepreneurial community.
My team and I recently had the opportunity to meet with one of today’s foremost technology leaders, Alan Boehme, at the Collision conference. Boehme serves as Chief Technology Officer, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief architect for The Coca-Cola Company. In our conversation, he spoke about how the 125-year-old company is driving innovation.
One of the highlights of our discussion was learning how three years ago, Coca-Cola launched The Bridge, a program that serves as a bridge between the entrepreneurial community and major global markets.
Each year, The Bridge selects 10 startups to participate in their six-month program. Startups benefit from incredible marketing expertise that Coca-Cola brings to the table, and Coke benefits by gaining first-mover advantage to emerging technologies in the areas of Consumer Engagement, Supply Chain, Marketing Innovation, Health & Wellness and Consumer Retail.
Boehme shared some thoughts that resonated with me and are applicable to digital advertising. Here’s what I learned.
The importance of brand safety to a brand like Coke
The work we do in digital advertising to help brands reach consumers while protecting their reputation is incredibly important.
When discussing how Coke’s brand resonates with consumers, Boehme said, “We have learned that the brand is the property of our consumers. We tried to change the formula, and our customers were outraged. Another example is our Facebook fan page, which was created by our fans, independently — without Coke’s involvement. We figured out what was going on and hired them. We are stewards of the brand. Digital platforms are just one place that provides additional challenges and opportunities, and we do our best to protect it.”
The importance of timing when launching a product or service
This is an obvious point, but so critical. An example that Boehme referenced in our discussion was Pets.com, one of the first publicly traded internet companies to fail. Fast-forward to this past April, and pet food and product site Chewy.com was acquired for $3.35 billion.
One of the major reasons for Chewy’s success, according to Boehme, is that online shopping is now the norm, when once it was in its infancy. “If you’re not comfortable buying your products for home use from Amazon, you’re not going to buy your pets products online,” he said.
We are seeing a similar trend in digital media, where the technology may be ahead of the market and will be converging when the connections are ubiquitous. Market education will always be needed for wide-scale market adoption.
A simple example taking this from theory to reality is the current state of the Internet of Things (IoT). Consumers want connected devices that talk to each other, but there are still many people who are hesitant about how much of their data is being collected and what it is being used for.
The importance of fostering innovation
In its third year, a number of sponsors have joined Coca-Cola’s Bridge Program, including PwC, Cox Media Group and The Weather Channel. When I spoke to Boehme, he mentioned that Turner Broadcasting had recently joined The Bridge, “proving that a CPG and content provider can work together successfully.” In March, Mercedes-Benz also joined as a co-sponsor of the program.
It will be interesting to see how this program evolves and how the model continues to benefit Coke, their sponsors and the startups they work with. Interested in getting involved? The Bridge program is always looking to partner with companies that commit the time and financial resources needed to mentor startups.
Taking action and leveraging this discussion
The Bridge is a great example of what happens when someone in a position of power and influence uses it to drive positive change in their industry. One of the ways I plan to do my part in moving digital advertising forward is by shifting the content our company offers at this year’s Brand Safety Summit to focus more on actionable insights.
Marketers want change, and the time is finally right to make it happen. We owe it to marketers to quickly solve issues around brand safety — an effort that will require participation from all sides of the ecosystem, including marketers themselves.