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Coke Invests in the Power of Stories

In November 2013, The Coca-Cola Company generated plenty of excitement with the launch of its new homepage.  Coke’s proclamation that ‘the Corporate Website is dead coincided with its public decree that “content is king” and storytelling is the cornerstone of 21st-century communications. Coke’s new layout replaces a static corporate approach with vibrant stories of Coca-Cola positioned in the center of popular culture — and utilizes a dynamic format popularized by the Huffington Post.  This was a shift to something new, indeed!

With the rollout came plenty of comments by both enthusiasts and critics. Some argued that the corporate site should be built with investors in mind, while others maintain that good things follow when the customer experience is front and center. (For what it’s worth, I believe Coca-Cola executed against both intentions well, placing an investor tab prominently at the top — the usual content with visually appealing polish).

An initial view of GfK data suggests that, after the initial wave of excitement subsided, visits to the website remain (for the most part) relatively unchanged. However, those who visit tend to stay for longer periods of time (versus before the rollout). In the end, it could be concluded that Coca-Cola has managed to connect further with consumers already engaged in their brands (because those are, after all, the people who would visit their site). Little of this is surprising, or even suggests the need to wholeheartedly shift  homepage strategies for other brands.

However, I would suggest that this is a move Coca-Cola had to make. Since the days of Norman Rockwell, Coca-Cola has been a trend-setter, an advertiser of lifestyles. For many, Coca-Cola advertising tells a story, evokes memories, and churns up a tidal wave of emotions. With its new site, Coca-Cola has brilliantly demonstrated that storytelling can, and does, influence our preferences in brands. At times, the homepage is filled with stories in which Coca-Cola is front and center. Other times, the Coke brands are strikingly absent. In this, you can’t accuse the Atlanta-based company of halfheartedly approaching their mission to develop deeper emotional connections through storytelling.

Coca-Cola’s new home page model will not be perfect for every business. Time will tell how the storytelling trend plays out.  However, in today’s world, we all too often oversee marketing strategies with little thought given to the role (much less expectations) of the corporate website. In this, Coca-Cola should be commended for reminding us of the importance in (at least) evaluating the role of homepages in corporate marketing strategies, whatever they happen to be.

Neil Mathis is Vice President of GfK’s Consumer team. He can be reached at neil.mathis@gfk.com.

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