Does corporate storytelling work? Some mega-brands say no.

corporate storytelling

By Mark Schaefer

With much flourish, Coca-Cola announced in 2011 that it would be moving from “creative excellence to content excellence.” It made an epic, two-part animated video on their strategy, explaining that they would be creating such amazing content that it could not be contained.

Shortly after this announcement, the company launched a magazine-style site called Coca-Cola Journey. This is what it looked like:

corporate storytelling

This thing has spirit, it has soul, it has lots and lots of stories. Check out that navigation bar folks: SPORTS, FOOD, ENTERTAINMENT, HEALTH.

Does that sound like a soft drink company website? This content site was populated by professional journalists and Coca-Cola Journey represented bold and unconventional corporate storytelling at its best.

I’d also like to direct your attention to the item in the upper right corner of the screenshot. This was a post by blogger and entrepreneur Adam Kleinberg disagreeing with Coke’s marketing strategy. Kleinberg told me that he blogged about this topic on his own and then Coke invited him to post the dissenting opinion on the front page of their corporate site.

Huh? A negative post about the company on their own site? Unheard of! Clearly Coke was investing heavily in “the story.”

This is what the Coca-Cola Journey looks like today:

corporate storytelling

Well darn.

This looks like a regular old corporate website. The sports section is gone … in fact all those cool sections are gone — and the guys in suits are back. This site is so … boring. Where is the storytelling? What happened?

In a Digiday post, associate editor Shareen Pathak reported that the big factor in Journey’s storytelling failure was Facebook. First, organic traffic to the Journey site declined precipitously because more people were viewing content on Facebook instead of clicking to websites (I reported on this rise of the newsfeed in an earlier post). The other factor is that with Coke’s buying power, it could create promoted content on social sites more cost-effectively then feeding their own publishing beast with original content.

So, they stopped. Is Coca-Cola still a brand publisher? Well, unless you count press releases, not so much.

The end of a corporate storytelling era

“Journey” is just one in a long line of ambitious corporate storytelling ventures that did not pan out.

Another example is Newell Brands‘ Sharpie pen division. Beginning in 2009, Sharpie hosted one of the most beloved and creative content sites in the world. They pioneered user-generated content, featuring entertaining customer stories that ranged from home decorating to high fashion … all with Sharpie pens. Yes, this company found a way to create an excited and engaged community dedicated to pens!

The Sharpie blog has not been updated since 2013. The amazing content team was disbanded and the social media accounts were mothballed about the same time.

I reached out to the company for comment but they would not respond to my request. One former team member told me “I weep when I think about the lost Sharpie opportunity. I weep when I think about the fans — we were so connected to them.”

Sharpie had done everything right with an epic content marketing program … and then abruptly ended years of value they had built in storytelling and passionate fans. What’s going on here?

The best content marketing case study … is over

And then there was the biggest blow of all.

One of the most celebrated content marketing case studies in history starred Fiskars scissors. The awesome Brains On Fire Agency created a global community scrapbookers for the Fiskars brand, driven by a user-generated blog, case studies, and craft projects.

The company was able to cite a dramatic increase in awareness, audience, brand loyalty, and sales due to the energetic content site. If there was ever an iconic content marketing case study, this was it … and yet, remarkably the whole thing has been dismantled, piece by piece.

Spike Jones, who was part of the original team, blogged about the effort’s demise in 2014:

The beginning of the end goes something like this: the internal champion of the program left the company to pursue other opportunities. And when that happened, things began to change. The program began to be dismantled. The structure of the program – especially the role of the lead ambassadors, devolved from four, to one, who is now more of a community manager instead of a true lead ambassador. Originally, the leads were encouraged to talk about anything that was going on in their lives. Now? It’s all about crafting and products, causing it to blend in to the noise.

The biggest blow to the program came last year, when the decision was made to move away from the dedicated online community platform to just a blog (with no comments) and a Facebook page. So gone are the threaded forums with members issuing fun challenges to one another or doing random acts of crafting. Gone are the thousands of uploaded images of beautiful crafts that capture amazing memories of the members lives. Gone is the assigning of your unique Fiskateer number or the special one-of-a-kind pair of scissors that you receive in the mail and cherish as a member.

To be honest, everything that made the program special is no more.

Sad … but not unusual. Another example of culture killing a great content program occurred a few years ago at a giant telecom I was assisting. This company was a perfect case study for content marketing done right. They built an internal content program patiently and organically. They had state of the art technology, the understanding and support of marketing leadership, an expanding audience, and “hockey stick” metrics.

After a corporate reorganization, the department was re-assigned to a new VP and within six weeks the entire program was killed. The new leader grew up in the era of ads and couldn’t understand what was even happening in the program. One of the biggest companies on earth turned its back on content marketing.

The lessons going forward

There’s a tendency in our field to market to marketers.  We gush enthusiastically for content, for social media, for brand publishing, for community, for squishy stuff like “engagement.” Maybe we’re even afraid not to play along and gush.

But as you’ve seen today, sometimes even the biggest and most successful brands who are throwing everything at their “story” can’t make it work. Is it any wonder you’re having trouble doing this for your company, non-profit, or university?

Is brand storytelling just a bad idea?

No.

Marketing has always been about storytelling to some degree. But I think there are some themes from these examples that can be instructive moving forward:

1. Don’t think like a publisher

How many times have you heard a marketing guru say that every company has to think like a publisher today? Here is the definition of publisher: “a person or company whose business is the publishing of books, periodicals, engravings, computer software, etc.

Unless you really are a publisher, your business isn’t about publishing content. It’s about your business.

We see how Coke drank the Kool-Aid (actually that’s a funny image) and they really did try to be a publisher. But in this case, it didn’t work because who wants to come to Coke for the latest news on sports, entertainment, or fashion? Leave that to ESPN and Vogue. Coke needs to be about Coke, which is more than enough.

My advice is, don’t think like a publisher. Think like a marketer.

2. Don’t get stuck

Nobody really wants to come to your website any more unless you’re an eCommerce titan … and even then, people are probably flicking around on their smart devices getting the best deal with only a dim recognition of the site they’re on, let alone your “story.”

The world has changed a lot in the past two years. If you’re still doing the same content marketing you did 24 months ago, you need to look up and see the new world.

People want content in a newsfeed. The inbound marketing model where scintillating content attracts customers to your site like a magnet is becoming increasingly mythical.

3. Corporate culture is a bitch

Most people don’t know this but I have a graduate degree in organizational development. So I look at consulting assignments from a holistic perspective. When I work on a marketing strategy, I consider the company’s history, politics, and bureaucracy as well as the competitive environment.

But even I was surprised when the new telecomm VP destroyed years of content success in a matter of days. Just goes to show that if the leader doesn’t get it, it doesn’t get done. There is no such thing as a grassroots cultural change. Embracing a content strategy has to come from the top, every time.

Changing a corporate culture is no less daunting than walking into France and saying “Hey France, we want you to be Russia now and drink vodka.” Tough to do.

Now please folks, don’t go tweet the world that Schaefer said content marketing is dead. I’m not saying anything is dead. I’m simply encouraging you to rationally consider why some iconic programs are failing, why the new realities of content distribution mean a lot to your business, and why this whole idea of “thinking like a publisher” without considering the end goal is a little crazy.

And that’s the end of the story.

SXSW 2016 3Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

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  • Very interesting post, Mark. It certainly throws into question the brands as publishers strategy. After all, if these programs were strongly supporting business goals I doubt they would have been nixed. Perhaps publishing is best left to media sites that do that the best, and brands should focus on delivering the products/services and supporting content that their customers want, whatever that may be. In the end I don’t think consumers trust brands to be objective “storytellers” no matter how hard brands work at it.

    I think the moral to the story is that content marketing is a tricky subject. Despite these stories, there are many examples of how effective it can be. What’s needed is more of a strategic approach to content that’s unique to each brand. Jumping on the bandwagon because something is hot often seems to fail at the end of the day.

  • CMOs can’t stick by anything long enough to allow it to recover from a bump in the road. Content marketing is here to stay. The media will change, always; but not the art. Those marketers who abandon the art will come back to it, sooner or later. Their organizations will have lost a lot of opportunity to learn while they were on hiatus. But the marketers won’t care. Shareholders should.

  • Hey Steve, I agree with a lot of the things you said… but still, I would like to evaluate your line here: “What’s needed is more of a strategic approach to content that’s unique to each brand.” ….as Mark outlines – strategy is not only pendant on what marketing comes up with. One of the major killers of amazing content marketing strategies seems to be leadership on a number of occasions. “If these programs were strongly supporting business goals I doubt they would have been nixed.” — Again, in one example, the leadership does not understand the long-term play of content marketing and goes for ads to get short-term results… I feel it is so important to think about the long-term. Short-term results might get leadership a raise, but trying to side-step or replace a content marketing strategy is a HUGE risk that no business should even dream of taking. There is a huge monster waiting in the shadows. The issue still remains, ad blocking is on the rise. What happens to the brands who just didn’t think to begin pounding the pavement online with content that proves itself in real-time over time. We are talking about at least 6 months to a year for most brands to really get something that works. We all know that no matter how on target we set a strategy, the audience will be the biggest editors with their reactions. So, through iteration content marketing becomes a success. If we wipe content marketing off the list based on it’s lack of short-term results – what happens when ads become obsolete based on user preferences. It is a TOP CONCERN of mine and I urge brands to consider a healthy balance. Ideally, right now is the time to treat your content marketing strategy like an R&D experiment for a new product —- there would be a smooth transition between things that bring immediate results and investing in things that will sustain future inevitable user preferences. I think we can BET on our mothers graves that all human beings will eventually opt out of receiving ads – unless we are paid to have to see them. lol. I mean, we marketers have taken advantage long enough. I think you do agree that someone has got to roll up their sleeves and launch a content marketing strategy that does work- the main thing I am picking on is the timeline that it is expected to generate results and how leadership can easily get frustrated with it for the wrong reasons. Usually it doesn’t work right out the gate…and it requires time to be perfected and proven. There are no short-cuts, someone has to do the testing — deal with certain things failing and certain things working..until it is a well oiled machine. 🙂 Do you agree or am I being overly dramatic. It really seems that brands are somehow trying to deny the threat that ad-blocking represents. Is it not as big of a deal as I am making it?

  • Hi Corinne,

    Greats thoughts and I agree with you. I’m a huge supporter of content marketing and think that virtually any brand can benefit from it in some form. Unfortunately, there is an “advertising only” mindset that some executives out there just can’t break free of, and they pull the plug on major content marketing. But in other cases, the content marketing strategy isn’t producing the results executives want to see. I’m not sure the “storytelling” strategy was a great one for Coke. I have a hard time believing that Coke’s audience wanted that type of content from them, but I could be wrong. Coke was, in a sense, really competing with mainstream media. That’s tough, and I don’t know what the business case for that would be.

    I think in most cases content marketing is a long-term strategy, and we live in an immediate sales mindset. As marketers, we need to do a better job of explaining content marketing strategies and tactics to executives up front and get their buy in. Then, of course, we need to come up with the ROI picture. Easier said than done, I know.

  • Yes Steve, you know what, before I came back to this discussion — I was thinking back to Coca-Cola example as well. Thinking why it does or doesn’t work and I had a similar epiphany… do people really want to hear this from Coca-Cola? And if they do choose to listen to it, it’s true why would we want to go to their website…what are you going to do, give me a coupon on your website that I can use on my next coke purchase from the vending machine or at the diner for lunch? Where should the content be coming from, native social Facebook notes, Instagram stories, LinkedIn posts, or Medium? I think you have a point that Coke’s audience doesn’t really want Coke to become Esquire. lol. At the same time – you know what I am sure people actually really want to hear about from Coke? The way they manage most of the worlds water and how they are approaching sustainability. I bet that would get everyone’s ear – I wonder if that’s ever crossed their mind. How about you tell your OWN story… 🙂 Just saying.

  • Those are some interesting content ideas, Corinne!

  • I am telling you – corporate responsibility. If you would only take note – check out Ethical Corporation. If you start reading about the issues, which I truly believe is one of the reasons that some of cokes campaign isn’t really working. People not only don’t want to hear about Cokes stories, because they aren’t Esquire or what have you —- I think people are blocking out a lot of big brands marketing for the fact that they don’t really embrace the things that we actually care about. I learned from a huge rep over at Coke that they sit at company conferences just kind of panicked that eventually the masses are going to overthrow companies like Coca-Cola and expose them for their lack of corp responsibility. As it is, one of their ex-marketing execs, who used to lead their marketing — came up with a great anti-marketing campaign — because that’s how corrupt Coca-Cola is. Check him out Alex Bogusky… Google his Coca-Cola poster campaign. 🙂 See, and I wonder why Coke doesn’t call me??? lol. In some cases, I am not sure that Coke will ever have a story that is strong enough for social media, because it’s kind of not really a good product on several levels. And, I don’t think that this is just my opinion, I think millions of people don’t like the steps that big box soft-drink manufacturers continue to take. I think just recently in the UK they passed a law prohibiting advertising to children below the age of 18 on YouTube with products like Coca-Cola… that have sugar content that is unacceptable to the standards of their law. I’d have to double check it. And New York has a maximum Gulp size now I believe…needless to say, the sugar overdose that I am referring to is not a discreet issue. Consumers are getting smarter and smarter. The internet creates transparency like never before. Thanks for your ear!!! I can go on and on — but one thing is for sure, corporate responsibility is definitely what would actually work for Coca-Cola… I mean, I remember going to the dentist just like it was yesterday, I remember the sugar count for a coke and thought, I’m 9… why am I allowed to go into a grocery store and pay for this. Then my parents have to pay for my teeth being damaged. Something isn’t right here….but that’s only because I went to a dentist who educated me. Not every dentist wants to do that, because AGAIN – same problem. Ok, I need to shut my big mouth 😉

  • A lot of selection bias here, of course, but there’s no question that big content programs are often temporal.

    I would draw a different conclusion than “don’t think like a publisher” however. I’d say Spike nailed it when he talked about the internal champion. To whit, a major reason why Coke killed Journey is that Jonathan Mildenhall – who invented it – left to go to AirBnB. And guess what AirBnB is doing re: corporate storytelling? Yep, a lot.

    The reality is that all marketers think like marketers, which is why it takes a very strong internal champion to actually convince a big company to think like a publisher, even for a while. When that champion leaves, of course the default reaction is to go back to what they believe works, which is the same, product-focused “content” that is just a press release in sheep’s clothing.

    I’d argue that the inability of big companies to succeed with innovative content that transcends a single, internal champion is evidence that the “think like a publisher” mindset is still very much nascent, rather than evidence that it has run its course, or is flawed in some way.

  • Wow, all that effort out the door!

    But it goes to show that big companies and organizations have a real problem when it comes to consistency in personnel. Perhaps it is not possible for a large organization to effectively run a successful marketing social media program.

    On the other hand that may give the “little guy” a great opportunity in a niche market to compete?

  • I think this is an accurate assessment Corinne.

  • Good discussion Steve and Corinne. Thank you!

  • I don’t have the data to say whether these were good decisions or bad decisions. If I had a spreadsheet in front of me, I might have made the same decision as Coke or Sharpie. We just don’t know. I hesitate to say it is because it was from short-sighted CMOs. I mean … Coke has done pretty well : ) You might be right, I’m just playing devil’s advocate that perhaps the CMOs made the right decisions.

  • Thanks for adding your wisdom to the discussion Jay.

    Selection bias — yes … I was picking failed examples. That was the purpose of the post.

    In the Digiday analysis of the Coke pivot, it did not mention Mindenhall leaving. That certainly could have been a cause but I also think the marketers at Coke are no dummies. If the content was working they probably would have left it alone (but who knows for sure?) In hindsight, Coke having a sports section seems a little out of whack. I think Digiday probably got it right — the market dynamics of content are MUCH different than they were in 2011 and it was time to adjust.

    The point I am trying to illustrate with the post is that perhaps we are going through a content bubble or at least a maturing in the thought process. With 80 percent of content marketers unable to measure their results and 80 percent increasing content budgets any way (CMI data), it appears that companies are creating more and more content simply because they’re afraid not to. At some point, reason and economics have to be considered, both for and against.

    I’m also wary of the pre-occupation with content that comes from the ubiquitous “think like a publisher” mantra. As an example, I was in a marketing leadership position for a Fortune 100 company. I was focused on driving logistical/delivery differentiation, quality differentiation and new product innovation because that’s what impacted share and profitability the most. If I “thought like a publisher,” I would have certainly lost my job. Content marketing works in some cases (no question), but not in all cases, and I think it’s smart and balanced to bring up an opposing point of view now and then amid the evangelical hype.

    Thanks again for your commentary. Always an honor to have you in the comment section, Jay.

  • Perhaps. It all depends on whether the content is aligned with a strategy. As Corinne points out below, this has to be a long-term strategy, not something that flies out the door with a personnle change, although the examples from Coke, Sharpie and Fiskars were probably fair, 4-5 years efforts in every case.

  • I speak from personal experience only, and am generalizing. It’s remarkable that Coke just canned the CMO and will not replace him. (Seems like the company bottles beverages, and cans execs.) Sales have flagged. Did the decline begin when the blog was abandoned? I’d love to know.

  • Coke has a new CEO and he is shaking up the leadership team. That’s not an uncommon move for a new leader. I doubt the decline of a blog affected global beverage sales in a material way.

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  • I must admit, Coke’s strategy never made sense to me. Corrine’s idea of focusing their content on corporate responsibility makes sense (but they’ll never go there as long as they make their living selling sugar water).

    The idea of thinking like a publisher works in certain fields and with certain target audiences. For example, I believe the recipe hub is working for Kraft because the content they’re publishing drives demand for their products (although I can’t back that up, so don’t quote me). Is it working for Red Bull? I noticed that they’re selling ads on their content site. Is that how they finance the content strategy?

    I don’t buy into the “think like a publisher” in most cases. IMHO, content marketing strategy should be designed to create demand, just like the rest of the marketing strategy. Most brands can’t afford to finance a huge publishing venture. They need content that can drive sales.

    As you said so perfectly: “Unless you really are a publisher, your business isn’t about publishing content. It’s about your business.”

  • I live in Atlanta, so their history is part of our local culture but I never felt the need or had the curiousity to consume a current Coca-Cola story. And I wasn’t aware of their effort until you just told a tale about it. Hannibal invaded Rome by crossing the Alps with elephants and he failed too. It’s an amazing story still told today even though it didn’t end well for him.

    I think the “brand as storyteller” will never go away, it will simply live on in different forms and better stories. Most things beyond an authentic origin history, non-contrived-true-life customer stories, and how-to guides, are (I sure hate to use this term but I will) fake stories.

    I’ll tell you a real story. It was told by a goofy mechanic guy that explained to me on a YouTube video how even I could change out the shaft seal on a pool pump without electricuting myself. The story had a happy ending – the pool supply store made a sale, my pump works again, and I didn’t die. Brand stories don’t have to be epic tales or epic fails. They need to be real and relevant. And in most cases, short.

    In my opinion, many of the same principals that apply to word-of-mouth marketing apply to brand, product, or corporate storytelling. Word-of-mouth storytelling has been around since cavemen grunted in single syllables around campfires about how the hunt went. Anything beyond that has to compete with the best books, movies and programming that’s not inhibited by product placement.

    I believe most companies will do themselves and their customers a good service by continuing to tell stories. Publish the truth and make it relevant and /or helpful. If it’s neither of those it better be funny. Coca-Cola had a good story afterall but I’m sure they would have preferred one that had a happier ending. Truth is, their story continues and they will have to keep changing things up just like we all do. I still like a good story and good storytellers. Like you.

  • Thanks for the very grounded perspective Candyce.

  • So great to see your wisdom and humor in the comment section again Billy. And relieved you didn’t die fixing the pool!

  • Great article Mark. I especially like your point about corporate culture. Brand storytelling isn’t and can’t be the sole function of the marketing department. Marketing can only reflect the story. Try as it might, marketing can’t create the story without the people at the top encouraging the rest of the company to live it.

  • Thanks Candyce…See that’s just the thing. We have to realize that the power lies in our marketing hands. This is WHY I like what I do, because we can in effect reorganize the world with small nudges in the right direction via marketing. The only way corporate responsibility becomes Coke’s subject, is the day that a competitor does it. Which – well that isn’t going to happen either, since they all hide behind their defunct infrastructures. Maybe if they got backed into a corner though? Imagine…”jazz hands” … a new player emerges with rapid growth like an Uber. That brand single handedly wins the world over by virtue of telling a 100% transparent corporate responsibility story. And next to coke, sprite, Dr.Pepper is Mister Transparent. 😉 Will coke continue to believe that the world is still mostly sheep? Today we have more info-graphics and articles flying in every direction to catch even the most uninterested parties attention on corporate responsibility. Consumers are awake – sometimes squeezing it into their workday. Watching documentaries on YouTube… “Mobile learning” right? Coke will be stupid NOT to consider corp responsibility to be the most overarching strategy there ever was. If everyone hates these big box companies (well everyone not collecting a paycheck or addicted to caffeine ) ….all these other people, if all these other people aren’t convinced the excuses for change are unacceptable. What choice do we have BUT to reach for Mister Transparent. Everytime we’d drink Mister Transparent it’d be a screw you to Coke and get us closer to our goal and increase Mister Transparents profits. What choice does Coke have but to ANTICIPATE these kind of possibilities. We’d be bad at our jobs if we didn’t recommend these do or die strategies. It’s that or they just buy Mister Transparent and sell all of their Coke assets….. which is probably what they will most likely do versus re-engineer the Coke brand to be Mister Transparent with one grain of sugar…. 🙂 Ahhhh, back to reality. Back to reality.

  • I don’t know if Coke really benefits from any marketing that they do at all….or whether it’s more about the unbeatable logistics, cost and their monopoly of the market. Does anyone really know or have these spreadsheets? I feel they don’t have to try for us to buy, them throwing dollars at marketing agencies is like a donation to the arts or something. lol. As consumers in some ways we have no choice. Especially at restaurants. I think they could never produce another ad and it probably wouldn’t put a dent in their margins. I wish we could test this theory. lol. I don’t know the last person to break into the category – can anyone recall?

  • I wish it were so simple, Corrine. As marketers, our job is to drive revenue. If we can encourage positive social change at the same time, wonderful. But even in the case of Mister Transparent, the primary job would be to sell their product, not take down Coke or any other irresponsible Corporation. There are people like Michael Moore who have figured out how to monetize that type of effort… but their business is publishing. Which brings us back to our vicious circle.

    And I’m so sorry, but I must take exception to your use of Uber as a positive example of corporate responsibility… 😉

  • Right, Jim. I often use Zappos as an example in my classes. Everybody wants to be like Zappos. But to be like Zappos, you have to BE Zappos! Who has that kind of culture? The culture determines the success.

  • Good discussion, ladies. I would like to add another dimension. perhaps I have been lucky in my career but I see that the big companies I’ve worked with ARE leading social change in many respects? Why? It’s good for business. The two goals are not mutually exclusive.

    Here’s one example. One heavy industry company I work with has internal environmental standards that are far tougher than government regulations. In essence they are driving more change than the government, or even activists, at a cost of millions of dollars. Why would they do this? If they want to build a plant in a new city, there is always resistance because the company has a hertiage of pollution. But they can bring city officials and activists to a current plant for a tour, let them see the environmental standards, let them talk to employees and even people in the community about their corporate neighbor … and it works. It is an impressive story. They are aggressively driving positive change but taking care of business at the same time.

    I see this co-exist more often than not these days. I see big companies driving positive change in the world more effectively than any government or activist group. Many examples of this.

    Thanks for the great discussion.

  • I am really enjoying this debate. Thank you both for bringing forth great conversation. Before I saw Marks comment, this was what I was thinking: “Is there any overwhelming proof that corporate responsibility doesn’t tie to revenue or is it that we have not put ourselves to test it more?” To your comment Mark, there is life and revenue inside of corporate responsibility. I think we can all say that we had a similar anxiety over social media and digital just a few short years ago – now almost 50% of budgets are allocated to digital over traditional. I’ve read some great studies from brands that have achieved excellent response to their give-back programs. One stat I love to quote is “91% of consumers say they would actively switch to a brand with similar price and quality if brand supported a good cause.”… I know we can’t be experimental in many instances, but that is just the trick to it all —- we need to stop treating corp resp as this marketing experiment, when in fact we only have so many natural resources to blunder. This isn’t a choice in some ways… we need to stop thinking about saving our jobs, our salaries, and start thinking about what it’s going to take to KNOCK some sense into these kind of companies. That is, if their revenues don’t say it for them before. I read Cokes sales are down $4B in the last 4 years. A recent survey by Havas Meaningful says it best “Meaningful Brands have outperformed the stock market by 206% over the last 10 years” + out of 300,000 people surveyed: “People wouldn’t care if 74% of the brands they use just disappeared.”….The time to change is now. And, as Mark said, one company is doing more than the government itself. I call this anticipatory marketing – where you get out in front of an industry secret or malpractice to fix it. It is indeed up to us marketers to push forward with a holistic approach…it’s not only about the bottom line…we MUST merge the people, corporations and government to align to the same goal: protecting the earth so all humans can live in it without massive things like plastic in our fish. Everyday, we turn on the news, what do we see: riots / protests. It’s time for change and it’s time to do what is BEST for all not just the company…because I quite frankly don’t know how long rigid companies plan to have revenues if they don’t change. Especially in coca-cola’s case …with their recent changes from CMO to CGO I think they realize that their brand is not listening to consumer rage.. Yesterday I got so hot on this Coke topic, I looked up what was going on. This article discusses Coca-Colas move to replace the CMO role with a CGO (Chief Growth Officer) —- apparently “The CGO role will be held by Francisco Crespo, and it was created, according to Coca-Cola, as part of a restructuring, to turn the company into a “growth-oriented and consumer-centered” organization.” This is all very fascinating and I have no idea how it will play out for Coke…but I absolutely urge marketers to stop selling their souls to the devil and start putting up small fights here and there that eventually get the ball rolling. I mean, if there wasn’t a more perfect opp for a marketer working on transforming Coke’s content marketing, these are opportunities AND signs that taking a risk in a completely other direction will ultimately benefit the brand in the long run. We don’t want Coke to go down, we want Coke to reinvent Optimize. Reorganize. Transform itself into something the world can be proud of together. Here is the article: https://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2017/32074/five-lessons-for-all-marketers-from-the-departure-of-cokes-cmo And YES, Uber is terribly unethical, I should wash their name out of my psyche right now. I was just referring to their killer growth to start. 🙂 Great debate!

  • Gillian Morris-Talbot

    I love the way you think, Mark. #3 is sooooo true. How many times have we all seen even smaller initiatives not even get off the ground because the person at the top doesn’t get it? WRT to #2 and newsfeeds, I can certainly relate on a personal / consumer level though, other than video, I’m still clicking through to the original site. But B2B, not so much. There still isn’t a really engaging B2B platform out there. What are your thoughts on where that might be going?

  • The whole corporate responsibility thing and consumer loyalty is an interesting topic, and a disturbing one. Here’s what i mean. I have seen many similar stats like the one you mention — people want to buy from a company that does the right thing. HOWEVER … consumers don’t always do what they say. Another stat I see repeated a lot is that millennials are not brand loyal. They will find the best deal and buy wherever they can get a few cents off and free shipping, Generalities, yes … but I wonder, when push comes to shove, what is the “worth” of corporate responsibility versus a coupon for 15% off? Will corporate responsibility be a meaningful source of differentiation in an economic downturn?

    I agree that doing the right thing is the entry just for being in business today, but is it REALLY a long-term point of differentiation? In some cases probably … but my hunch is, not as much as people would like to think. People still want a deal or a famous brand. Apple was basically an Asian sweatshop for decades. Didn’t matter. What does Amazon stand for in the world? Doesn’t matter. Is Rolex doing the right thing for the environment? Who knows. Doesn’t matter in those cases.

  • Everything is going to the newsfeeds. People are people. They want all their information in one place. My view anyway. Thanks for the kind comment and for taking the time to write Gillian!

  • It is indeed very complex. Each part of a brands problem must be uniquely dissected to determine it’s impact. It’s true: Apple is a sweatshop. Yet, I have an IPhone 7. But what is my other option, a Samsung? Both are unethical and I could never walk around with something so large next to my head…lol. There are fewer options in Apples case – so there is a higher rate of leniency. Now, let’s look at Coke. Coke is a water hog and a dentists / doctors / personal trainers dream. I personally have had a cola probably once every 2 years for the last decade. And if I by chance drink coke, it’s a complete last last last resort. I never replace coffee with Coke either.. but, the reason isn’t for their corp issues, it’s health / diet. In the instance of Coke, the question we all have is – why have they lost $4B in sales between 2012 and 2016. Is it big accounts like Sodexo losing corporate accounts or is it something like more soda options entering the marketplace taking up more space on the grocery store shelves leading to less demand… we’d really have to know where the sales are starting to pull back. You are right, reaching for corporate responsibility as their “publisher” concept is wrong based on it being a trendy thing to do right now. Cross-conversely, I reckon there are 800 more updates on social media about their lack of corp resp than there are of “Wow, I love my coke. It’s so fresh. I feel so happy right now because I’m sitting in this view with my coke and that’s all that matters to me right now.” Type selfie post updates. Or that many shares of the collection of stories they did venture to publish that one time….Coke is not a beverage people brag about having.This is a problem in the era of social media. Maybe if you came across a unique bottle at a European place – you post an image, but it’s about the nostalgia of design. It’s not for the contents inside.. and that’s just it. All those tricks and flips – let’s put it into this container, let’s make it come out of a fountain, it’s just….now almost all methods of delivery have been done. It’s almost as though they are out of tricks. Then again, lets’ look at Red Bull – a huge contributor to landfills, terrible for you…what do they do? Jump from the outer edge of the ozone layer and everyone is left with this most EPIC memory in their mind. Is it about deviating attention now?
    Versus facing the issues head on? To determine if Corp Resp is what Coke should publish – it would require a lot of social listening to gather data from over the past 4-5 years of online chatter. Then evaluate that what worked and what didn’t to determine the subject. It’s all very interesting…

  • I meant to write “let’s look at Coke. Coke is a water hog and a dentists / doctors / personal trainers “dream” not “dread”

  • funny we are in very different times yet using labels and job functions of the past. Think like a publisher, think like a marketer. Think like a customer, get out of your office and do like Jules in Pulp Fiction, walk the earth, observe, ask questions, inspire curiosity wherever in lies within the communities with proximity to your products and services.

  • Creating high-quality creative content on a regular basis is challenging. It takes commitment and resources, which is why so many brands eventually surrender. But I do think storytelling has a place if done in a way that aligns with how a brand wants to engage with customers.

  • Thanks very much for adding your view Albert!

  • I agree, Mark.

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