Coca-Cola accelerates online sales growth with digital shopper marketing

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Mark Elkins, commercial director digital at Coca-Cola, explored how the business is accelerating growth online and in-store at the IGD’s Trading in a Digital World event.

Elkins said Coca-Cola’s starting point online was defining digital and it spans two areas for the business: online shopping and digital shopper marketing.

According to Elkins, shopper marketing can be more personal, interactive and it can be measured.

“It’s a crucial way to influence more shoppers along the points of purchase to drive sales,” he said.

This is significant because two thirds of grocery decisions are taken before shoppers reach the store so brands need to influence pre-shop and during the shop.

Elkins told delegates Coca-Cola has set up a dedicated digital team, which is staffed across sales and marketing; and it has a ring fenced budget.

Elkins said the team has been “following the eyeballs”, discovering how shoppers are behaving, collaborating with retailers and investing in analytics.

The work has defined the company’s digital shopper strategy and created at blueprint for what works, he said.

Coca-Cola has invested in eye tracking research to determine where people are looking online. 

As a result, Coca-Cola has enhanced its product images and descriptors.

Tactics have included photographing one product outside of a multi-pack to illustrate the can sizes and to avoid the wrong products being delivered to home. 

“That’s gone down really well with retailers,” said Elkins. 

“Now we are distinguishing between variants and getting rid of the clutter.”

Elkins revealed Coca-Cola was also working on improving navigation through search since search counts for 30% of adds to a basket, he said.

“We have been working hard with retailers on meta tagging etc and managed to get the natural search to work better,” said Elkins.

Elkins emphasised the different profile of the online shopper and said businesses need tailored plans for online and to adopt a multi-channel approach to promotions.

In one example, a bundle deal of soft drinks, featured outside of the soft drinks category, drove sales three-fold, he said.

Occasion-based shopper marketing is another opportunity online, said Elkins.

“Brand centric solutions don’t work that well online – it has to be much more retailer-led activity and occasion based.”

In one instance Coca-Cola, for example, teamed up its Schweppes lemonade brand with Pimm’s around the Wimbledon tennis tournament. 

“It worked really well,” he said; and urged delegates to think of retailer events throughout the year.

Elkins said Coca-Cola has also been experimenting in digital shopper marketing via online media and Facebook.

“There’s a lot more testing and learning to do,” he said, “but the click through rates are good. We will watch how it develops.”

Elkins said Coca-Cola was also exploiting the trend to gamification, with offers sent to mobile phones rather than via cardboard in-store pos.

“It makes ‘cardboard’ work in a much smarter way,” he said.

In one campaign, Tesco One-Stop customers participated in a ‘pop to win’ game on their mobiles and the average person played over three times.

“The rules really are different, and they are still being written,” said Elkins; and advised companies to get the data and experience how shoppers are shopping online and then integrate it with their commercial plans to get the best value for money. And he called for retailers to be more open with their data in order for brands to see how the shopper shops.

Start with shopper behaviour but consider what is going to create sales growth and be scalable, he said.

“Shoppers have to have a good reason to go through a path to purchase,” he said, which underscores the need for relevant content and brands.  

“Shopping has to be more relevant, convenient, engaging and rewarding – it is still a bit boring,” said Elkins.