Every time I drink a beer I’m reminded of a running family joke. On taking his first sip, my grandad used to say, “if you could bottle that, you’d be a millionaire’.” He was talking very specifically about that first sip of an ice-cold beer, which is the best and most refreshing sip of them all.
I mention this because it speaks to something we often forget about when discussing customer experiences: they’re sensory experiences. When you strip away the marketing and get down to brass tacks, the most powerful experience is the direct connection between customer and product—whether that’s the taste of a drink, the heft of a tennis racket or the feel of a cashmere jumper. If we can amplify these moments, we’re helping to maximise the customer experience.
But in our increasingly digital world, how easy is that? How can we replicate the physical experience of a branded product online? Is it even possible? One company leading the field here is Coca-Cola, and its efforts carry some important lessons for all ambitious marketers.
Digitising the Coca-Cola experience
At the heart of Coca-Cola’s approach is the idea that it wants digital experiences to mirror the moment when you crack open a cold can of Coke—when you pour it onto softly jangling ice-cubes, lift it to your mouth so that the bubbles tickle your nose, and take that first delicious sip. In essence, Coca-Cola aims to create “digital fizz.”
This sounds like a tall order—and it is. To attempt something like this requires a deep commitment to innovation and to approaching digital experiences in a completely new way. But the rewards are clear: unprecedented differentiation and a new route into the hearts and minds of consumers.
Coca-Cola’s starting point is the consumer. By listening to their feedback, Coca-Cola’s been able to work out what gets consumers excited. They’ve discovered there’s a real thirst for choice and new experiences. The challenge was to fulfil these desires in ways that were truly exciting, but also resonated with Coca-Cola’s brand identity and heritage, modernising their digital experiences in a way that reflects back to what really matters—the physical experience of drinking a Coke product.
I can think of no better example of this than Coke’s Freestyle vending machine—a vending machine on steroids, if you like. Its digital interface allows customers to create their own drink flavours, turning them into innovation collaborators. Not only does it provide a compelling experience, at the same time the machines gather data on customer preferences that fuel Coke’s wider customer engagement strategy. Coca-Cola has disrupted the old vending machine model, redefining the experience for its customers.
They didn’t stop there. By leveraging Adobe Experience Cloud, Coca-Cola has innovated an even smarter version of the Freestyle machine. These updated machines are something to behold. They deliver real-time, hyper-personalised content on screen, while monitoring data such as beverage creation, consumption and social sharing. The machines are fully integrated with Coke’s mobile apps, allowing them to offer customers even more ways to create and share that content on Coke’s .com site. Freestyle machines and mobile apps are completely synched, keeping customer experiences consistent and up-to-date.
The experience is everything
Coca-Cola’s success comes down to understanding that the brand is the product, and the product is the brand. Marketing and the product can’t be separated; they need to be delivered as a seamless, connected experience that creates an ongoing connection and dialogue with consumers.
This is the essence of what we mean by an experience business: the understanding that the “fizz” needs to be both physical and digital. When you consider your own business and marketing approach, are there ways that you can add some digital fizz to your customer engagement?
On 3–4 May we’re exploring this idea in much more depth at the annual Adobe Summit EMEA. This is a critical moment for companies in all industries: digital technology, consumer empowerment and increased competition mean that all businesses need to be in the experience game. Everyone needs to deliver the sort of physical/digital crossover experiences that Coca-Cola excels at.
Watch this video to learn more about Coca Cola’s innovative approach: