But the brand hasn’t stopped there. One of its goals is to ‘kill the press release’, reducing the number of press releases by half by the end of this year and wanting them gone entirely by 2015.

Another recent development is the launch of its own blogger contributor network, similar to LinkedIn’s Influencer programme, but focusing on new talent instead of ‘big names’, called ‘The Opener’.

So what happened between 2004 and now? How has Coca-Cola managed to create great stories, put creativity at the heart of those stories and build emotional ties with its customers that ultimately contribute to the bottom line?

There’s been much talk about content marketing this year, culminating in the last few weeks with febrile claims that 2014 will be the year of content (is it just me or has content marketing become the new mobile?).

Others have kept their feet firmly on the ground and are hoping that 2014 will be year that content marketing finally grows up.

With 2013 soon to be behind us, I decided to look back at the last couple of years and see how Coca-Cola facilitated the rise of creativity to the top of its business agenda and implemented its ‘liquid and linked content’ strategy.

Here are some key lessons Coca-Cola learnt along the way

Make sure every story is compelling and share-worthy

Ashley Callahan, Coke’s Manager of Digital Communications and Social Media, revealed that the company uses a checklist to determine if a piece of content is compelling and captivating enough to draw consumers in:

  • Does it answer the “Why should I care” test? Do you care enough about that story that you would call your mom or best friend to tell her all about it? If you think you might share it, you probably are on the right track.
  • Does it surprise you? Let’s be honest, a lot of the content out there is rather predictable, if not downright boring because many companies think that publishing quirky, out of the ordinary content is a risky strategy.

    When looking at that piece of content, if there’s anything that caught you off guard, chances are it’s one to keep.

  • Does it have universal appeal? Content needs to resonate with your customers. As Wayne Freedman, a San Francisco news reporter, put it: ”There are big stories in the small ones, and small stories in the big ones. They reveal the meaningful truths about life”.
  • Does it generate interest? It goes without saying that all the stories you craft need to be linked to business objectives, but don’t forget to use data to determine if what you think is important actually matters or is of interest to the consumer.
  • Is content being measured systematically? Coca-Cola uses an ‘Expression of Interest’ (EI) score, which looks at different KPIs to evaluate and rank stories based on their popularity.

    Tracking multiple metrics might reveal some surprising things: for example, after the launch of Journey, Coca-Cola found that the number one search term on the site was ‘Coca-Cola cake’, so it added a food filter that has become the most popular category.

Be culturally relevant and use content to connect (with) people

The Coca-Cola Small World Machines have attracted a significant amount of buzz since their debut in India and Pakistan early this year.

The aim was to develop a pair of interactive Coke dispensers with the express purpose of uniting people from two areas historically divided by conflict. These vending machines had real-time cameras that enabled people to see each other, draw peace signs and dance together.

Interestingly, this campaign had some of the most impressive results to date:

  • Almost 8,000 social shares or likes. By comparison, Coke’s second most popular story had 1,000 shares.
  • More than 48,000 visitors in the first week.
  • Average time spent on the page was more than five minutes.
  • 2m video views.

Use technology to connect channels

To engage Hong Kong teens and create buzz around a new TV ad, Coca-Cola created a mobile app: teens could ‘chok’ (one of the slang words used by Hong Kong teens, meaning rapid motion) their phones to catch the tumbling bottle caps from the TV ad at 10pm each night and win instant prizes.

Also run in cinemas and outdoor spaces, the campaign turned an otherwise traditional TV ad into an interactive TV promotion with a viral edge: once people understood how the game works, they uploaded the ad to YouTube to play at their leisure.

The results were again very impressive:

  • After one day, the app hit the number one download spot on the local app store.
  • After one month, it had already been downloaded over 380,000 times.
  • The ad has been watched over 9 million times on TV, YouTube and Weibo. That’s around 1.28 times for every Hong Kong resident.

I’ll leave you with a definition of content provided by Jonathan Mildenhall, SVP Integrated Marketing Content and Design Excellence, that aptly sums up Coke’s vision:

Content is the substance or matter of brand engagement and brand conversation. Anything that can allow a consumer to engage with your brand or converse about your brand becomes content. So content should be wrapped around everything.

And for more information on Coca-Cola’s digital strategy, check out our blog posts looking at some of its inspiring digital campaignshow the brand uses the four main social networks and how it used co-creation to crowdsource marketing ideas