Go Behind the Scenes of Coca-Cola’s Storytelling

Read on for the Chief Content Officer magazine interview with the senior integrated marketing content manager at The Coca-Cola Company.

Kate Santore took the stage at Content Marketing World to share Coca-Cola’s storytelling ethos – and in the process inspired marketers to ask, “What if?”

“Sharing our strategies and approach to marketing has been a tradition at Coca-Cola to open the door for other brands to learn from our 130 years of marketing experience,” Kate says. “Sharing this ‘thought-ware’ collectively raises the bar for every brand and therefore makes us strive for bigger, better, bolder.”

CCO: You have spoken about Coca-Cola’s four story archetypes. Tell us more about each and why archetypes are so important for the brand.

Santore: At Coca-Cola, we want to create Coca-Cola stories and not stories by Coca-Cola. That holds true when our product is a character in the story with a credible role to play. There are four typical archetypes that we look to: object of desire, embodiment of an attitude, social connector, and functional offering or benefit. If you read a script or even partner-created content and say to yourself, “Can I tell this story without Coca-Cola?” and the answer is yes, then it’s a not a Coca-Cola story.

CCO: How do you strike a balance between trying new and exciting ideas, while safeguarding an iconic brand like Coca-Cola? How do you walk that tightrope of inventiveness versus controlled risk?

Santore: Walking a tightrope is a great way to describe it, but I don’t think it’s a balancing act reserved only for large iconic brands, but for every brand. I’m challenged every day to think about how we drive relevance and reconsideration for our brands today, tomorrow, and for the next 100 years. We must balance managing today while inventing tomorrow, constantly weighing what our brands stand for against the current conversation to see how/if we can add value to the narrative.

CCO: What’s the significance of the “what-if” outlook you spoke about?

Santore: We begin every brief with a storytelling thought-starter question “what if?” This gives us a jumping-off point to push ourselves to ask daring questions. “What if we could bridge divides?” “What if we wanted to buy the world a Coke?” “What if we wanted to change perceptions?” I love starting every brief with this discussion. It gives us the permission to dream, innovate, and reimagine.

CCO: Given the size and visibility of Coca-Cola, new campaigns must be a complex undertaking. What strategies does your team use to remain adaptable in the face of complexity?

Santore: At Coca-Cola, we developed a strategic approach to every campaign we call our Liquid & Linked Marketing and Communications agenda. This is an idea so fertile and contagious that it can spread across every consumer story, every conversation, every experience, but the idea must always be deeply linked to our strategy and our business. All teams hold themselves to the campaign’s Liquid and Linked idea.

CCO: Given all your responsibilities, is there anything you do regularly to keep yourself on task and focused?

Santore: Oohh, I wish I could tell you I knew all the answers to stay super productive. Two habits I try really hard to practice: First, I block time on my calendar to eat lunch and think. This blows in the face of “never eat alone,” but I’m an introvert living in an extroverted world and I need that 30 minutes to recharge, look at interesting content to inspire me, and think about marketing challenges in front of me. We can so easily get lost in reaction mode; this habit forces me to think proactively.

Second, when I leave the office for the evening, I like to leave the work there. Now, that’s not to say that I’m not on the phone with my agency partners at 11 p.m. some nights, but most evenings I try to close the email. You need to recharge in order to come in ready to kick butt the next morning.

CCO: Which content creators inspire you?

Santore: I’m inspired by my competition – every other brand vying for consumers’ attention. I look at the work of other brands each week and distribute it to my team in an email with the subject line “Work That Makes Me Jealous.” I am by nature very competitive and this exercise keeps pushing the bar higher and higher.

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