How Does the Coca-Cola Company Use Storytelling in its Content Marketing Strategy to Emotionally Connect with its Users? Part 1

Written by Carmen Sigmund

“Content marketing is all about telling a compelling story”Joe Pulizzi (2012)

This citation by the content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi already claims the basic meaning and the overall purpose of this blog post: To show that storytelling in one’s content marketing strategy is key to establish an emotional relationship with one’s users in today’s world (Pulizzi, 2012; Singh and Sonnenburg, 2012). The reason for that: Today’s consumers have changed over the last few years and need to be reached on a different level than some years ago. In fact, compelling content is key, is heavily shared and can even be co-created by users. Scholars, journalists, business gurus, or simply the consumer itself, all commonly agree on one pivotal cause for this, the technological development. Advanced technology has resulted in the invention of Internet, which in turn has led to user’s 24/7 connectivity, which in turn has empowered social media’s rise, which in turn again has facilitated messages with sort of meaningful content to overrun consumers. Indeed, consumers are constantly bombarded by an array of messages and subsequently cannot be easily reached anymore (Kietzmann et. al., 2011; Story, 2007; Lamoureux, n.d.). Marketing departments face the challenging task of developing a brand’s audience by acknowledging the immense power of the Internet. In this, content marketing is incrementally mentioned as the key concept (Pulizzi, 2012; Forouzandeh et al., 2014; Csordás and Gáti, 2014). But how do companies in practice implement this concept? What are the key learning points when analyzing the content marketing strategy by the best practice example of Coca-Cola Company?

In the first part, this blog post will provide theoretical background dealing with content marketing, storytelling and the role of emotions in marketing. In the second part, best practice example of the Coca-Cola Company and its re-launched website will be analyzed. The article will conclude with giving practical implications, limitations and further research possibilities. 

Content Marketing – Is it Marketing’s Future!?

“Content marketing is the creation of valuable, relevant and compelling content by the brand itself on a consistent basis” (p. 116), as content marketing expert Joe Pulizzi states (2012). Actually, the idea of content marketing has existed for years. As above-mentioned, beside other widely-known past changes in the market place, one change first and foremost triggered today’s immensely growing meaning for content marketing: Namely the ever-developing technology, allowing everyone - be it consumer or firm - to publish content on the web. Today, brand’s marketing departments increasingly publish articles, engage in social media and/or blogs, send out eNewsletters or even tape videos, for instance, all tactical means of content marketing in order to reach the consumer (Pulizzi, 2012). In accordance with this view, Csordás and Gáti (2014) argue that firms are noticeably filling the new role of media content providers. As the two-way communication platforms of social media allow users to freely generate content and to be constantly interconnected, this media channel is to be considered as a highly effective word-of-mouth marketing tool. Indeed, this “running machine” will constantly run, whether or not a firm actively participates online (Csordás and Gáti, 2014). 

Consumers’ Do not Want to Participate – Content Marketing Is the Key!

Why should companies focus on content marketing? Even if the most impactful answer to that question has already popped up, research shows an extra persuasive fact: Due to user’s low willingness to directly participate in promotional activities (Van Dijck and Nieborg, 2009), traditional marketing efforts may not effectively reach its target audience anymore. In this regard, content marketing opens marketers the door for acting as media content producers in order to catch users’ attention and to communicate marketing messages in a different way. Indeed, the overall goal of content marketing is to engage users and eventually to get them to participate actively (Csordás and Gáti, 2014). In this process, the company has to fulfill two roles. Of course, firstly, marketers have to be highly engaged themselves (Nyro et al., 2011 in Csordás and Gáti, 2014). And secondly, they have to accordingly create a strategic framework, namely the content marketing strategy (Csordás et al., 2011 in Csordás and Gáti, 2014), including strong storytelling.

The Art of Telling Compelling Stories and Seeding Topics

When focusing on content marketing in one’s online marketing strategy, it seems to be crystal clear that all other technological tools for SEO, goals for increasing conversation or even enhancing one’s position on social media are ineffective without compelling storytelling (Pulizzi, 2012). Pulizzi (2012) even goes one step further and describes the new marketing department as a rather publishing department, facing the big challenge of creating engaging content. In fact, through branded social media campaigns, marketers are able to strengthen the continuous interaction between the user and the brand story (Murdough, 2009 in Ashley and Tuten, 2015). These firm-generated brand stories aim at seeding topics for intensive conversations between the firm itself and its consumers as well as among users themselves. As a consequence, consumers should also be able to share their own brand-related experiences into the brand narrative (Escalas, 2004 in Gensler et al., 2013; Singh and Sonnenburg, 2012). In accordance with these previous views, Murdough (2009 in Ashley and Tuten, 2015) states that accurate content marketing helps intensify the consumer-brand relationship, uncover current topics in consumer feedback and persuade consumers to actually make use of the provided online content. Moreover, research further shows that engaging brand stories can have meaningful power of persuasion (Escalas, 2007 in Gensler et al., 2013). 

Content Marketing: Most Reactions are Triggered by Emotions

As it has already become clear, just creating content is not enough. Consumers do not expect to only be educated on a rational level; they expect compelling brand stories (Pulizzi, 2012). In his blog post, Falls (2014) argues that engaging content has to be followed by an emotional reaction from the targeted audience. In agreement with this view, Bagozzi et al. (1999) define emotions as “mental states of readiness that arise from appraisals of events or one’s own thoughts” (p.184). Indeed, a recently conducted research by fanpageKarma proves that content marketing interactions are mostly triggered by emotions. This finding resulted from comparing the level of interaction (likes, comments, shares per post per fan on Facebook) of posts conveying either emotion, information, price or no benefit at all. Which emotions trigger user’s interaction the most? Content conveying feelings of joy drive the most engagement (Eyl, 2014). 

To conclude, this first post has revealed theory dealing with the relation between content marketing, storytelling and emotions. In the following part, an analysis of the Coca-Cola Company’s content marketing strategy will follow. Being frequently lauded as a successfully implemented content marketing strategy following the above-revealed key principles, the analysis is intended to reveal the strategy’s keystones and to conclude with practical implications.