two glasses of soda with heart-shaped ice cubes on tray
From designing military-themed cans for Dollar General to an inspirational promotion with U.S. women's soccer, Coca-Cola's marketing tactics are curated collaboratively. — Getty Images/SEKTOR52

Collaboration, data sharing and ingenuity underpin Coca-Cola’s bid to nail its goals while simultaneously helping retailers achieve their own targets.

For its part, the beverage giant seeks to claim more of the drinks we sip daily.

“Most consumers have eight beverages a day and we are capturing only one of those eight beverages, so there is a huge opportunity,” said April Carlisle, vice president of shopper marketing, national retail sales for Coca-Cola North America, at the Path to Purchase Expo (P2PX) in November.

Meanwhile, retailers selling Coca-Cola products have different goals: increase shopper engagement, store visits and average order size.

Different goals typically call for separate marketing strategies, but not here. Rather than pursue independent promotional paths, Coca-Cola teams up with a retailer to jointly devise a plan for “shopper marketing,” an emerging discipline within the world of integrated marketing. This flavor of shopper-centric marketing encourages behavior that is mutually beneficial to a product manufacturer and a retailer and, when successful, lifts brand equity for both, Carlisle said during her talk, “The Coca-Cola Way of Shopper Marketing 2.0,” attended by CO—.

Carlisle and other Coca-Cola executives took the stage at the P2PX conference to share results of recent promotional campaigns and how the discipline of shopper marketing continues to evolve and thrive through enhanced disciplines. These include:

  • Collaboration: Marketing teams at Coca-Cola and a retailer team up to brainstorm on innovative promotional efforts that align with both companies’ values.
  • Data-sharing: Retailers typically own customer data; but when they share behavioral insights with a brand like Coca-Cola, new opportunities emerge to personalize shopper messaging.
  • Ingenuity: Unique, personalized marketing campaigns designed exclusively for a specific consumer, such as the Walmart shopper who behaves differently from the Dollar General shopper, result in lasting customer connections for both the brand and the retailer.
 Joseph Vizcarra, Coca-Cola group vice president of shopper marketing for Walmart and Sam's Club, details a recent promotional campaign at the Path to Purchase Expo (P2PX).
Joseph Vizcarra, Coca-Cola group vice president of shopper marketing for Walmart and Sam's Club, speaking at the Path to Purchase Expo (P2PX). — CO— by U.S. Chamber of Commerce

For Dollar General, custom-designed Coke cans with a military theme

When Coca-Cola proposed Dollar General consider its popular “Share a Coke” marketing program that customizes product packaging, the retailer said: We want more. Dollar General wanted Coca-Cola to create an exclusive “custom pack” of beverages, a highly complex production undertaking.

Rachel Smith, Coca-Cola’s assistant vice president of shopper marketing for the drug/value retail sector, told conference attendees she initially thought that delivering such a high degree of customization — to accommodate just one retail partner — was unlikely.

“It took us years to build out the technology with our production facilities in the U.S. to be able to handle customization, so to try and figure out how to add another level of complexity for [Dollar General] was close to impossible,” she said.

Smith recalled how her team approached the challenge, by asking: “How do we think about Dollar General equity and how do we think about Share a Coke equity — and is there a way to find an additional level of synergy where it makes sense?”

Synergy was found in both companies’ longstanding support of the military — Coca-Cola’s 75-year sponsorship of the United Service Organization (USO) and Dollar General’s Paychecks for Patriots jobs program, military discounts and other initiatives. The resulting campaign designed exclusively for Dollar General, “Share a Coke with Military Heroes,” featured a series of five custom cans of Coke that honor different branches of the military. On one side of the can, the traditional Coca-Cola logo was replaced with “Share a Coke with a … Sailor” and “Share A Coke with an … Airman,” for example, along with the USO logo.

The collaboration — a triple win for the retailer, Coca-Cola and the USO — celebrated the patriotism important to Dollar General and Coca-Cola, leveraged the Share a Coke program to increase beverage consumption important to the CPG brand, and capped off with a $100,000 donation to the USO from Dollar General and Coca-Cola.

The campaign is now in its third year at Dollar General. “The mark of a great shopper marketing campaign is that it is not ‘one and done.’ It is sustainable,” Carlisle told attendees.

Most consumers have eight beverages a day and we are capturing only one of those eight beverages, so there is a huge opportunity.

April Carlisle, vice president of shopper marketing, national retail sales, Coca-Cola North America

Market strategy

Coca-Cola has been teaming up with different retailers to create collaborative, shopper-centric marketing campaigns. Read on for ways your business can market your content for growth.

 cans from coca-cola and dollar general military cans
In a campaign designed just for Dollar General, Coca-Cola customized beverage cans to honor military service personnel and veterans from various branches. — The Coca-Cola Company

Women’s soccer promotion yields 18% sales lift, 85 million impressions for Powerade drink

Coca-Cola knew that soccer resonates with Walmart’s customers, but a sports-themed campaign alone would not win promotional placement in stores for its Powerade sports drink. “We aren’t going to get featured space just from putting a logo on our products. We needed to find the right inspiration and message,” Joseph Vizcarra, Coca-Cola’s group vice president, shopper marketing, Walmart/Sam’s Club, told attendees.

Leveraging its partnership with U.S. soccer — Powerade is the official sports drink of the U.S. Women’s National Team — Coca-Cola enlisted the team’s elite player Crystal Dunn. Dunn’s passion for inspiring young girls provided the theme for a campaign that included a, “Power Has No Gender” video, and together, Coca-Cola and Walmart donated $50,000 to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy for Girls.

“Not only did we receive featured placement in more than 3,000 stores this past summer, we saw a 18% [sales] lift on the featured product and over 85 million impressions through our marketing campaign,” Vizcarra said. Icing on the cake: Dunn and her teammates went on to win the 2019 Women’s World Cup, drawing more exposure to the campaign.

Carlisle said the next phase for Coca-Cola and shopper marketing is what she calls “connected commerce.”

“We now have to connect the dots so that every time there is an opportunity to serve advertising that helps drive consideration for the brand, we are also providing an opportunity to close the sale — so connecting that commerce and never [leaving] a dead end to any media we serve,” she said.

Carlisle said Coca-Cola’s 50 shopper marketers, the largest team at any North American company, are refining return-on-investment metrics.

“A big challenge in shopper marketing is developing the right ROI [return on investment],” she said. “Is it the number of displays in stores, number of impressions? We use RORR, which is ‘return on retailer relationship’ and a new one is ROCV, ‘return on customer visit.’ If we serve an ad, do we close the sale and does that drive a trip?” she said. “We now have the data analytics and the capability to do that.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Want to read more? Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn!

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.