Who’s your best ambassador? For Coke, it’s their customers

Who represents your brand on social media? It’s a question that excites and agitates marketers all over the place. Some would prefer not to have to think about it at all.

And then you have companies like Coke, who recruit customers to be their ambassadors.

Expedition 206 is a year-long tour of three “happiness ambassadors” who are discovering what makes people happy in Coke’s 206 markets around the world.

I asked Coke’s digital marketing senior manager Anne Carelli how they came up with the idea, and how it’s working for them. You’ll be able to read more analysis on this in my online marketing column in the next NZ Marketing Magazine.

SY.        What are your marketing and comms objectives for Expedition 206?
Coke:   Our goal for this program is to unite people around the theme of happiness and bring our global “Open Happiness” campaign to life. Coca-Cola has been inviting people around the globe to enjoy the simple things in life for more than 120 years, and that spirit of positivity and optimism is at the heart of Expedition 206.  Our objectives include creating the opportunity for engagement both off-line and online in social media in all the countries where we operate as well as increasing the positive chatter in the digital space related to our Company and brands.

SY.        Where did the idea come from?
Coke:   The idea originated from our desire to create a program which would increase positive mentions / discussions of our Company and brands in social media, create new presences on Social Network sites and in social communities as well as create a group of brand ambassadors around the world. We also wanted to research happiness and determine what are the similarities and differences in what makes people happy around the world.

SY.        What challenges did you face getting it up and running?
Coke:   Looking back on the planning of the program, we didn’t have any major obstacles.  One particular challenge was selecting the finalists for the experience.  We had so many incredible candidates that we had to work very hard to narrow the selection down to the three final teams.  Candidates from all over the world submitted applications and audition videos, and we brought 18 people to Atlanta for a rigorous interview and audition process. We were looking for specific candidates with the right mix of personality, technical skill, health and mindset to complete this unprecedented journey. The final teams were presented to the online community for voting and it was a very close race!

SY.        What has been the best thing about it so far?
Coke:  One of the best elements of this program has been learning about the truly amazing people the Happiness Ambassadors have connected with in over 100 countries so far on their journey.  By utilizing social media platforms we are able to share these stories with the world and create spaces where consumers are able to engage with the Ambassadors and their stories.

SY.        What have you been able to do through social media that you couldn’t do with anything else?
Coke:  Through sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and blog updates, Ambassadors have been able to maintain constant communication with the social media sphere and share their amazing stories.  And vice-versa; fans can track and participate in the journey online and on the platform they chose.  Additionally  through crowdsourcing opportunities, fans participate in the journey by sending the Ambassadors messages, sharing their personal stories of happiness and giving the Ambassadors recommendations on how to find happiness when visiting their country.

SY.        For a huge brand like Coke, having your customers represent the brand seems like a really smart idea. Any plans to continue this into the future with other, similar expeditions/campaigns?
Coke:  This is a big part of how we do things at Coke. It’s not a gimmick; it’s a different way of operating. As for future programs building off of this expedition, you’ll just have to stay tuned!

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