winter / 2014

The magazine of branded content
Inside Coke's secret formula to increasing web traffic and brand relevance—hint, content's a big part of it.
Feb 4, 2015

Jay Moye’s challenge as editor-in-chief of Coca-Cola’s Journey content hub is nearly as big as the brand itself: produce content that piques consumer interests and satisfies the goals of shareholders and corporate execs.

“A lot of what we do with Journey is to editorialize and amplify the great marketing work that our colleagues on the other side of the aisle are producing at Coke,” says Moye. If this statement sounds like pitch-perfect PR, there’s ample reason for it: Moye, with J-school credentials from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, spent nearly a decade working internal PR for Coke before signing on with Journey two years ago.

“[EOI] is kind of a super metric, our North Star, and it helps us to make editorial decisions going forward.”

Moye and his team of six churn out 15 pieces every week for the main site and the more nimble and newsy Unbottled blog. About 33% of the content is designated to non-branded articles like music, food, and innovation, with the remainder a mix of company announcements, campaigns, milestones and earnings reports.

Although the Coke brand values (optimism, refreshment and happiness) that inform the content’s tone never change, the editorial topics and angles are constantly evolving, courtesy of a proprietary metric called EOI (Expression of Interest)—an algorithm that weighs social shares, referrals from social networks, SEO traffic and total visitors.

“It’s kind of a super metric,” says Moye of the EOI, which was created for Coke by Perfect Sense Digital. “It’s our North Star, and it helps us to make editorial decisions going forward.”

Listicles, hashtags, influencer posts, user-generated and real-time content, related-post pop-ups and link strategy all contribute to boosting an EOI score, which can climb as high as 14,000, although 1,000 is considered high achievement.

“This is the way that brands and companies need to communicate. I think that’s pretty clear, particularly to younger consumers.”

Moye points to one story this past summer whose EOI performance took his team by surprise. For the company’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign (where bottles of Coke were released stamped with 250 popular first names), Journey published an initial story around Memorial Day. “And the interest was really incredible,” says Moye. “In fact, people searching ‘Where can I find my name on a Coke can?’ was over half of the search queries within our site and EOI scores were through the roof. We realized we needed to develop several other supporting pieces of content, so we knocked out about a dozen stories over the course of the summer.”

Next, the audience development added paid media as accelerant. For this, they use Outbrain. “If the EOI is at 1000 we’ll do paid,” says Natalie Johnson, senior manager, digital communications and social media. “But sometimes even before we see an EOI score, if we think it’s a good story and we want to generate awareness, we’ll do a small amount of paid towards the content for an always-on approach.”

Johnson says this always-on tactic need not require big budget—as little as $200 on Facebook. “Even if it’s 5 stories, we’ll put it on Outbrain for a week, maybe spend $500-$1000, spread it across channels, and the awareness will be elevated and it makes the brand relevant.”

“We need to justify what we’re doing, and prove that it’s delivering value back to the business.”

The numbers seem to suggest awareness has increased, with web traffic increasing 40% over a two-year period (to 1.4M monthly uniques).

When the Journey site launched in November 2012, it represented more than a mere re-branding of a corporate website. An enduring symbol of American capitalism had made a heady bet that relevant content could meet the next generation of Coke drinkers where they lived (online) and engage them in ways in which they’re accustomed. It was an acknowledgement that traditional product-based marketing had indeed shifted, that a 128-year-old brand voice was in fact a chorus and, most poignantly, that the consumer—not Coke—is it.

“This is the way that brands and companies need to communicate,” says Moye. “I think that’s pretty clear, particularly to younger consumers.”

“We’re confident that we’re on the right path.”

Of course, Moye and his Journey staff need to justify the corporate expense for content, especially with Coke recently announcing a $3 billion cost cutting plan, which expects to shed 2,000 jobs.

“We need to justify what we’re doing, sure,” he says, “and prove that it’s delivering value back to the business. We’re confident that we’re on the right path.”

Operating under the new austerity at Coke, Journey’s editorial strategy in 2015 will align more with business and brand priorities. “It doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon the lifestyle content we’ve gone big on these last few years, or that we’re going to default back to a corporate website.”

Did we mention that Moye’s got challenges? So does Coke, now occupying a world where consumers are drinking less soda. “It just means we have to get very creative, and think of ways we can tell these Coca-Cola business stories in a Journey way,” says Moye, referencing the key brand value of happiness. “It doesn’t mean everything has to be sunshine and babies, but everything needs to have that optimistic and refreshing voice.”