Coca-Cola's new Journey focuses on storytelling

For the past year, Coca-Cola has communicated extensively on the strategy and evolution of Coca-Cola Journey, our new media outlet. Equally intriguing is the story we haven't talked about very much - how did it happen in the first place?

For the past year, Coca-Cola has communicated extensively on the strategy and evolution of Coca-Cola Journey, our new media outlet. Equally intriguing is the story we haven't talked about very much - how did it happen in the first place?

Why did Coca-Cola decide to make a multimillion-dollar, multiyear commitment to brand journalism? How did we sell it, and how are we executing against our content strategy in a sustainable way?

In late 2010, Muhtar Kent, our chairman and CEO, challenged our global communications team to resurrect Journey, an internal print magazine that was published from 1985 to 1996. The team quickly aligned on the principle that rich storytelling is the foundation of communications, and that our lack of publishing capability was a weakness. We decided to replace the corporate website with a content-driven hub, which would serve as a consumer-facing magazine.

The team then developed the core of our content strategy, a 50/50 blend of Coke-themed and unbranded content on topics Coca-Cola believes it is leading. We planned the editorial to be visually rich and weighty. With a solid idea of what we would publish, we then needed the buy-in of stakeholders across the Coke system. So we started to sell.

No company had ever replaced its corporate website with a magazine before, and it took months for some internal stakeholders to become comfortable breaking with traditional corporate Web design. Our corporate site was used as a digital filing cabinet for so long that doing away with whole sections took some convincing. In all, we scrapped about 1,000 pages, several hundred of which had not received a single visitor in a year.

But we did have one enormous advantage: resolute executive sponsorship. This meant that we didn't waste valuable time on selling the concept; we just needed to figure out the mechanics of pulling it off. Crucially, our leadership team recognized that Project Journey could be crippled if it was subject to year-over-year budget haggling. To secure financing and a multiyear commitment, our CCO, CMO, and chief technology officer presented Project Journey to our operating committee. They made a five-year commitment and we were in business.

With the clock counting down to our November launch, we had about seven months to build a daily publishing team from scratch. Our growing digital team worked across the system to develop our first global editorial process, first set of legal guidelines for content publishing, common standards for user-generated content, and our first content data program. And we hired journalists.

In July 2012, the magazine was named Coca-Cola Journey and the final designs were locked. We also overhauled the corporate pages, including the investor's section, careers page, and press center. The new look simplified navigation and put storytelling front and center. While the title's storytelling has received most of the attention since launch, these corporate page improvements are a major milestone in their own right.

Coca-Cola Journey launched on November 12, 2012. By that time, the road map already included more than 25 updates that would roll out by the end of Q1 2013. In January, we started to build our first international site, the German edition of Coca-Cola Journey. Partnering closely with the German team, we built the framework for an international editorial program that's evolving today. Subsequent launches in Japan, Morocco, Australia, and New Zealand quickly followed.

By June, data showed consistent patterns in content performance. Branded stories tended to perform better than unbranded ones, and reader response to marketing, innovation, careers, and history content was stellar. Our content strategy shifted to focus on more Coke stories, and concentrate on pieces that were fun and brilliant.

In November, we launched a redesigned homepage to further emphasize stories and finalize the shift to magazine format. Each month, we monitor data and do more of what works, and eliminate what does not.

The journey was exhilarating and frustrating, fast and slow, groundbreaking and, at times, mundane. But those of us who publish it every day are certain that this is career-defining work, and the best is yet to come. We have so much to learn, and many more things to do. This story is far from over. l

Ashley Brown is group director, digital communications and social media at Coca-Cola.

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