Coke’s alt accelerator

untitledThe Coca-Cola Founders Program is an interesting proposition: bring disruptive thinking into the heart of a giant business by letting serial-start up entrepreneurs have the run of the place and find problems they want to solve and turn into businesses.

Coke streses that this is more than your average accelerator:

Most accelerators conduct three to six month programs and focus on financial investment and mentoring. Our model is very different. We invest in founders first, before they have a startup or even an idea. We don’t dictate the problem they should solve and we give them the time and attention required to truly validate the problem, design the best product/market fit and find a business model to create a sustainable company.

A process of radical change around digital began at Coca-Cola four years ago – the 2020 Vision, the switching of 20% of its ad budget into earned media, the new emphasis on stories and co-creation over the traditional ad.

Coke’s new approach to marketing investment grew out of the need to explore digital media. They  use a 70:20:10 ratio of investment – 70% “now” (tried and tested methods), 20% “new” (experimental new media and formats) and 10% next (edge ideas and innovations). This model has seeped into the culture beyond marketing, it seems and into other areas of the business .

With companies this vast and interesting, though – you need to keep a close eye on developments. Look at them, come back three months and look again – there’s always more to see.

Coke vs. Pepsi on social media and disruption

Coke’s rival, Pepsico, was apparently “all in” on social media and digital media a few years ago – why aren’t we seeing anything as radical or interesting as the Coca Cola Founders Programme there?

It could well be that there are fascinating things happening behind closed doors, or that its PR and comms just aren’t making as much of it as Coca-Cola – but I don’t think that’s the case. There have been high profile heads of digital, accelerators, sponsorships of SXSW and technically brilliant website revamps, but not the depth and ambition of change we see at Coke.

Pepsico has approached digital as a brand marketing challenge. Social as a disruption to advertising – an important trend in advertising that needed a response from a brand built on ads. The company has recently hired a new global head of innovation with a brief to look at innovation in a “more holistic” way.

Coca-Cola’s marketing shift has been huge, but it has coupled this with  parallel commercial and operational change. The 70-20-10 model of investment and taking risks has spread far beyond marketing into how the whole business thinks about innovation and change.

This is no coincidence – Coke’s leadership came not just from a strong marketing vision but from the top – the CEO told the business what change in the digital age was going to look like. The money moved and the operations, culture and suppliers followed suit – rewarding incumbent agencies that upped their digital and earned media game or bringing in new players like Zone, as its UK content agency (which pioneered the editorial style of corporate home for Coke’s UK home page).

Coca-Cola has seen and treated digital as a strategic challenge – and that’s why we’ll keep seeing it produce inspiring innovations like the Founders Program.