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Coca-Cola: micro influence is the real thing

Read how market research, industry insights, and micro influencers helped these global brands break through a new area of commerce. BTW, if you don’t know, “Micro influencer” refers to an everyday person on social media with approximately 2k – 50k followers on one platform (i.e. Instagram or Twitter etc)…

One of the most iconic advertisers of all time, Coca-Cola has long understood the value of A-list celebrity endorsements from household names such as Keanu Reeves, Courtney Cox, Serena Williams and many more.

In terms of social influencers for the digital age, at first glance Coca-Cola seems to be following the rule of thumb that bigger is inevitably better. With a roster of global superstars on its books, the brand is already connecting with millions of social media followers worldwide.

In terms of social influence, it really doesn’t get much more macro than two of Coke’s current social media brand ambassadors: pop superstar Taylor Swift and basketball legend Lebron James. Young, uber-cool and with more followers than you can shake a digital stick at, these celebrities fit the profile of influencer that you’d anticipate from the world’s fifth most valuable brand.

But, if you dig a little deeper into its in-country strategies for working with social influencers, you’ll see that Coca-Cola is doing something unexpected: going small. Microscopic, in fact.

Small is beautiful: grassroots social influence in Denmark

For example, in the northern climes of Scandinavia, Coca-Cola opted to try something a little different for the launch of a new raspberry-flavoured version of the globe’s favourite fizzy drink. Rather than the scatter-gun approach of working with a high-profile macro influencer, Coca-Cola chose a “grassroots” strategy that focused on the depth of engagement with followers, rather than the breadth of coverage.

Influencer agency Brandheroes worked with Coca-Cola to identify and partner with a group of 300 Danish food and lifestyle micro influencers on social media who had a good cultural fit with its brand values, and strong engagement with its target audiences.

A high volume of followers was definitely not part of the selection requirements. In fact, these 300 micro influencers had a combined following of 750K on Instagram – an average of 2,500 each. To put this into context, Taylor Swift has 125 million Instagram followers (Jan 2020) – more than five times the populations of Sweden, Norway and Denmark combined.

The “real” deal

So, why this apparent turnaround? Because, unless you happen to have a mansion in Malibu and travel by private jet, the truth is we don’t have much in common with the sports or entertainment stars who feature in big-budget ad campaigns. We can admire them but we cannot “be” them.

With micro influencers, the relationship between influencer and consumer takes on a very different perspective. From the content they post, we know that they live in a nearby location, perhaps drive the same kind of car as we do, go to the same kind of restaurants, have similar hobbies. We choose to follow them precisely because they are like us, and their lifestyle choices are attainable for anyone.

Local heroes

And this helps to generate much higher levels of what every brand covets most from a social media campaign: engagement.

To promote the launch of the raspberry-flavoured Coke in Denmark, a total of 300 unique posts were created by the micro influencers, generating a total of 42,904 likes and comments in response, known collectively as “engagement”.

In terms of social influencer campaigns, industry experts consider an engagement rate of between 3.5% and 6% as “very high”. This campaign achieved a whopping 7.5% engagement rate, blowing most macro influencer stats out of the water, or, in this case, raspberry Coke.

Coke shifts towards agile marketing

To put this very localised approach in a wider context, it’s important to understand that Coca-Cola is facing unprecedented challenges in the early 21st century.

Coke’s indisputable place in popular culture as the world’s favourite soft drink in the 20th century can no longer be taken for granted. Governments, particularly in the developed world, are warning against the dangers of high sugar content and, in some cases, imposing hefty sugar taxes. Consumers are increasingly looking for healthy options and brands are responding by modifying their products, diversifying their portfolios and innovating their marketing models.

Rodolfo Echeverria, Coca-Cola’s Global Creative Vice President, described the need for a faster, more agile approach in an interview with Marketing Week: “We cannot [always] go through the long process of calling Ogilvy or McCann or the big networks we usually work with. We are willing to use influencers and co-create with our consumers, and use models that are not the typical big, fat agency which we may use when we have the time and budget.”

The local perspective

Coca-Cola is not about to discard its high-profile collection of A-list entertainers, sports stars and celebrities as brand ambassadors. However, the brand is learning how to think and market themselves in a new way by embracing the connection that micro influencers have with consumers, and the lifestyles they share. Campaigns can be launched rapidly, respond to local events as they happen, and evolve organically.

This approach that is already reaping small yet tangible rewards. For brands such as Coca-Cola, a new marketing paradigm is emerging: think globally, influence locally.