3 Lessons From Coca-Cola’s Global Innovation Community

coca cola innovation community

If you were an industry-leading company looking to do a radical reinvention, how would you do it? For consumer goods giant Coca-Cola, the answer was to double down on consumer insight and take innovation research global.

Pamela Chinn Mittoo, Manager of CCNA Product Guidance, Global Research & Development at Coca-Cola, and Matt Kleinschmit, Managing Director of Consumer & Shopper Insights at Maru/Matchbox, shared how the company established an effective and scalable global innovation community that enabled it to build a closer relationship with beverage consumers at the recent Vision Critical Customer Intelligence Summit in Washington.

Here are three key takeaways from Mittoo and Kleinschmit’s session.

1. Get executive buy-in

A few factors encouraged Coca-Cola to pursue reinvention. The consumer goods market was becoming more saturated, and more consumers were becoming distrusting of big brands. Just like many established companies, Coca-Cola was also tackling retail’s digitization, and consumer tastes were changing quickly. Compounding these issues was the fact that growth in consumer goods was slowing down, especially in advanced markets.

The evolving consumer landscape meant Coca-Cola had to step up its efforts in innovation to meet the demands of beverage consumers. The company’s leadership team realized that to do that, it needed to listen to consumers and become more consumer-centric than ever before.

“We’re listening carefully and working to ensure that consumers are firmly at the center of our business so we can continue to grow responsibly,” Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey said recently. “If we embrace where the consumer is going, our brands will thrive and our system will continue to grow.”

2. Leverage technology to be nimble

The company wanted to take a “glocalization” approach to consumer insight. Working with Maru/Matchbox, the company launched an insight community called the Beverage Design Experience. The global innovation community has a wide reach, engaging with consumers in regions as diverse as Europe, Eurasia/Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America. It lets the company leverage a broad array of qualitative, quantitative, mobile and behavioral approaches, and to address key innovation areas including consumer trend-spotting, product design and formulation guidance, innovation pipeline, product and communication direction.

Driven by the company’s research and development and innovation teams, the community has been up and running for over a year now. Key insight from the community directly influence new product development and broader product strategy. One of the community’s key benefits is the ability to engage directly with consumers and share with community members how their feedback influenced the company. By showing consumers that they’ve been heard, the company is able to demonstrate its commitment to consumer-centricity in a very tangible way.

3. Choose your partners carefully

A key challenge in setting up and running a community of this size and scope is making sure that the organization is ready to leverage the platform in its full capacity. When done correctly, the organizational impact can be huge—with ongoing, iterative learning and insights driving both strategic and tactical decisions. Mittoo said that it’s imperative to pick a research partner like Maru/Matchbox who understands deeply the unique nuances of community-based learning approaches.