Coca-Cola Sustainability Case Study

MillennialPlus’ work for The Coca-Cola Company demonstrates our application of global consumer sentiment, blended academic and corporate research, and strategic reformation processes to advance internal and external communications in a highly skeptical consumer environment on corporate sustainability. The work strategically sets a new path to maximize profits while doing good.


THE SETTING

The Coca-Cola Company is a global leader in sustainability. The company’s work to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs (5by20); innovation in recyclable PET plastic partially made from plants (PlantBottle); partnership in EKOCENTER a social enterprise, and EKOCYCLE, a shared cause to advance products made from recycled materials; and global water replenishment is socially acclaimed worldwide. The breadth of Coca-Cola’s sustainability work is no longer captured by the terminology, nor fully reflected in the scope and spirit of the company’s social mission.

The Strategic Challenge

Increasingly, corporate social responsibility and its many derivatives are met with skepticism from experts and the public alike. One reason lies in the ambiguity of the concept itself; Millennials’ perception of the term sustainability is overwhelmingly green, dominated by environmental themes (e.g., water, recycling) with much less emphasis on social topics. Coca-Cola sought to reposition its corporate sustainability function in order to:

  1. Improve understanding among internal and external audiences of the identity;
  2. Reflect qualities unique to the Coca-Cola brand; and
  3. Stay relevant given evolving consumer preferences.

OUR APPROACH

We utilized multiple research techniques to better understand how the notion of sustainability has evolved in the business sector, public mindset, and beyond. Our research synthesizes:

Competitive Scan

A scan of the language employed by competitors as well as respected companies in a wide range of industries around doing good. We looked at global corporations across industries to gain insight into current practices and trends.

Secondary Research

MillennialPlus conducted a review of academic sustainability literature, Google Trends, and secondary reports to sense shifts or trends in the space.

THE CORPORATE SUSTAINABILITY CONCEPT IS STAGNANT

There is relatively little change in corporate use of the term “sustainability” by corporations since the 1990s, and a lack of consensus as to what corporate sustainability is today or should be going forward.

As noted author John Thackara states, “words like Sustainability, Resilience, or Transition are evocative — but abstract. Something more is needed: a compelling story, and a shared purpose, that people can relate to, and support, whatever their other differences.

CONSUMERS SEE CSR AS A “GIVEN”

Businesses are caught in a vicious cycle: The more business has begun to embrace corporate responsibility, the more it has been blamed for society’s failures. Consumers now believe businesses have an obligation to achieve social progress in society, even at the expense of profitability.

THE RISE OF IMPACT INVESTMENT

The “two pockets” paradigm (making money with regard only to financial return and giving it away with regard only to impact) is breaking down. Impact investors, as with growing numbers of B Corps, balance shareholders’ interests with a broader stakeholder agenda.


International Survey

We conducted a survey of 450 respondents ages 18 to 34 in the US, UK and South Africa to explore attitudes towards existing and proposed language to communicate future-forward corporate do-gooder efforts.

SUCCESSFUL EFFORTS ARE SMART, SIMPLE AND VISIBLE

When asked to describe successful corporate “do gooder” initiatives on an unaided basis, respondents mention Tom’s footwear is often. Few brands are mentioned repeatedly, though NGOs and nonprofits are frequently mentioned. The simplicity of the ideas behind the initiatives of the brands referenced below and exposure through shopping make these memorable.

CONSUMERS CARE, BUT AREN’T CONVINCED

The majority think corporate do-gooder initiatives are important. However, they aren’t aware of many, and most are not purchasing on the basis of such efforts. Across all three markets, 60% say these types of efforts are Extremely/Very important. Yet, 33% could not name a company initiative unaided. 40% claim to have been influenced to buy.

While people are hopeful about these initiatives, they are also skeptical, and find it difficult to remain informed. 58% feel like they have a positive impact, 28% are skeptical of the impact they have, and only 37% believe that a company engaging in these efforts “truly cares.”

OPPORTUNITIES EXIST TO UPDATE TERMINOLOGY

We assessed many naming options for a division dedicated to doing good. Directionally, terms implying social connection or both a human and environmental connection fared better. Believability and uniqueness could use improvement for all options.


IMPLICATIONS

LANGUAGE AROUND “DOING GOOD” NEEDS A FACELIFT

Look at language that is to-the-point, positive and “more sunshine than chore.” Suggestions and associations can be grouped into these 4 themes:

  • COMMON GOALS: sharing, social, collaboration
  • POSITIVITY: happiness, smiles, compassion
  • PROACTIVE: future forward
  • LOCAL: community, direct impact

INCREASE AWARENESS AND CREDIBILITY OF INITIATIVES

What is missing is not public desire for prosocial consumption, but the ability of brands to believably and noticeably deliver on it. Drive consumer choice with a systemic, socially aware approach to problems. Partner with successful organizations for effectiveness and solutions that stand up to scrutiny.


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