The ‘New Coke’ disaster and marketing measurement

Solomon Radley22/05/2018

As Coca-Cola discovered in 1985, measuring the wrong thing can be a fatal marketing error. Here's how to ensure you're measuring the right metrics when it comes to your content marketing.

In spring 1984, Coca‐Cola decided to change the recipe for Coke. Its market share had plunged 36 per cent since its peak and, with Pepsi nipping at their heels, the executives knew something had to change. What followed was one of the most exhaustive product testing processes in history.

Hundreds of consumers ‘blind sip tested’ thousands of different formulas over several months. By April 1985, they had a new, sweeter recipe which outperformed both ‘Old Coke’ and Pepsi. “Our new recipe is bolder, rounder and more harmonious,” said CEO Roberto Goizueta amid much media fanfare.

It was also an unqualified, unmitigated and unparalleled disaster. Coca‐Cola received over 40,000 complaints, Coke ads were booed in stadiums and ultimately Goizueta was forced to reintroduce the old formula.

What went wrong for Coke?

In part, Goizueta’s team had underestimated the emotion attached to ‘Old Coke’. But other factors were also at play. Most importantly, the way they’d measured trials of ‘New Coke’ – the sip test – was deeply flawed. When people drink a cola at home they don’t have a sip, they drink a can. And while consumers prefer a sweeter sip, over the course of a longer measure it becomes sickly. Put simply, the marketers had measured the wrong thing.

The moral of the story: measuring the right thing in the wrong way, or the wrong thing in the right way can be fatal for marketers. This is as true for content marketers as it was for the world’s favourite soda. That’s why, at a time of increasing focus on ROI, we’ve created this guide to measuring content performance.

Start by defining your objectives

Ensure that your content objectives are closely linked to wider business objectives. Whether you’re acquiring new prospects or retaining company talent, businesses with successful content programmes start by mapping their objectives.

Understanding the issue. What problem is your business facing? What factors led this problem to develop? What will the implications be if this is not addressed? What are the benefits of finding a solution?

Identifying your audience. Who needs to be influenced in order to solve the issue? What is the ideal action this audience should take? What barriers and drivers are there to achieving this ideal outcome?

Answering these questions and spelling them out as a problem and solution framework will make the solution actionable. “In order to address X problem, we need to Y with Z audience to change their behaviour from A to B.”

At this point, you need to make sure that your strategic goals sit at the heart of all of your activities. Being upfront with the broader business about what your content campaign is and is not aiming to achieve will be invaluable and avoid situations where you are asked why you didn’t contribute more inbound leads when that wasn’t the objective.

Measure the right KPIs for your goals

A common problem is that the majority of businesses engage in content marketing for strategic objectives, but go on to measure performance tactically. If your aim is to reposition the brand as a thought leader, is the number of LinkedIn ‘shares’ really the best measurement? To avoid this, create both strategic and tactical measures of success.

Ask a sales person what they want from marketing and invariably the answer will be “more inbound, sales‐ready leads”. If your product is at all complicated, is that really realistic?

In a B2B organisation, marketing shouldn’t be afraid to get granular in understanding the sales challenges the business faces. Has the team noticed lower sales resistance? Are they experiencing fewer objections than three months ago? Are email reply rates increasing? These are all excellent metrics for the success of a content initiative.

Set a timeframe for success

All metrics – both strategic and tactical – need to have a shelf life. So, pick a cut‐off point after which you must say definitively: “That was a success/failure.”

Strategic objectives take longer to deliver than tactical one, so keep this in mind when setting your deadlines.

Alongside your quantifiable metrics, also keep track of anecdotal evidence of success. Some of the most powerful evidence of content performance lies in verbal or written feedback from clients and prospects, particularly in industries where the opinions of a small stakeholder group can have a big impact on buying decisions. Make sure you are consolidating these anecdotes through regular catch‐ups with the sales team, and write them down.

Some best practice tips to get you started

Invest in quality

Content, whether it’s a blog post or research project, is much more likely to ‘stick’ (both internally and externally) if it is of exceptionally high quality. Use the best writers you can get your hands on, drive designers to push the boundaries and use beautiful photography.

Sweat the asset

Having invested time, effort and budget in creating an amazing content initiative, be sure to repurpose wherever possible. Break out infographics for social, or switch up the headlines for different channels or audiences.

Bring the sales team with you

There are two reasons why sales team buy‐in is crucial when developing content campaigns:

  1. If they approve of what you produce, they are more likely to actively use it in their conversations.
  2. Sales reps are much more likely to report back anecdotal evidence if they feel part of the team. So, try to involve the sales team as much as possible.

Focus on distribution

All too often, businesses exert all their resource on content creation, with distribution and promotion coming as an after‐thought. Carve out some budget upfront to ensure you are reaching the right people, even if this means reducing the size or scope of the content itself.

In summary

  • Define your objectives
  • Establish the best metrics to measure
  • Set a timeframe for the campaign
  • Invest in best practice content