With over 500 soft drink brands being sold to customers in more than 200 countries, the Coca-Cola Company is the largest beverage company in the world. Every day, thirsty consumers drink more than 1.9 billion servings of Coca-Cola products. An operation on this scale clearly generates a lot of data – whether that’s from the production and distribution processes, sales, customer feedback or any other part of the process. One of the reasons the company has remained at the top for over 130 years is its ability to embrace innovation and new technology, including Big Data technology.
How Coca-Cola uses Big Data in practice
Coca-Cola has a solid data-driven strategy underpinning decisions right across the business, and it’s known to have invested extensive resources into research and development in areas like artificial intelligence (AI) to make the most of the data it collects.
This has paid off in a number of areas, including product development. In 2017, it was revealed that the launch of new flavour Cherry Sprite was inspired by data collected from those self-service drinks fountains that let customers mix their own drinks. Because the machines offer a choice of flavour “shots” for customers to add to their drinks, Coca-Cola could simply identify the most popular flavour combo and turn it into a ready-made beverage for a wider audience.
The company is also capitalising on AI bots – the technology behind “virtual assistants” like Siri and Alexa – and developing AI assistants for vending machines. These will allow users to personalise their experience, for example, by asking the machine to mix their favourite blend exactly to their preference. The AI also enables the vending machines to behave differently in different scenarios. This might mean being greeted by a lively, jolly vending machine in a busy shopping centre, and a more sombre machine in a hospital waiting room.
Social media data is another important avenue that Coca-Cola fully exploits – and it’s no wonder with 35 million Twitter followers and a whopping 105 million Facebook fans. With those kinds of numbers, the company is sitting on a rich vein of valuable data. One way it uses this data is in tracking how Coca-Cola products are represented across the various social media platforms. In 2015, this led to the calculation that the company’s products were mentioned somewhere in the world, on average, every two seconds. Using image-recognition technology (which is powered by AI), the company can tell when photographs of its drinks (or, indeed, those of its competitors) are posted online.
This kind of data gives Coca-Cola important insights into who is drinking their drinks, where those people are located, and what prompts them to mention the brand online. The information can be used to serve consumers more targeted adverts, which, according to Coca-Cola, are four times more likely to result in a click. In the future, the company is keen to use AI to create the adverts themselves.
In another move powered by Big Data technology, Coca-Cola is trialling augmented reality (AR) in a number of its bottling plants across the globe. This technology involves using glasses or a headset that overlays computer graphics on top of what the user is looking at in the real world. This means technicians could see information about machines they’re repairing or servicing, and get help with diagnosing and fixing technical issues. This technology can also be used to inspect and diagnose problems in machines and dispensers located in difficult-to-reach or remote places (such as a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean).
Ideas and insights you can steal
The Coca-Cola Company is a prime example of a business that’s built on data and intelligence, taking every opportunity it can to reassess pretty much every aspect of how it operates. This kind of strategic and widespread implementation of AI and other Big Data technology means the company is likely to remain number one for the foreseeable future.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.