How Coca-Cola Is Using an Authentic Voice to Make a Difference
With just a few months left in 2020, people and businesses alike are reflecting on the year — one filled with turmoil and grief, but also progress and hope for the future.
The Coca-Cola Company has made it their goal to keep moving forward, learning and improving every day for the benefit of the next generation. Bea Perez, chief public affairs, communications, sustainability and marketing assets officer for Coca-Cola joined CPG Speaks to talk about these goals, what it means for the future of the company and how other leaders can join in.
Think Outside the Sustainability Box
Today, corporate sustainability is a hot topic for the world largest brands, receiving the attention and time it deserves from consumers, investors and the C-suite. But as Perez pointed out, that wasn’t always the case.
“As consumers started to catch up, we changed how we talked about it to the industry and investors. We started to tell not just a risk-mitigation story, but the growth story.”
“In 2011, the company would put me in front of investors to talk about sustainability, and I was thankful that the company believed in it and really embedded it into the business, but I would not get any questions from investors,” she said. “As consumers started to catch up, we changed how we talked about it to the industry and investors. We started to tell not just a risk-mitigation story, but the growth story.”
In the years that followed, Coca-Cola began tracking and reporting out on its sustainability work, in the same way they would for annual business reviews, so that both investors and consumers could see how these efforts were driving growth. Now the sustainability and business reviews are even combined into one annual report. The company also started thinking creatively about sustainability, spurring a sustainable fashion line with Diesel, made from recycled plastic bottles.
“About three years ago, our investor relations team called me and said that the investors were now calling us to talk about sustainability,” Perez said. “Bringing this work together has been a lot of fun.”
Be Authentic in Your Values
This year has forced growth throughout the industry, as consumers become more vocal about wanting brands to take a stand on important issues. According to research from Consumer Brands, 68% of consumers believe brands should be using their platforms to engage in social justice issues.
“Consumers are starting to opt out of things they don’t feel are necessary in their lives, or don’t create value or are not doing the right thing,” said Perez. “If consumers didn’t know that Coke shared their values, why would they choose us over someone else?”
“Communication, transparency, listening and acting are so critically important.”
The key to communicating these values effectively is being authentic and transparent to both your consumers and your employees. Following the murder of George Floyd and protests around the country, Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey spent time hosting town halls and listening to employees’ thoughts on how they should use their brands to stand up against social injustice. These open conversations culminated in a new framework for Coca-Cola rooted in listening, leading, investing and advocating; a $500 million commitment to invest in Black-owned businesses; and ongoing conversations with Quincey for employees at all levels of the company.
“Communication, transparency, listening and acting are so critically important,” Perez said. “We know we still have a lot more to do in this space, but it was something I feel really proud of.”
There’s Always Room to Grow
In 1934, Coca-Cola was the first public company to put a female on its Board of Directors. This groundbreaking decision was a step toward gender equality before the term even existed and set the tone for the rest of Coca-Cola’s future. But one step in the right direction is just that — one step. For brands to make significant progress, they need to continue to move forward.
“Don’t be afraid of your failure. Be transparent about it and ask how you can improve instead of worrying about it — but you actually have to act.”
“For any brand and for any company, understand that this is a journey, and just because you have one success does not mean that you’re done,” said Perez. “Don’t be afraid of your failure. Be transparent about it and ask how you can improve instead of worrying about it — but you actually have to act.”
For CPG, this journey isn’t for just one company to embark on alone. Together, the industry is strengthened and can speak with a unified voice to enact positive change and be a leader for the rest of the business community.
“Competitors working together to drive change is actually going to have a long-term benefit to the brands,” she said. “It’s organizations like the Consumer Brands Association that can actually get brands working together. Even if we compete on the shelves or in advertising, there’s some spaces where we absolutely have to work together.”
Visit our website to learn more about CPG Speaks and to register for an upcoming session. CPG Speaks is complimentary for attendees, thanks to PwC and individual session sponsors. View this session in full here.
Published on September 25, 2020
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