Although there are a number of corporations that have introduced sponsorship innovations and established some of the industry’s best practices, there is no question The Coca-Cola Co. is the marketer that has most consistently broken new ground, raised the bar and forged paths that both sponsors and rightsholders have wisely followed.

At IEG’s Making Sensory conference, Scott McCune–Coke’s vice president of integrated marketing, who is responsible for the company’s global media, licensing and sponsorship marketing strategies–shared the company’s latest insights and approach to the medium.

He charted how Coke has arrived at its current strategy over the past four years, beginning with the company’s mission and vision, from which it created a new proprietary way of marketing, which in turn has led it to evolve how it thinks about sponsorships and adjust the criteria it looks for in partners.

Below are excerpted remarks from McCune’s keynote presentation.

The Coca-Cola Co. aspires to be the most respected company in the world. Everything we do is inspired by our threefold mission. First, our mission is to refresh the world in body, mind and spirit. Second, it is to inspire moments of optimism through our brands and through our actions. Third, it is to create value and make a difference everywhere that we engage.

Coming out of this mission we have a vision, and that vision is focused in five areas that we call the five Ps:

Profit. We aspire to maximize shareholder value.

Portfolio. We want to provide the world a portfolio of beverages to satisfy what we hope is every one of their beverage needs, not only the beverage needs they have today, but the beverage needs they don’t even know they have for tomorrow.

Partners. We nurture a winning network of partners and try to build mutual loyalty and mutual value.

People. We want to be a great place to work, where people are inspired and proud to be part of Coca-Cola.

Planet. We want to be a responsible global citizen and make a difference.

Coke’s Marketing Secret Formula
At the core, The Coca-Cola Co. is a marketing company, and we have created a new proprietary approach to marketing that we try to bring to our hundreds of brands around the world.

The starting belief when we began to think about the Coca-Cola way of marketing is that our secret formula is much more than the product formulation. When you think about our company’s heritage, we were, at a very early stage, based on a scientific formula. But it was art that brought that science to life.

And so it is equal parts art and science that we look for in terms of how we think about the Coca-Cola way of marketing. We want to combine the best marketing science in the world today–technical innovation, fulfilling consumer needs through functional benefits, etc.–with the best marketing art–appealing to emotions, aspiration and lifestyle.

To do that, we use a DNA model, the double helix, as a metaphor. The two sides are art and science, and, like true DNA, they can never be disconnected.

We believe combining marketing art and marketing science will deliver sustainable growth. We believe that by fusing those two, we will live up to our reputation as a world-class marketer. The ultimate objective is for us to create game-changing moves in the marketplace that allow us to win versus the competition.

We next apply the Coca-Cola way of marketing to the way that we think about integrated marketing communications, or IMC. For us, the purpose of IMC is to develop and implement brand communications that inspire, that delight, and that deeply connect our consumers to our brands. In our view, IMC is a process comprised of the following eight steps:

Create a shared understanding of business drivers. Although this idea may seem relatively simple, having a clear and aligned understanding of what drives the business is something that doesn’t always happen at Coca-Cola and many other companies.

An example would be that we might have our bottlers out doing one thing, our operations people may be doing something else and our marketers might be doing a third thing. All three groups are trying to do what they believe is the right thing, but they didn’t start at the same place, which is critical.

Be consumer- and shopper-centric. It is no longer about what the brand manager wants or what the CEO wants. We must use the lens of the consumer.

Develop one big meaningful idea. We call this a core creative idea. For example, about two years ago brand Coca-Cola was in a decline around the world. We applied these principles and came up with a core idea that is expressed as The Coke Side of Life.

I am happy to report that in countries all around the world brand Coca-Cola is on the upswing, and we believe part of the reason for that is the Coca-Cola way of marketing.

Drive a fully aligned communication planning process. One of the reasons that our first step was so critical is that it is necessary to have that shared understanding in order to bring everyone together in a disciplined planning approach, which will have its output in the next step.

Deliver strategic connection plans that start media neutral. Notice we are using the term connection plans and not media plans.

Connection plans include the contact points–where we are going to interact with the consumer–and the content–what we are going to communicate–but also the context that we are going to share with them: What kind of experience are we creating? That becomes critical.

Execute with excellence. This is something that the Coca-Cola system does very well and also is critical.

Measure outcomes rather than outputs. To measure outcomes of a marketing program, we need to determine what kind of change in behavior and attitude we had with the consumer, versus the output of how many gross rating points we earned, how many signs we had, or how much time our logo was shown on TV.

Learn from those outputs and refine. We must have our measurement feed back into the process.

How Coca-Cola Approaches Sponsorship
One of the ways that we fuel our IMC approach is with marketing assets and partnerships. We utilize these to tap into consumer passions so that we can build emotional connections and enduring relationships.

Using partnerships to bring our marketing plans to life is a critical part of how we do business. But to understand how we do that, it is important to see how Coca-Cola’s thinking about sponsorship has changed over time, expanding the role of sponsorship and evolving it in terms of how we add value.

Our sponsorship journey started with an overall strategy that we call pervasive presence. This was a strategy that was in place for about the first 100 years of the company, up to about 1990.

Pervasive presence meant we wanted to ensure Coca-Cola was available anyplace that beverages were sold. In fact, we wanted to create new points of distribution for Coca-Cola to be sold, and we did so based on a larger strategy that said Coca-Cola needs to be within an arm’s reach of desire of consumers.

Staying within the pervasive presence strategy, we evolved a ubiquity strategy, and that is when we began to expand beyond availability and we started to sponsor things. We started to, quite frankly, paint things red.

That strategy worked for us for a while, but as more brands came into sponsorship and used it to drive their business, it became very crowded and there were diminishing returns. Also, ubiquity is not a sustainable strategy because of the cost involved.

So in the 1990s we evolved to a marketing activation strategy. And with marketing activation, we really began to tap into consumer passions, and we started to go beyond just presence. It was at this time that we started exploring experiential marketing and started to tap deeper into emotional connections and use the associative imagery of brands.

In fact, we referred to this as 360-degree marketing, where we put our brand and the property brand in the middle and surrounded it with advertising, on-pack, point-of-sale and other promotions and extensions.

And that strategy was successful for us for a while, but we became our own worst enemy because we weren’t consistently using one brand idea. Instead, we would have at any given time two or three or four 360-degree marketing plans going on in the same market. We were trying to do the right thing, but by doing 360-degree marketing around NASCAR, and around football, and around Six Flags all at the same time, we were confusing the consumer.

In the mid-1990s we conducted a brand audit in about 25 countries and we saw what the consumer saw, and it was confusing. And consumers told us they were confused and that they did not know what Coke stood for.

So about four years ago we determined that it was time to move on, not just because of the confusion, but also because we saw a bigger opportunity to evolve to what we call marketing fusion.

For Coca-Cola, marketing fusion is a move away from 360-degree marketing where the brand was at the center to a strategy where the consumer is at the center and is surrounded with a core creative idea.

The creative idea acts as a filter in terms of what the consumer sees and eliminates confusion. For brand Coke that filter is The Coke Side of Life, which we launched two years ago and our hope is that this core idea lasts two to four more years.

A key principle of fusion is that we are required to be choiceful about where we interact with the consumer. We cannot be everywhere; it doesn’t make sense and, quite honestly, the consumer does not want to see us everywhere.

Thus we have to understand where the critical areas are to become involved with consumers and how do we develop a relationship with consumers rather than just gain exposure in front of them. We also must determine how to make those places where we decide to interact with the consumer interact together from a synergy standpoint.

Finally, we have to ensure the fusion strategy and our marketing assets are used as a platform for our vision and its five Ps. We are just starting to use those assets in ways that not only drive profit and our portfolio, but impact our people, help our partners, and, importantly, help the planet and help give back.

To meet those demands of the fusion strategy, we have developed a set of six operating principles that provide a framework that helps guide our global system in terms of how to think about what we should be involved with and how we should be involved.

Understand the consumer environment. We need to be driven by consumer passions and connection platforms, not by assets or properties. We need to proactively map out what those are by going out and looking for partners as opposed to reacting to proposals that we receive.

Gain alignment. Following the theme in all of our marketing, before any investment is made there should be system alignment among our marketing team, senior management and bottlers on objectives, expected outcomes and level of activation required to be successful.

If there is not agreement, we should not get involved in the partnership.

Be choiceful. We need to learn to say no to things that do not fit the strategy and to not be afraid of competition sponsoring an asset. The decision to block competition should only be made when the cost of losing the asset is clearly quantified.

In parts of the world and parts of our system, Coca-Cola still is in the ubiquity strategy, but we are starting to evolve out of that.

Integrate and activate. A brand marketing asset needs to be part of the IMC process to guarantee that it is integrated. This will bring it to life.

We should not invest in an asset if we don’t have the necessary budget or resources to bring it to life.

Be innovative and fluid. We believe the marketing winners in the 21st century will be the innovators. And that does not mean coming up with the next iPod or invention, but rather constantly seeking new ways to manage and leverage our assets to gain more value.

Included in that idea is the ability to be fluid by building flexible contracts, which may mean short-term rights or early exit options, as well as building our own proprietary assets, which is something we have started to do.

Measure with objectivity. Before any asset acquisition or activation, we need to set clear and specific key performance indicators and objectives. If we haven’t evaluated the asset up front, we shouldn’t buy it.

We then need to measure those objectives, because it is the learning from whether or not we accomplish those that will play into our marketing plans of the future.

Coca-Cola’s Sponsorship Criteria
McCune said the company concentrates on four different areas when deciding on partnerships.

Common business objectives
“Our partnership with Adidas is a great example. We are both focused on youth and trying to build enduring relationships with youth.”

Brand fit
“Do the brands have similar values and can the brands enhance one another’s equity? The values of the Olympics are shared not only with brand Coca-Cola, but with a number of brands in our portfolio.”

Value-based relationships
“Are there synergies to leverage one another’s strengths or areas of expertise, such as our partnership with Apple in Europe and Japan where our strengths in live events and in-store leverages Apple’s expertise in digital music.”

Willingness to innovate
“Are you willing to take a risk with us the way that FIFA did when they allowed us tour the actual World Cup trophy?”