In a world that's swiftly being reshaped by technology, even well-established brands have to play by new digital rules. Pepsi, selected by U.S. News as one of America's Most Connected Companies for its ambitious social media strategy, understands that cyberspace is fertile ground for building relationships with customers who might not be reachable through print or television advertising.
That's the motivation behind Pepsi's April 30 launch of a digital dashboard featuring lots of sugary references to pop culture, which the company hopes will resonate with its core audience of 18- to 35-year-olds. The content, found at Pepsi.com, is part of the beverage giant's new "Live for Now" marketing campaign.
The refreshed site highlights user-generated messages from Facebook and Twitter that include the #LiveForNow hashtag, plus tweets from music artists Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, and Joe Jonas. Stories are curated with the help of SocialFlow, a tool that ranks the popularity of editorial content within audience segments. "It's all about that movement [online], and where people's time is being spent," says George Smith, senior manager, social strategy and execution, for Pepsi Beverages.
The dashboard is the latest installment of a cyber strategy that included last year's debut of Pepsi Pulse and Sound Off, online destinations that encouraged visitors to comment on The X-Factor, a Fox network reality television show whose sponsors include Pepsi. In April, the company held an "Internet taste test" in which improv actors used Facebook profiles to impersonate real consumers trying Pepsi products, and shared the spoof videos with participants.
Pepsi Pulse, which was already located at Pepsi.com, has been retooled into the new dashboard. To further engage its online community, the song selection and encores for a Pepsi concert series this summer featuring major artists will be chosen in part by tweets from the live audience and people watching online.
"Pepsi is learning, as every business in learning, that if you want to remain relevant with this new type of consumer, you have to be where they are, you have to talk their language," and you have to connect with them in a way that "keeps them feeling like they want to be part of your brand," says Brian Solis, a principal analyst at the Altimeter Group and author of The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution. Connected consumers, he adds, are "getting groomed and conditioned to expect the world to come to them."
Other divisions of parent company PepsiCo also are active online. Gatorade made national headlines in 2010 when it established a "mission control" at its Chicago headquarters to monitor what people say about the brand through social media, and to provide feedback to correct distortions.
"Everyone's hyper-connected at this point, and we want to be at the different touch points that our consumers are at," Smith says. The longer someone spends interacting online with Pepsi, he says, the more opportunities the company has to change opinions, glean valuable insights, and strengthen brand loyalty.
Smith acknowledges that social media provides a treasure trove of statistics about the age, gender, demographics, interests, and reactions of consumers. "With digital, you end up with a lot of extra data, and you end up with a lot more understanding of who your consumer is," he says. By comparison, marketers can't deduce nearly as much about customer behavior through other forms of advertising, such as TV and billboards. Like many companies, and similar to Gatorade's approach, Pepsi monitors what people say online about its products and sometimes steps in to refer disgruntled consumers to its customer-service team.
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Social media helps the company in other ways. Pepsi can be more surgical about reaching populations in specific geographic areas. "We're seeing good results from that," Smith says, explaining that the company can target local audiences with specially tailored advertising messages, culled from location information in Facebook profiles, rather than spread the same appeal to everyone.