ATLANTA: Coca-Cola, the soft drinks giant, is modernising its main marketing currency from "impressions" to "expressions", reflecting the demands of the digital world.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Joe Tripodi, the firm's chief marketing and commercial officer, argued the old model, where advertisers dominated conversations, is no longer applicable.

"Perhaps the most consequential change is how consumers have become empowered to create their own content about our brands and share it throughout their networks and beyond," he said.

Similarly, Tripodi suggested simply comprehending the number of people exposed to advertising is inadequate, as it does not provide insights regarding engagement and advocacy.

"In the near term, 'consumer impressions' will remain the backbone of our measurement because it is the metric universally used to compare audiences across nearly all types of media," he said.

"Awareness is fine, but advocacy will take your business to the next level."

Based on such a perspective, Coca-Cola is monitoring "consumer expressions", from individuals uploading relevant video to the spread of branded content online.

This was put into practice in the "24 Hour Live Session", when Coca-Cola gave the band Maroon 5 one day to write a song with the assistance of netizens, and tracked comments posted directly on Twitter and Facebook, and elsewhere on the web.

"We're measuring those expressions and applying what we learn to global brand activations and those created at the local level by our 2,700 marketers around the world," Tripodi said.

Equally, Tripodi reported clips related in some way to Coca-Cola have been watched 146m times on YouTube, but only 26m hits were attributable to material officially released by the company.

"Accept that consumers can generate more messages than you ever could. Don't fight this wave of expression. Feed it with content that touches consumers' passion points like sports, music and popular culture," he said.

The parent company of Sprite and Minute Maid has prioritised developing "liquid and linked" content, which is emotionally stimulating, authentic and culturally appropriate, while also serving marketing objectives.

"More than 160 countries used a common World Cup Visual Identity System, a pool of television commercials, and a common a digital platform," Tripodi said by way of example.

"All were linked by the common thread of celebration."

Indeed, Coke's Happiness Machine video achieved sufficient traction on YouTube that it was turned into a TV ad, demonstrating the benefits of responding quickly, and decisively, to both success and failure.

Having learned the cost of disappointing customers with New Coke in 1985, Coca-Cola understands the importance of embracing the 25m fans of its Facebook page, started by two brand loyalists.

"A decade ago, a company like ours would have sent a 'cease and desist' letter from our lawyer," said Tripodi. "Instead, we've partnered with them to create new content."

Expedition 206, where three consumers travelled to every country where Coke is sold and produce video, blogs and other material about their experiences, also saw Coke surrender formal authority.

"Be a facilitator who manages communities, not a director who tries to control them," Tripodi advised.

While there is a risk of courting negative feedback from shoppers in the digital space, Coke's strong equity has helped it offset criticism.

"When our Facebook site was targeted by an activist group whose members posted negative messages, our fans responded with messages of support for our company," said Tripodi.

"Speak up to set the record straight, but give your fans a chance to do so first."

Data sourced from Harvard Business Review; additional content by Warc staff