TOKYO: Coca-Cola collaborated with a UK tech startup to gain more effective research findings, but the brand’s agile consumer insight collaboration offers other brands a model for early stage investment outside of their typical remits.

Lynette Davis first encountered UK startup ZappiStore, a company that offered automated research services for testing creative, at an ESOMAR conference. Coke’s head of insights in the South Pacific, Davis was struck by ZappiStore’s offer of same-day analysis for a far lower fee than any other offer on the market according to a report from Campaign Asia.

In part, the development was a response to a company-wide decision to test each piece of its brand advertising and score awareness, brand equity and competitive advantage, Hisae Endo, group manager of knowledge, strategy and insights at Coke Japan, told the magazine.

A success, Endo continued, with the automated research allowing Coke to test “more outcomes and speed while keeping the total research budget under control.”

Crucial to the project was bringing the startup’s agility into the partnership. “Startup culture has the advantages of agility and flexibility, and collaborating with [ZappiStore] was inspiring to us,” Endo said.

She also noted that the partnership offers a potential path for other big brands to onboard agility, though she cautioned that there is no one playbook. "There is value and potential that cannot be tapped by simply waiting for a packaged solution", she said.

Neither is there a single polished offer, she added, though that too can be a positive as the bigger brand “might fail to notice opportunities to create new ideas and solutions” identified through the interaction. In comparison, she said, creating something bespoke “takes effort and patience”.

In an article in Harvard Business Review last year, the idea of big brands and startups collaborating was discussed in detail, with regards to the smaller, younger companies’ advantage over established brands. Eddie Yoon and Steven Hughes noted startups’ knack for “detecting and unlocking emerging and latent demand.”

In contrast, “big companies often end up launching things they can make, not what people want.” What brands can offer to startups, however, is assistance and stability to an otherwise volatile field of business. Yoon and Hughes suggest that early stage funding and later stage M&A assistance could be the most fruitful point of interaction for brands.

Data sourced from Campaign Asia, Harvard Business Review; additional content by WARC staff