With sizeable beverage portfolios backed by familiar marketing campaigns, you could be forgiven for questioning how leading soft drinks companies could expand much further. But, as one of the top players in the industry, Coca-Cola has turned to technology for the answer.

For decades the organisation has looked to tailor its brands to specific demographics and audiences. It has long since discovered the benefits of event sponsorship, innovative packaging designs and health-focused production. Now, as consumer shopping trends migrate further and further away from high-street shops and supermarkets, Coca-Cola is looking to the online world to apply its market expertise.

The company has started to prioritize its digital endeavors, and clearly values the potential of major partnerships having looked to work with the likes of Amazon’s Echo to harness the potential of voice-controlled orders. The tech giant’s smart speaker now follows up a fast-food delivery order with the offer of an additional drink. The notion of encouraging these impulse purchases, as well as the ease in which it can be done, demonstrates the potentially lucrative combination of ‘add-ons’ with voice-led online shopping.

And voice control is one area of the market Coca-Cola is keen to develop.

“What we’ve been trying to explore was [how to] effectively use chatbots in serving scenarios,” Coca-Cola’s chief digital officer David Godsman told Adweek. “Consumers find there is great convenience in being able to find quick answers or to address thoughts that they have, so we’ve tested a little bit in that space.”

Much of this testing focused on the use of chatbots in somewhat unusual environments. With the added element of a mobile app, consumers in some countries can order a drink at the touch of a button, and link their purchase to a nearby vending machine. The collection process is then enhanced further as the machine engages with consumers through a unique ‘personality’ of its own. Although mostly a novelty factor, it provides an interesting additional dimension to the ordering process. Such interaction could be vital for boosting sales.

Automated chats are common online, but the concept of AI-assisted vending machines is a fresh idea that has raised eyebrows, and essentially blurred the line between on- and off-premise consumption.

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Ultimately, enhancing the user experience is the key aim for Coca-Cola as it aims to improve consumer interaction through digital innovation. Its Coke On app, which was recently launched in Japan as a loyalty scheme, works with one million vending machines nationwide and provides rewards for regular consumers. With the app fast approaching six million downloads, the experimental model of merging orders across multiple channels can certainly be considered a success – and this is just the beginning.

“We think there’s a lot still to play [with] out there,” says Godsman. “I would say we’re moving from a model where we knew you consumed a brand of ours, but we only knew you in the context of that brand, to a model where we can recognize [a consumer] across every brand.

“When we start to do that, the relationship and the dialogue we can have with you as a consumer is significantly greater.”

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