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Fastcoworks Created for and commissioned by Adobe
Fastcoworks Created for and commissioned by Adobe
Coke’s Freestyle Machine Is An IoT Evangelist

A few years ago, marketers at Coca-Cola noticed a worrisome trend. While the growth of fountain soda sales was up nationwide, the likelihood of a customer buying a fountain drink with a meal was dropping. There were no upstart soda machine companies and no overall drop in soda sales. Consumer tastes were changing.

As it turns out, Coke’s fountain drink machines were being outshone by convenience stores. Those endless, brightly-lit rows of bottles represented hundreds of choices; Coke machines offered about seven.

Back in 2007, the company had begun building its now-famous Freestyle machines, which contain dozens of flavors. They use a touchscreen instead of mechanical buttons. Coke hoped on-screen promotions could help reverse the trend in restaurants. But to tap the machine’s potential, "we would have had to create a separate software build for every customer and every machine," Chris Dennis, the head of global product strategy for Coca-Cola Freestyle, said on Tuesday at Adobe Summit in Las Vegas.

Dennis took the stage at the annual digital marketing conference and explained how, like a number of companies in attendance, Coke is using a combination of wild experimentation and customer data to transition from a product company into an experience company.

"These machines have analytics," Dennis said. "They track how each pump is performing, they auto-replenish cartridges and they pull in software and content updates. Even the cartridges have RFID so that we can get nightly dumps of inventory and usage from all the machines all over the world."

With the ability to track what’s working—combined with the ability to show anything on the screen—Freestyle displays could be localized, customized or even synchronized to a larger campaign. Because soda is the highest-margin product for most restaurants, optimizing sales would be highly beneficial.

Today, Coke is creating an information architecture using an Adobe platform called Experience Manager. It functions like a big blog system, holding everything from graphics to flavor recipes. Marketers at Coke can load collateral from campaigns and soda brands into the system without help from IT, and the machines pull down the new stuff nightly. Better yet, the marketers can set rules about which machines get what, using specific campaigns, activations, regions or customers as criteria. (At least that’s how it works in theory—the system is still bleeding edge.)

The result for Coke and its customers is clarity.

"The Freestyle content bundle is the combination of work from 10 different groups within Coke," Steve Hilton, the global IT director for Freestyle, told the Summit audience. "It touches everything, from the content running through the machines all the way to taste-testing the recipes.

"It makes sure the right drinks are going over the air to the right restaurants."

Today, Coke Freestyle machines do 12 million user transactions a day around the world. Users can not only create custom mixtures, but they can also store them on a smartphone and then call them up on the Freestyle screen—even though the machine was designed before the first iPhone came out.

The lesson, Dennis advised, is to "think big early in the IoT world—because the technology will catch up."

This article was created for and commissioned by Adobe, and the views expressed are their own.