Make 'news', not stories?

Coca-Cola has retired its ‘Journey’ website and re-framed its storytelling as ‘news’. It’s an approach that more companies should consider, says Jonathan Holt.

When the Coca-Cola Company re-launched its corporate website as ‘Coca-Cola Journey’, back in 2012, a new era of corporate storytelling began. Many companies had corporate blogs or magazines, but Coke made stories the centrepiece of the main corporate domain and assembled an in-house content studio to deliver articles at breakneck pace.

It was a bold bid to cut out the go-betweens (namely, journalists) and define a near future in which large companies would essentially be publishers as well as providers of products or services. Many of the stories on ‘Journey’ had little to do with Coca-Cola specifically, and that was precisely the point.

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‘Journey’ is perhaps best understood as an early attempt to blend marketing and corporate comms, through the art of storytelling.

Eight years later, nearly every large company on earth is telling stories—thanks in no small part to Coke’s influence. And Coca-Cola has pivoted again, replacing its ‘Journey’ concept with a much more conventional corporate website.

The company is still telling stories, but they are no longer the main event. They aren’t even labelled as ‘stories’. To read them, you need to visit the News section. And that actually makes a great deal of sense.

One problem with stories, in a corporate context, is that hardly anyone visits a company’s website hoping to read one, even in a world that is now saturated with them. For this reason, ‘Stories’ is a weak navigation link. ‘News’, by contrast, is much stronger, because it suggests you will get something timely and valuable.

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Coke’s new News archive is contemporary and engaging, though press resources have been unhelpfully sidelined.

Many of the companies in the Top 30 of the Bowen Craggs Index also use the News or Media section to house storytelling, rather than giving it a separate magazine or blog. Here are four of the best:

Unilever: engaging headlines make a big difference

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Unilever uses its News section to present a steady stream of articles about the company’s ‘Sustainable living’ initiatives, helping to accrue credibility as a responsible and purpose-led company. Crisp, intriguing headlines are a particular strength here, giving people an added reason to click. And the articles are well categorised by topic and theme – though the difference between a ‘Theme’ and a ‘Series’ may not be immediately clear.

Also noteworthy is the elegant way Unilever cascades its latest social media posts, including YouTube videos, into the News & insights landing page. The section also includes a well signposted and conventional press releases archive, which means journalists will be happy too.

ING: a neat way to filter out press releases

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ING’s News archive is neatly presented (functional without being clinical), including a nifty ‘All news’ or ‘Press releases only’ toggle which makes life easy for journalists without alienating other audiences. The full set of articles is thoughtfully categorised via a dropdown menu, and captioned photos add real value on article pages, making the section feel more magazine-like and thus more engaging for general readers.

BAT: stories go further when mixed in with videos and links

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Whether non-journalists will think to explore BAT’s Media section may depend partly on whether they read the word ‘Media’ as meaning a profession or a source for editorial and/or multimedia assets. But the section offers a good basic service that splits intelligently into News and features or Press releases via a simple left-hand navigation menu.

Recent ‘Media’ section coverage of BAT’s efforts to produce a Covid-19 vaccine will have inherent news value for a variety of visitors, not least anyone who thinks of BAT as a tobacco company only. The archive includes videos and earned media references as well as articles – for a more rounded picture of the company, with less need for original content.

Verizon: excellent use of videos and podcasts

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Verizon’s News section offers clear routes for press resources alongside a range of magazine style contents. Multimedia is especially well used to liven up the section, including the innovative ‘Inside Verizon’ video series and the Verizon’s daily ‘Up To Speed’ podcast, which is neatly archived here.

Verizon’s News section also houses crisis communications, such as the company’s statements on Covid-19. Which highlights one of the key benefits to consolidating rich editorial content and useful resources within a single section: those who come for the information may stick around for the stories and vice versa. 

The takeaway: signposting is key, wherever your stories live

Welcoming general audiences into the media section for things like articles, videos and podcasts can be a very sensible thing to do, as long as resources for journalists continue to be well covered and signposted. However, non-journalists won’t necessarily visit the news section without some encouragement. So promoting stories via targeted related links and social media posts continues to be vital – for a good return on investment – no matter where they are held.

Jonathan Holt is an associate consultant at Bowen Craggs.

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First published 24 June, 2020
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