It’s become customary for agencies and brands to jump in bed with the hottest new technology. Get the latest digital “gadget,” and figure out the strategy later.

But when Invoke Media CEO Michael Smit joined a panel on leveraging mobile technology at last week’s WavefrontAC Business Summit, the trend that emerged was how to make the best use of the technology at your disposal to create the most effective consumer experience. In other words, work smarter – not harder.

Coca-Cola Freestyle case study shows web presence is key to driving success

Attribution: Flickr, MikeMonello

Moderator Tim Lute, Group Director, Channel & Marketing Strategy for The Coca-Cola Company (Canada), kicked off the discussion with a brief case study on Coca-Cola Freestyle. It’s a touch screen soda fountain dispensing 125 varieties of Coca-Cola products, including classic favorites and new custom flavors. What distinguishes these machines from the beloved soda fountain of our youths? The integrated digital experience that comes with it.

It’s no surprise to hear Lute say that Freestyle’s digital presence is fundamentally what drives its success. At the core is an animated website featuring strong, consistent brand messaging, product information, an interactive fountain locator, and information about the companion mobile application that serves as both entertaining game and another fountain locator.

Between the website, the mobile app and the fountains themselves, Coca-Cola has certainly created a compelling consumer experience. More interesting, however, is how on the business side they’ve succeeded in creating an ecosystem of data collection touchpoints, increasing their access to a wealth of consumer insights that will help them further zero in on customer needs and that will allow them to strategically evolve their business model and their product. For example, they are able to adjust supply based on demand or revise their marketing and promotional materials based on what consumers are drinking most.

“The case study really confirmed for me that the most technical solution isn’t always the best one for business,” said Michael in a recent chat with me recapping the event. “Marketing decisions can leverage technology to create a better consumer experience. It’s interesting to see how the speed and openness of development these days, most specifically for mobile and social, is placing a lot of tech-oriented decisions and power in the CMO’s hands and out of the CIO’s and CTOs’ traditional realm.”

Real-time data challenges and the pursuit of the ideal consumer engagement strategy

Lute’s case study particularly resonates with us given our background in creating customized second screen experiences, particularly the Eat St. App and the 5th Coach microsite and Facebook app for NBC’s The Voice. Rather than wrack our brains, and zap the budget, trying to find a hard technical solution to engaging fans of the show, we aggregated and displayed social feeds and developed a “Fantasy League” style game that mimics the gameplay of the show, leveraging consumer sentiment to create the experience of interacting between screens.

Meanwhile, the Eat St. App continues to pose an interesting set of challenges for us as we think of ways to improve the user experience while delivering the most accurate real-time data. Not an easy feat considering this data shifts on a daily – sometimes even hourly – basis depending on a food truck’s luck. The first iteration of the app offered vendors a web-based admin dashboard that they could sign into to update their schedules in the app, but this proved to be impractical for many vendors who have little time for marketing-related tasks in their already overwhelming daily routines.

As the Eat St. community began to grow, it revealed legions of vocal, loyal fans. Here, we saw another opportunity to leverage consumer sentiment to our advantage, opting to centre the second version of the app around a crowdsourcing model to capture food truck locations in real time. While this revised model has its pros and cons, our theories on creating well-rounded digital experiences were further confirmed with the popularity of the new “TV Show” section added to the app, in which users can view clips of featured trucks on the show from right there on their phone, providing a major value add and extension of the overall Eat St. brand experience.

Judging by these examples, it’s clear to see that creating a system of dynamic communication and providing context around a product or entity is the key to driving consumer engagement. And fortunately, with development practices becoming increasingly open source, CMOs have a virtual buffet of tools to choose from to help them design new experiences while gaining insights that allow them to strategically add value long-term.

We’ve shared some of our own experiences creating customer-centric integrated solutions; we’d love to hear some of yours. Let’s continue the discussion in the comments below.

Panel info: “Mobile Innovation: Engaging the customer with integrated solutions” featuring Michael Smi, CEO at Invoke Media, James Sherrett, VP at Mobify; Amielle Lake, CEO at Tagga Media Inc; Ian Cruickshank, CRO & VP Sales at Wishpond; and Trevor Nimegeers, SVP, Enterprise Mobility Software and Services at Wmode.