coca cola

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Coca-Cola’s key good-at is “refreshment.” There are few, few things better than a cold Coke on a warm day after a workout.  And when the consumer care-about is refreshment, a great product choice is Coke. Remember, brand strategy is about good-ats and care-abouts. 

Refreshment, rather than, longtime advertising attribute “happiness,” is an experiential, product-based proof. It’s a product reality. Coke’s current advertising tagline (brand line) is “Taste The Feeling.” An amalgam of cheerleading and emotion.   It is not a product based care-about or good-at. It’s advertising based.

Don’t get me wrong, I love advertising. Dave Trott teaches me the way to do it well it to connect. But connecting with the art is not the same as connecting with the product. Of course it’s harder to create compelling stories and poetry around products – but that’s the job.    

Brand planners need to focus the work on product-based care-abouts and good-ats. Coke should know better.

Peace.          

 

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I was driving to Rhode Island last week and happened to notice that a number of really rural road names were quite descriptive. Niatic River Road. Stone Heights Turnpike. Waterford Parkway. Sunset Drive.  It got me thinking about naming. Back in the 1600 and 1700 (and before) when there weren’t a lot of maps and people didn’t travel that far, thoroughfares were named based upon features and geographic realities. Heartbreak hill. Point O’Woods. Tip of the mitt.

Names that were easy to remember and descriptive were the strongest names. They added value. Names with no endemic meaning, less so.

The best brand names today follow this old maxim. They are descriptive. They are descriptive of product, value, and uniqueness. The strongest brands in the world are not silly constructs of Madison Avenue, they are like packaging…part of the selling fabric. Coca-Cola used cola beans to build its brand.

Naming is hard work. Just look at all the silly pharmaceutical brand names on TV today. It’s like we ran out of words to use. So the naming companies put the alphabet in the blender and BAM.     

While director of marketing at a web start-up, I wanted to name the drag and drop web creation tool Mash Pan. The Chief Technology Officer who used to say “dude” a lot, opted for Zude.

Opt for communication value. Consumers don’t need to work so hard.

Peace.                                                                                                       

 

 

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Sales of Coca-Cola’s flagship product, the carbonated sugary drink we know a Coke, dropped 3.5% last quarter; proof you can’t go against a cultural tide of healthier living and expect sales to hold forever. Coke’s parent has been doing a great job of diversifying its portfolio the last 10 years by adding juices, milk-based protein drinks, waters and energy drinks. Even with the tide receding for flagship Coke, earnings have been surprisingly okay. Looks like that is not the case anymore.

If you follow the tech sector as I do, you will know that product innovation can completely change markets is 3-5 years. The beverage sector has lots of innovations, according to Beverage Digest, but they are really incremental. Coconut water, craft beer, energy concoctions, and cold pressed juices are nice ways of redistributing marketing wealth, but haven’t fueled the big ass innovations we’ve seen in tech.

Coke needs to think differently. I’ve posted before about how they need to send R&D people into the jungles in search of the next cola nut…something with healthy properties. But Coke also needs to think about pricing and delivery. Why 12 oz. cans? Why cans and bottles? Why not explode the price point for a six pack? How about an annual subscription fee? Coke’s head is so tied up in its bottler arrangements, distribution networks, store detailers, fountain business it can’t think like an agile start-up. Sure they can buy 49% of the next Honest Tea, but can they be the next SnapChat.

My bet is they can. But not if they follow the innovation courses of GM or the financial industry. Follow the tech paradigm. Peace.  

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The T word.

I met with a technology CEO this week who has been doing some work with a brand strategy boutique. The executive shared with me the main output of the work – the main brand idea – and it was “trust.” Without giving too much away about the company and the category I will admit consumers who trust his product more than a competitor’s are likely favor the company with business. Trust is not wrong, but as a brand idea it is not right either. You can’t just manufacture trust. It’s a process. It’s something that has to be built. If the endgame, therefore, is to be trusted more than a competitor, one needs a strategy that engenders trust. So the brand idea needs to be the about the path not the end point.

A good branding shop should know better. But of course, one can sell trust to any number of clients to get heads nodding. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That makes sense.”

Coke wants to create preference (end point) but it uses refreshment to get there. Branding is about the journey not the end point. (Did I just use the word journey? I must be slipping.) Branding is also about using words, images, deeds and experiences to create context that get you credit for other things. Things left unsaid. Things you earn but don’t have to say. Like trust.

Peace.

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A lot of money is going to change hands very soon in the ad industry because of McDonalds rearview mirror planning. Lately, they’ been doing some sideview mirror planning and one could say, with the introduction of salads a few years ago, they were looking beyond the dashboard to the future, but mostly they have looked backwards. Laurels canyon.

Just as Coca-Cola knew a time would come when high-fructose corn syrupy drinks would be seen as unhealthy and share would decline, McDonalds knew a better-for-you-food offering was in the offing. So they introduced salads, made the deep fat fryer less toxic, extended revenue with coffee (an off-piste fix), and reduced the salt on the fries. The freight train was still coming though. All the Millennials you see running around the lake or the park? They are drinking cold pressed juices and Instragram-ing the pics. They’re wi-fing pics of their Mediterranean Veggie sandwiches at Panera. The new generation of fast food buyers is trying to eat better as are their parents.

So while McDonalds was not trying to create a healthier, tastier new burger (veggie?, soy?, buffalo?) or the next branded healthy fast food, other QSRs have taken .2% of same store sales.

The new CMO has done some smart things, no doubt: flattened the organization, faster service, brought in some new ad muscle, but it’s product innovation that is lacking. They will fix it. It is just too bad it took a smack in the nose to wake up. You gots to look beyond the dashboard. Peace.

 

 

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Big World.

While brand planning for an educational technology company I had the pleasure of driving around the great State of NY and seeing a number of its secondary cities and suburbs. It’s an amazing state. The gravitational pull of New York City for Long Islanders and others in the tri-state region jades our point of view, however. And it’s unfortunate. It is not until you get to Florida, NY or Copenhagen, NY that you get the full picture.

As someone who grew up middle-to-upper middle class and also worked in the advertising/marketing business, I confess to be overly focused on brands. I worked at McCann in its glory days when Coke was still there. I worked on AT&T when it had the largest ad budget in the solar system. Brands were subsistence in this world. But outside of NYC and other NFL cities for that matter, the gravitational pull of brands was not that great. People made decisions based on the size of their wallet. It affected what they bought, what they could afford. Post college, while a house painter I was introduced to generic canned good in black and white cans. Eating bait fish at fish fries.

Brand planners don’t research the underclass. But they should. There is a lot of life and learning in this part of the economy.

My first brand planning insight – the reason I became a planner, was this: “Why does a Appalachian father, without a pot to piss in, insist on buying Castrol Motor oil for his truck when so many less expensive brands are available?” Brand planners – get out of the city. The office. Do what Heidi Hackemer did and drive the country. You will be refreshed in your thinking.

Happy Memorial Day…a celebration of Peace.

 

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Kathryn Ruemmler, the current white house counsel, is leaving her post in May. A long running presidential advisor, one of her more highly rated skills is her “uncanny ability to see around the corners that nobody else anticipates.”  

Lots of marketers, myself including, tell stories about Steve Jobs and how he didn’t listen to research on what consumers wanted next. Jobs would tell consumers what they wanted next.  The oft heard “we don’t skate where the puck is, we skate to where the puck will be,” a Wayne Gretsky-ism also supports this forward looking approach. Seeing around the corner is more than a skill.  Tainted Tylenol.  Spittle-covered pizzas. Ignition keys that fall out of the steering columns. All examples of corners that couldn’t be seen around.  Business needs to be prepared for the corners. Those are on the negative side of the ledger; there will be many positives around the corner as well.

Brand strategy is built upon what customers want and what a brand is good at. One idea, three proof planks is the organizing principle which yields business success. The planks look backward and forward. Coca-Cola is about refreshment and refreshment is way more than high fructose corn syrup, for instance. Forward looking. 

When you evaluate your brand plan ask yourself if it is built to see around corners. Peace. 

 

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I have mad respect for Seth Godin. He’s a hero. And he’s great for the economy. Anyone who can help marketers focus — and improve product and product delivery is someone worth paying attention to. That’s what Seth does. So you can imagine my dismay this weekend when reading this quote from him in an article about Coca-Cola: “Coke is not in the sugary water business, they are in the storytelling business.”

Coke is in the Coke business. The business of product. Every marketer is in the business of product. It’s ground zero for marketers. Storytellers are in the storytelling business. Creative people are in the story telling business.

It’s not a story hurting Coke sales, it’s high fructose corn syrup. As our brains continue to get bigger (according to evolutionary physical anthropologists) we will continue to learn how to prolong our lives – through better living. Products that get in the way of this will wane. The craft economy is taking hold.

Anyone who suggests stories not products are shaping the marketing future, is spending too much time in tactics land. Mr. Godin gets a mulligan; his product is too strong. Peace.

 

 

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I favor the poetry inherent in good brand planning, so in various places on the web you may have seen some of my references to “redistributing marketing wealth.” Redistributing marketing wealth is a great calling if you can do it. It is one goal of great strategy. The only thing that trumps it is “creating new wealth.”  The most exciting work in marketing is not taking a market that currently exists, say a $2.4B market for nutrition drinks, and rejiggering it to get more share – though that is fun.  It’s taking a static market and growing it. Finding new uses, new custies, and new (I can’t think of a third thing)…  

That’s not redistributing marketing wealth, that’s creating new wealth. A smart boss at McCann once asked me, “Where will the money to pay for this product come from?” In other words what will someone not buy to pay for this product? Carbonated soft drink dollars are flowing into waters. So Coke owns both. Now Coke is getting into protein – another reapportionment. But what if Coke took money away from the gyms?  Or created a product that took consumer budget from the gas budget?

Rational consumers only have so much money to spend.  Figuring out how to get them to spend it with you is a planners MO. New money?  Or old money? That is a big planning  question.

Peace be upon you this Friday!     

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Coca-Cola, one of the world’s great marketers, is in a category under attack.  I love the brand but don’t love what it does to consumers who misuse the product. That is, drink it in excess while living a sedentary lifestyle.  Those who make sure the calories that go in are negated by the calories burned are those with healthy body sizes.

Coke ran a print ad today suggesting 4 ways to mitigate its high sugar, high calorie sodas. 1. Offer low calorie beverages. 2. Provide proper nutritional labeling, 3. Help people get moving and excercise, and 4. Don’t advertising to kids.

The traditional Coke bran plan  — Wieden+Kennedy and current brand management aside — has always been about refreshment. (Happiness is the new idea is happiness.)  Refreshment is best served in video and print when it’s hot out.  Active sports people used to be ownable, not so much anymore; thanks to Nike and Under Armour and hundreds of other marketers. Frolicking on beaches and at picnics, were good refreshment images. Bright sunny days.

Coke can use its advertising today in a more positive way if it focuses on refreshment — showing scenarios of active people exerting themselves. That should be a fundamental brand plank. Enough flowers pooping more flowers and musical whimsy choreographing beetles. Coke refreshes. It is best when refreshing people who are fit, who crave refreshment and exert themselves. Or who at least aspire to exert themselves.

Coke is growing outside the US because in developing countries people don’t overeat. They walk and do manual labor. Come on man!  Let’s get back to why people need Coke, not sell it based upon what shareholders need. Peace!

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