December 12, 2013
This holiday season, we’d like to celebrate Coke. For every marketer, Coke is a true inspiration – a beacon for all that is good and worthy in our profession. In a mature category with a strong head-to-head competitor, negligible product differences and countervailing trends, Coke continues to grow on the strength of its brand and its marketing. And in the midst of this season’s commercial madness, it’s one of the few brands that actually brighten the holiday! Coke is a gift to the marketing discipline, and here are 10 lessons it teaches us all:
- Become an asset manager – No brand is more “branded” than Coke. It has built a robust portfolio of assets—the color red, its proprietary bottle shape, its logotype, the polar bears—and it manages them with urgent attention and careful deliberation, building their value over time.
- Commit to consistency – It takes time and repetition to forge a lasting imprint in consumers’ consciousness, and Coke maintains long-term dedication to its campaigns (like “Have a Coke and a Smile”), marketing platforms (like American Idol) and identity elements. Note that, while Pepsi’s logo design has morphed repeatedly, Coke’s logo script has remained virtually unchanged since 1886!
- Honor your past – By definition, an icon is “executed according to a tradition.” Great brands have a reverence for their heritage. Many have a museum like Coke World in Atlanta. The folks at Coke use its history as a compass and leverage its past in the present, like this reprise of the famous “Mean Joe Greene” ad to launch Coke Zero.
- Refresh your presentation – Having a long history and consistent assets doesn’t mean you have to be stale. To the contrary, Coke continually refreshes the way it presents itself – reinterpreting its assets in unique can designs, innovating new delivery systems like the Freestyle machine, and delighting us with inspired displays of familiar elements.
- Strive to out-size – Among all the business drivers, “share of presence” is still paramount, and Coke shows up big. The company’s “arm’s length away” strategy isn’t just about distribution; it’s about being ubiquitous – for all market segments, in every occasion, at every touch-point. And wherever Coke is present, it’s physically large! Although few brands have the footprint and budget that Coke has, maximizing your brand presence is always a profitable pursuit.
- Over-invest in your parent – Although Coke has a complex architecture of sub-brands and variants, it directs the lion’s share of its spending to mother Coke. That investment floats all boats. This “haloing” approach is far more effective and efficient than proportional spending across the parts.
- Advocate for a big ideal – Coke is a relentless protagonist for optimism and goodwill. In doing so, it plays a bigger and deeper role in our lives, connecting us to something more meaningful than product function alone. It provides more than great-tasting refreshment; it refreshes our perspective, giving us ‘reasons to believe in a better world’. Coke not only “says” things to champion its ideal; it “does” things too. For a taste of holiday joy, check out its Overseas Filipino Workers project.
- Don’t duck the issues – In the face of public health concerns, Coke is taking its responsibility seriously. The company has been honest about its impact and is addressing the situation head-on, advocating exercise and offering alternatives.
- Become a creative content machine – The digital world needs fuel, and Coke has become an engine for share-worthy content like the “Happiness Machine”. Coke shows us that generating earned and owned media isn’t an episodic endeavor; it’s a perpetual effort. Note that the Coke content machine has now produced a Happiness Truck, Plane and Store!
- Surf the culture and carve some waves – Coke has remained relevant for 125 years by staying topical. It finds the pop cultural waves and injects its point of view. In the early ‘70s, it responded to post-Vietnam War strife with its iconic “Hilltop” ad. For its 2007 Super Bowl spot, it reinvented the dark Grand Theft Auto game into a vehicle for love. Coke also weaves its global ideal into local cultures. In China, it embedded itself into that nation’s rich New Year’s tradition with a new ritual: the “First Coke of the Year.” In the U.S., it shaped the tradition of Christmas – giving us the modern-day image of a red-suited Santa, joyfully spreading goodwill to all.