Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Hearts and minds at Coca-Cola

A couple of weeks ago, I spent a day in Berlin. It was the kind of day I love best, full of paradox and insight. For a start I was in Berlin, a city of paradoxes if ever there was one, to talk to the marketing staff of Coca-Cola. Any of you who follow this blog will know that a can of Diet Pepsi is never far from my hand and that I was once the CEO of Pepsi in Canada. And those of you who have gone so far as to read my CV know that I shot up a Coke vending machine once at a sales conference. The goal was simple: to galvanize our Pepsi marketing team who needed to let off steam after finally reaching the number 1 slot in that market after many years in Coke’s shadow. Would I do it again? Probably not. The climate has changed dramatically, but I’d have to say that as an example of direct action it was unforgettable and has followed me ever since. I mention this because Verena Nabrotzky, who introduced me at the Coca-Cola event, retold the story in some detail.

You can imagine that being in Coca-Cola’s German HQ felt a little like straying into the lion’s den. Fortunately, the members of a mainly young audience were engaged and kind. They face quite a challenge, like any mature brand whether it’s Tide, Pampers or Cheerios. Coke has one of the greatest brands in the world (in every list they always come in the top two or three no matter how the list is constructed). They are a Lovemark to millions, but are also under constant pressure to innovate and be fresh and relevant for new audiences. The aging population in Germany poses a special challenge for what has been a youth attractor. I’m particularly excited by the possibilities of Coke Zero. Great name, great qualities but in need of more Mystery, Sensuality and Intimacy, especially in the packaging. For people to love Coke Zero they will have to love it as part of their lives, as part of what they think is important. That is Coke’s challenge, just as it is the challenge of many major brands. Now that the data that retailers collect and analyze tells them just about every detail of what’s in the minds of shoppers, it is time for brands and Lovemarks to step up and know everything that is in their hearts. Do that, and as John Wayne almost said, “their minds will follow.”