Before there was Snapchat, Apple and Facebook, there was only one unopposed king when brands were concerned: Coca-Cola. It was the ultimate brand of the 80s and 90s. While I was an equal admirer of the brand, just like the next person, one thing never stopped poking at my mind: “How has Coke become so big?”
After at least two decades of maturing and a passionate interest in brands, I can finally answer my own question. What I discovered are (at least) five reasons determining its long-run success.
If there’s one thing I advise my clients to do, it is to always focus on making their products better. There is no amount of advertising and PR that can save you from being irrelevant or unattractive to your customers. In Coke’s case, the recipe has been crafted to perfection. There is nothing you can add or subtract from the product. It’s whole, robust and undeniably tasty. More importantly, they know they have a winner and you should never change what wins.
The only time Coke strayed from their winning recipe was in the mid-80s with “New Coke”. The thing was a disaster and after the catastrophic failure, the corporation got back to its roots by listening to what their customers wanted, and that was to bring back the taste they all knew and love. It was back then when Coke finally became aware of its definite position in the market: They were a brand of tradition. They reverted to the old recipe and never touched it again. Although New Coke was a very big flop back in the day, it enabled the company to find its inner strength and build a more stable and authentic brand that stands the test of time.
Coca-Cola was maybe one of the earliest pioneers in branding delivering one of the most important lessons in the discipline: Uniqueness. In 1915 they faced fierce competition and decided to launch a contest for the re-design of their bottle. They then probably made one of the best decisions in marketing history by deciding to go with the cocoa plant-inspired shape. This enabled Coca-Cola to differentiate in the competitive market and become one of the most recognizable brands of today.
This strategy has proven time and again to be a big market decider. It’s used across many brands from the utilitarian but exciting Swiss Knife to the minimalist treatment of Jony Ive’s iMacs.
Coke not only delivered a unique bottle shape but also made sure to be consistent no matter the changing circumstances (and there have been many). They have been using the same bottle shape, color and logo for over 100 years now. Few brands can say the same about themselves and it just illustrates Coke’s amazing self-confidence and belief in their brand value.
The Coca-Cola logo is now one of the most iconic images recognized instantly around the world. Keep in mind that this logotype was made in a style which was considered modern at the end of the 19th century. Aside from the occasional update, they never changed the treatment of the font. This strategy allowed for the logo to be ingrained in the minds of generations old and new, ensuring the continuation of Coke’s brand awareness.
I can never recall when I had a Coca-Cola experience that was off-brand. The corporation makes sure to establish strict quality standards with franchisees, marketing partners and retailers alike. I had the chance to witness this ruthlessness first-hand when I worked as an in-house brand manager in retail. No matter where you go, and which platform you use, you are guaranteed to get the true Coke experience. This stands witness to their success at adapting their brand identity to local cultures. One can even say that if two strangers were to meet in the street and have no way of understanding each other, they could probably develop some kind of language if a bottle of Coke was presented in front of them.
These are only 5 key factors which contribute to Coke’s success. There are of course much more which I welcome you to discuss.
I sincerely hope that Coke will continue strong in the next 100 years to come, especially with recent news of sugar tax and water shortages. Their practices (and mistakes) have been fundamental to the branding and marketing disciplines. I any case, I hope they will continue to lead the way forward and inspire the new generations of marketers.
I am brand strategist, designer and content manager. My philosophy is that brands are intrinsically human, and can’t ultimately be treated with classic business and marketing strategies. To have a truly successful brand companies have to understand the human brain and listen to the human heart.
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