The long, illustrious legacy of the Coca-Cola Bottling Company is rife with lessons for any entrepreneur or small business. Their lessons apply to virtually every facet of business operation, from sales and marketing to finance and product development.
1. Don’t be Myopic
When you are near-sighted, or myopic, you can see things that are nearby quite clearly, but things in the distance are a big blur. In business, you do not want to see the future, the things in the distance, through blurry eyes. The story of how Coca-Cola came to be available in bottles is a telling tale, indeed.
Originally available only at a soda fountain, the founders, John Pemberton and Griggs Candler were resistant to the idea of bottling their soda product. In 1919, after Pemberton passed away, Candler sold the business to a banker in Atlanta. Ernest Woodruff agreed in the mid-1920s to allow the product to be bottled and by 1928, bottled sales outpaced fountain sales. It was a turning point, and placed Coca-Cola Bottling Company on the map of history.
2. Co-op Your Advertising Dollars
Coca-Cola was one of the first, and certainly the most prolific, co-op advertiser in the annuals of American marketing. From the late 1920’s through the 1970’s, Coca-Cola painted signs on grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and other businesses that carried their product. In many cases, if warranted, an entire wall would be given the Coca-Cola makeover. The merchant received a professional, permanent billboard advertisement that attracted customers. Coca-Cola received very low cost advertising, especially on a per view basis, and fostered long-term loyalty with that merchant.
Today, they continue the idea, not so much with painting signs, but by providing free Coca-Cola cups for restaurants who sell only Coca-Cola products, vending machines that offer a profit split, team endorsements–NASCAR and NHRA Drag Racing–and a host of other co-op advertising strategies.
3. Connect to Customer Emotions
As early as the 1920’s, Coca-Cola and Christmas have been an item. Ice cold and refreshing, yes, but also a very hot item. That is because the marketing masterminds at the soft drink company knew that the way to parents’ purses was through their kids. Christmas was the perfect holiday for hardcore advertising because it was a time of giving and receiving, good cheer, happiness, house parties, church meals, school parties, family gathers, and best of all, spending. Santa’s fire engine red get-up matched the chosen Coca-Cola color: fire engine red.
Tying into the joys and high emotions of the season made this a marketing move that would make millions for the company. Product sales and branded gift items were the source of the financial income. However, the more valuable reward for their campaign was immense good will; product positioning that would see the company and the product as an integral part of Christmas, year after year for over 100 years.
4. Go Global
However, the marketing plans including a walk on the global side as far back as 1919, Coca-Cola was heavily involved in marketing at home and abroad during WWII. Advertisements released during the war talk about how planeloads of Coca-Cola arriving in regions where there was no product. American soldiers, the ads relate, used the refreshing drink to make friends. As of 1943, Coca-Cola bottling plants existed in over 35 allied and neutral nations.
The wartime efforts paid off enormously. Coca-Cola became a worldwide symbol of American friendliness and freedom. The Chinese, who already had bottling plants prior to the war, were especially grateful for the American effort. A 1943 Coca-Cola poster features American pilots with Chinese soldiers having a friendly discussion over ice-cold bottles of Coca-Cola. The banner reads: “…a way to say “We are Friends” to the Chinese.”
5. No Surprises… Ever.
The biggest lesson entrepreneurs can learn from Coca-Cola is that you must never, ever change formulas without having the research in your pocket that says 95 percent of your customers will love the change. In the 1990’s, someone decided that the world was ready for New Coke and that the old Coke would just be abandoned and forgotten. After spending over 80 years investing millions into developing product loyalty, why expect customers to blindly leap onto the New Coke bandwagon with Zero resistance? (excuse the bad pun)
It made no sense then, and no one at Coca-Cola has ever been able to give a rational explanation for why the gaffe occurred. It was a stunning misstep akin to accidentally walking off Niagara Falls. Already embroiled in a death-match struggle known as the Cola Wars, Coca-Cola unwittingly handed the momentum (and market share) to Pepsi on a silver platter, overnight. By the time they realized the true outrage of those loyal to the classic Coca-Cola formula, the damage was done.
Looking back on the successes and failures of the world’s leading companies can yield valuable insights into day-to-day business operations and the all-important voice of the customer. Make sure you and your entire team have the necessary skills to execute on the good plans, reject bad ones and are able to know the difference. Develop good commercial skills to make you better at what you do.
Guest Author – Alisha Webb is a British writer working out of Barcelona and a content developer for Datadial and Phoenix training company, which helps people develop and improve their business skills.