One of my favorite ways to learn about branding is to talk with people who work for the most successful brands in the world. Invariably, these people have a rich sense of the brand and great insights into how it works on a day-to-day basis. The following interview is with Amanda, who works for Coca-Cola in marketing at their world headquarters in Atlanta. Last month, she spent some time with me talking about how one of the world’s most valuable companies (current tagline “Open Happiness”) approaches the task of maintaining its brand strength and focus, as well as how digital channels are changing brand marketing.
How would you describe the culture of the Coke brand?
The culture of the brand is all about happiness. That’s the key word and the key point. For instance, we asked ourselves, “How did we get to where we have these huge two-liter bottles and 20-ounce single serves?” After all, “The pause that refreshes” was once the tagline. Coke doesn’t have to be more than a quick pause. It doesn’t have to be upsized; the volume is irrelevant. The brand is about being just a small treat that gives you happiness. If it adds to the happiness of your day, then it’s succeeding.
Coke’s corporate culture drives that idea of happiness. It’s not party hats and noisemakers. This company is massive and has two campuses. They’ll do things like invite employees to perform in the courtyard. There are little shows that go on. There might be a free event with a partner like Chick-fil-A. The idea of the culture is that there are little breaks for happiness. For Coke, the goal is a brand value that is personified in lots of different ways, so there are many attempts to provide moments of happiness.
In what ways does Coke teach the brand to employees and reinforce it?
There’s a whole Coca-Cola DNA training that is inherently about what makes the Coke brand real. It starts with new hire training. In my department, there’s the Coca-Cola way of marketing. Of course, each brand (Sprite, Dasani, Powerade, etc.) has its own personalities, which are unique to them. And, there is learning by training and learning by just jumping in and seeing how everything works.
How keen is the sense of being on-brand or off-brand? Is off-brand the kiss of death for an idea?
It’s a really big deal here. You always want to be on-brand. In social media, for instance, it gets really granular with all the tweets and social status updates and all the ways a brand can project itself. Plus, people tag our brands in their posts and we have to decide which ones we amplify and which ones we don’t. I know when agencies pitch campaigns, their ideas get killed all the time for being off-brand.
Tell us about your role in marketing the Coke brand through digital channels.
The idea is to build up the education level of all of our marketers worldwide. This includes marketing via social media, mobile, gaming, etc. There are people who are experienced digital marketers, but really all marketers should be thinking about digital marketing. In a few years we won’t have digital and non-digital marketers—just one marketer that does it all.
To have the traditional 30-second TV spot be the core of everything you do is not the best way to exist in the digital world. Part of what I do is building up the community of folks that are talking and sharing ideas. For instance, the “Share a Coke with…” name campaign got started in Australia three years ago and went gangbusters. It took three years to get here and it really shouldn’t have. But we build on that idea and grow.
And you do this on a global basis? Isn’t it hard to keep a brand consistent across hundreds of markets?
That would be correct. We have 207 markets, and it’s a nightmare to keep a brand consistent across all of them. But every country receives a budget and it’s up to them to keep the brand resonating within their market. We feel they can do that better there than we can sitting here in Atlanta.
Today, a marketer for Coke is a brand manager, a brand planner, a media buyer, and an integrated marketing communications manager. We do have centralized global creative for something like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup. And, we do have global brand managers, so there is collaboration between them and localized markets.
As published in the Central Penn Business Journal and Lehigh Valley Business.