We recently interviewed Coca-Cola veteran marketeer and former Chief Marketing Officer at Beam Suntory to discuss the principles Coca-Cola use to market their products, as well as:

  • How Jim Beam used the family heritage to tell a story to millennials
  • The importance of connecting with your consumer across different channels and ad formats
  • Why marketing is not just about campaigns and how young marketeers should approach brand building

How do you get to know your brand, as a marketer?

I would say, this is a terrible time to have to figure it out quickly. I think that would be scary, right now. This is good example of playing catch up, on who your brand, with stake, to be quite honest. That's your job. Your job is to really understand your brand's DNA, the value system you stand on, what you stand for, what you stand up against. That's fundamental work and it should start with your product truths.

What does your product do, literally do? Then you can ladder that to what that might, emotionally, mean and what that physically means, of course. What that might, culturally, mean. What that might mean, in terms of society. That's really important, in core work. I think, right now, more than ever, there is genuinely this social consciousness emerging. If your brand didn't have a higher purpose, you're going to be looking for that higher purpose. If it did, great; your purpose is going to be put to the test and you're going to have a great chance to show that, because that's what we're more interested in, right now. We're seeing through everything superficial. We're getting to what is really important. We're getting to what's public, what's universal. This is about health and the stakes are high.

I think people are holding brands to that high level of accountability. But I would say, if you don't have it figured out who your brand is, it's very hard to do that in a hurry.

What were the key lessons you learned about brand building, at Coca-Cola?

I'm so grateful for those 22 years. I think it's, probably, one of the greatest brand-building companies in the world, evidenced by the test of time, the products that it has and their sustainability. The role they've played over generations and, I think, the role they will continue to play.

I think I learned what we just talked about, above all. About really understanding the role that brands play in the world. No matter what you sell, whether it's something as simple as a Coca-Cola, something as necessary as water, and everything in between. I think one of the greatest foundations was that understanding and putting consumers first and really being driven by insight. The Coca-Cola company has an incredible appetite for the consumers and the stakeholders it serves. We were always driven by insight, first and foremost.

What do you mean by insight?

Insight, in terms of physical needs. We know how many times a day you drink a beverage of some kind. In so doing, we know that there are physical needs. That is core to the company understanding it, better than anybody else in the world, what are physical needs are, for hydration, for replenishment, for refreshment, whatever it may be. I think the Coca-Cola company does that, second to none.

But there's more than that in building brands and moving those products. It's understanding the communities we serve. It's understanding the emotional wants and needs of consumers, because that's how we have to connect, to make our brand stand out. Someone else can serve the same physical need, but rarely, can someone match the emotional and cultural connection that you might make with people. That's really where you will differentiate. That's something you learn, very well, at the Coca-Cola company.

The other thing I think you learn there is, it's like working at the United Nations. It does business in over 200 countries and there are some things that are universal and these universal truths build beautiful Coca-Cola brands. There are some things that are just truly local. I think the company does a very nice job of looking at that. The other thing I think all brands do – I'd like to make this a general comment about brand building – is that I think brands that are going to survive the test of time do two things well and they do them a bit simultaneously. Sometimes they turn one on and they might turn the other off. That's that they have this incredible ability to be timely and timeless.

You can think of luxury goods companies that do this very well. Chanel. Chanel has stood the test of time and stood for a certain look. Yet, it has stayed incredibly relevant, by leveraging trends and pop culture but it has stayed true to those timeless qualities that have made the brand what it is. I think the Coca-Cola company has done that incredibly well, in ensuring that it plays in the timely conversations that are happening in the world, but it does so, based on that really timeless message that the brands have been built on.