Coca-Cola using design to boost brand equity

22 July 2010

ATLANTA: Coca-Cola is putting design at the centre of its efforts to increase brand equity and meet the diverse needs of its customers around the world.

David Butler, the beverage manufacturer's vice president, global design, argued that this area of its activity was absolutely essential for reaching a number of primary corporate goals.

"When I talk about packaging, equipment, communication, signage and so forth it's critical to how we build our brands … We focus completely on building the equity of those brands," he said.

Four "philosophical" principles – simplicity, speed, scale and synergy – lie behind the specific form of ideation utilised by the owner of Fanta and Dansai.

"If we make something simpler and you find it on a shelf you use it more often. From a consumer value standpoint that's how we leverage design to create simplicity," said Butler.

Coca-Cola's success in this endeavour can be measured against tangible metrics such as sales, cost efficiencies and a decline in its carbon footprint.

"It's about connecting the value we can create for our business," said Butler. "We have a lot of very clear objectives around sustainability and productivity for our company.

"Design for us is about making stuff better. Better means better productivity for our company, reducing our investment, and higher growth in the marketplace."

Butler also suggested that all of Coca-Cola's 900,000 employees can have an input in helping accomplish its objectives.

"We need design thinking. In my opinion, any person in our vast company ... can leverage the power of design thinking to do what they do," he said.

"We spend a lot of time on tangible aspects of our business but also half our time on training the organisation to leverage design."

One outcome of this process is the Design Machine, which is accessible to executives in the 206 countries where Coke has a presence, and allows them to customise design templates quickly and easily.

"That has created enormous speed and synergy across our company and saved us about $50m over the last couple of years," said Butler.

Tailoring goods in different regions is vital, given the varied requirements of consumers in Western Europe and the US when compared with their counterparts in emerging economies.

A recent innovation in the US is the Freestyle Fountain, which boasts a touchscreen system enabling diners in chains like McDonald's to choose between 100 drinks from Coca-Cola's portfolio, and mix them if they wish.

Similarly, a stylised aluminium bottle for Coke has been rolled out in America, as has an eco-friendly equivalent for the I-LOHAS water range in Japan.

However, effectively engaging the target audience in nations where Coca-Cola's brands have less of an established history necessitates a very different approach.

"In developing markets like China it's very important to show Coke with ice and help people understand that it tastes better when you drink it cold," Butler explained.

Data sourced from Economic Times; additional content by Warc staff