Building Big Brands: Payoff Huge If Obstacles Can Be Overcome

| Global Business, Marketing

If building big brands is so valuable, why aren’t there more success stories?

My experience is that the payoff can be huge, but there are obstacles that must be overcome.

Big companies have the resources; however, middle managers are more often empowered to “say no” than “yes.”

Timing is everything.

The only reason for small companies to exist is to think differently and act differently. My advice to big brand companies is, take your smaller competitors very seriously and constantly track small companies’ brand strategies.

Disruption is almost always led by product innovation.

For example, Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo should take SodaStream seriously as a real game-changer. How did Folger, at one time the leading coffee brand, lose the retail coffee service market to Starbucks?

In 1994, I was asked by Kodak to advise how they should think about their digital future. My advice was, “Their future would not be about picture taking, but picture making.” Kodak at the time had a $20 billion market cap. They could have acquired both Adobe and LexMark together for less than $5 billion. The market cap of Adobe and LexMark today is much higher than $20 billion. In those days, Kodak was known for recruiting the best chemists from the best technical universities. But culturally, Kodak was hermetically sealed in Rochester, NY, which was a long way from the disruptive risk-taking world of Silicon Valley.

Perception leads reality.

When I was appointed marketing VP of Pepsi-Cola Co. we were way outsold by Coca-Cola. Eight years later, brand Pepsi had passed brand Coke as the largest selling packaged goods product in the USA as measured by AC Nielsen. How did we do it?

We targeted a then new group, “Baby Boomers,” who had a lot of discretionary money to spend. They were interested in high energy activities like riding dirt bikes, surfing, and hiking. Coincidentally, these were the early days of the growth of larger screen color TVs replacing small screen B&W television. Our advertising agency, BBDO, went to the best motion picture directors in Hollywood with the request to film for us “60-second movies” that focused on appealing life style experiences. Pepsi was just a signature in these TV commercials, not the primary purpose of this campaign. At the time, Coca-Cola Co. advertising was totally focused on the product with a campaign theme, “Coke, it’s the Real Thing.” We named our brand campaign, “Pepsi Generation” – the first lifestyle advertising, which we called “experience marketing.”

A few years later, we introduced another “experience marketing” campaign called “Pepsi Challenge” with the goal of capturing the surprise of life-long Coke drinkers when they discover they chose Pepsi over Coke in a blind taste test.

In “experience marketing,” perception always precedes reality.