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Branding lessons from the Coca Cola Factory

I spent a large portion of my childhood in Atlanta, Georgia - or it feels that way. My cousins live there so we used to visit at least once a year for around a decade, not to mention additional trips for celebrations and holidays.

So, when we had an excuse to go back (for my cousin’s bar mitzvah), I insisted on taking my husband to the Coke factory.

As a designer and marketer, experiences like this are my personal Disneyland. Actually, Disneyland is my personal Disneyland, too. I can’t help but notice some great moves Coke made throughout the exhibits and lessons that all brands can learn from them.

entrance to the coca cola factory

1. Don’t sell a product

Coke doesn’t sell carbonated caffeinated drinks to quench your thirst and energize your taste buds. They sell Happiness - memories, family, joy. It’s not just a product, it’s the emotional need behind the product that causes people to choose their brand over their competitors.

Coke found their niche, their strong differentiating factor, and pushed it hard, consistently. They no longer are just a product - they’re a brand.

Points to Ponder

Dig deeper than just the surface level and find out the real reason your clients’ customers buy from them, what they LOVE about them - or create something for them to love - and then form your marketing around that point.

Turn them into more than just a product - fulfill an emotional need.

storyteller at the coke factory

2. Tell a story

Before you enter the factory and explore the self-guided exhibits, you’re met by a Coke employee. He tells you the history of how Coke was started, interacting with the audience, asking questions, and showcasing historical artifacts.

This introduction gave context and background to the factory experience, created a sense of unity among the visitors, and made you more interested and emotionally connected to the product.

Their story is now a part of your story because you experienced a version of it yourself.

Points to Ponder

How can you bring out your client’s unique story in their marketing? Do their brand visuals and messaging reflect their brand story?

creative out of order sign

3. Delight with the details

Sure, they could have just used a generic white poster board with the words “out of service” typed out in a stencil font.

Instead, they took the opportunity to create a delightful experience for customers with a spot of creative copy and an on-brand design.

Like the joy in receiving a uniquely-written confirmation email, it’s a part of the brand experience that could technically be brushed over as unimportant. But instead it was converted into a moment of delight for their customers that will build an emotional relationship with their brand and keep them coming back.

Points to Ponder

Are there spots in your clients’ (or even your own!) customer journey that, with minimal effort, can be turned from generic into a moment of connection - a “moment of magic”? (Thank you Shep Hyken for that term)

coca cola bottle design brief

4. Be distinct

The Coca-Cola bottle design brief, 1915:

“A bottle so distinct that it could be recognized by touch in the dark or when lying broken on the ground.”

As Marty Neumeier titled his famous book - when everyone is zigging, you zag. To stand out in a crowded market (or any market, really) you need to be different. That can come in the form of the production shape of your packaging or it can be your visual identity.

Part of the reason for brand strategy is to create your unique brand positioning. To discover what makes you special, what your target audience loves about you, what sets you apart from your competition, and lean into it.

Being in the gray area in the middle of the road might seem safe, but in business it’s actually the riskier option. Staying neutral means you risk becoming just background noise - no one really hears or relates to you. Forgettable.

Points to Ponder

Does the work you’re producing for your client stand out from their competition or are you mimicking their competition’s language and visuals? What areas could use improvement - positioning, messaging, or design?

share your coke story interactive exhibit

5. Engagement is everything

Rather than creating a static exhibit, parts of it were interactive: You could create your own digital coke bottle design, taste different Coke flavors, and share your story.

This interactivity creates a memory around the fun experience with the Coke brand.

Creating engagement like this builds an emotional connection between customers and their company. And the more emotionally invested you are in a company, the more loyal you are to it.

Points to Ponder

Can you add an element of participation or interactivity to your campaigns, to give your clients’ customers a feeling of ownership and partnership?

coca cola feedback station

6. Ask for - and listen to - feedback

We all know that customer feedback is important in order to understand from their point of view what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. That way you can fix what’s not working and not repeat mistakes. Plus, hearing what your customers love about you in their own words makes for great copy for your website, sales pages, emails and general marketing materials.

But most companies do it wrong.

People don’t like filling out long feedback forms - especially the ones with obligatory open-ended questions. Instead, make it quick and fun.

These colorful faces along with the promise that it will only take you 30 seconds make it easy for customers to provide genuine feedback without impeding on their precious time and energy.

Points to Ponder

Are you getting enough client feedback? What could you do to improve the process and make it easier for clients to send you genuine testimonials?


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