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Sunday, 2 November 2014

Changing the Taste of Coca-Cola? You Forgot the Power of the Consumer!

Just about thirty years ago in Atlanta, Georgia USA a team of scientists started work to change the way of life of US citizens and indeed, citizens worldwide.

What they came up with was roundly condemned around the world and even in the hallowed halls of the Congress of the United States debates were interrupted to complain about what had been perpetrated.

What was it, this epochal event that was causing so much pain and distress?

In fact the scientists were taste scientists and they had decided that their company, The Coca-Cola Company, needed to change the taste of this iconic product to meet the burgeoning competition for Pepsi.

Being scientists they were, of course, totally confident that the new taste of Coke would revolutionise the market, sweep away all competition and generally tell the world that they were the greatest.

In fact, it was a disaster.

The complaints in the Congress amounted to a condemnation of Coca-Cola for “changing the way of life of the US citizens” and in effect doing something dreadful and to the American Dream.

Everywhere voices were heard complaining about the change in the taste of this fizzy drink that in truth is merely 99% sugared water with some flavouring added and, of course, it was this that had caused the furore.
The company had marketed this new version as New Coca-Cola and it flopped spectacularly.  In the fullness of time they quietly brought back the original version (without cocaine, let it be said, which had been dropped in the 1920s) and they called it Coca0-Cola Classic.

Eventually the “new” version was quietly dropped.  In the meantime Pepsi, who couldn’t believe their good fortune, gave everyone in the company a week’s holiday to celebrate.

It is one of the most dramatic expressions of consumer power that has ever been seen and it emphasised the constant need to make sure that whenever changes like this are envisaged, the only people t talk to are the loyal customers who know what they like and what they want.

The fact is, of course, that this was a massive exhibition of aversion to change, probably fuelled by the media but the effect was much the same.

Whether customers were actually involved in 1985 I don’t know but certainly whatever market testing was done, it seems as though it was done with the change in mind and with a certainty that it would be a resounding success.

It is a lesson that everyone in business needs to take on board.  This is not to say that change is not feasible nor should it be looked upon as a potential disaster.

In fact, the great companies, large and small, grow their businesses by innovating, changing and generally looking forward to the next range of products or services.

What they do right, of course, is that they check it out very carefully to ensure that it will not be looked on like the ”New” Coke and certainly make sure that it is what the customer wants and preferably needs.

Companies grow through being innovative and new ideas are the lifeblood of many businesses particularly in the digital age in which we live.

What is essential however is to make sure that any innovation is not merely a vanity exercise, that the market for any new product or service has been properly researched and that any change will not cause problems for existing users.

This last factor is one of the more contentious especially in the software industry where new and revised versions are contently brought to market and service of the older versions is subsequently dropped.

Innovation and change should be at the heart of any business.  It needs to be outgoing, transparent and general launched to the mutual advantage of both the company and the customers.

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