Always Coca-Cola: Shoot the Breeze With Customers to Co-Create Your Brand

By J. Dean Spence

I have never been a heavy Coca-Cola drinker. I don’t hate the stuff by any means, but I’m just not that into soft drinks. Whenever I do drink Coke, however, I think about my pops.

My parents divorced when I was a baby and I was raised by my mother. When I was a child my father visited often. I was always on the lookout for his grey van. When I saw it pull up to my mom’s house, I would lose my mind, run outside and into the back of the van with dad. The back of the van was fixed up smartly with seats and cabinets. Inside of the cabinets were dad’s carpentry tools and a never-depleted stash of Coca-Cola.

My dad didn’t shave regularly when he was alive. He always had a five-o’clock shadow. In the back of his van those days, we would drink Coke and shoot the breeze. He would hug me and rub his scratchy beard into the side of my face—cheek to cheek. I would giggle and squeal with delight.

The rumble of his thick Jamaican voice. His baseball cap. His adoring eyes. The perfect drink. I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything.

For me, Coca-Cola is my dad—handsome, outrageously funny, sweet, friendly, easy-going (he was only ever really mad at twice—and both times I deserved it) and deceptively simple (dad wasn’t an educated man but he was a talented carpenter/plumber/electrician. As a teenager I used to marvel at his ability to add fractions in his head without a calculator, pencil or paper).

The Coca-Cola Company has a tradition of collecting and displaying these kinds of stories from its customers. Since at least 1990 when it opened its Atlanta Georgia museum, The World of Coca-Cola, it has featured its customers’ true stories in short video vignettes.

One reason that Coca-Cola has become one of the world’s top brands may be because it’s not merely selling a product (the actual drink is good, but probably not the best drink in the marketplace) but the treasured stories that are associated with its products. This is common. Starbucks, for example, does not necessarily just sell coffee, but the story of accessible elegance. You might scoff and say that Starbucks does not explicitly tell any stories, but storytelling is not just about words on a page (or computer screen) an organization can tell its story through its architecture, its interior design, the outfits its employees wear, the way those employees behave—and of course, through the customers it attracts! Storytelling is an all-encompassing force.

Companies must weave their brand story out of their vision for the brand and the stories their customers tell about their products and/or services. One of the hallmarks of marketing today is this kind of co-creation of brands. And you can do use your customers’ stories to co-create your brand by listening to what people are saying on your social media platforms, including your blog. As I’ve said before, your blog is an extension of your ears.

Pay attention. Record. Create.

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