A Short History on the Evolution of Brand, Featuring Coca-Cola

February 17, 2016 Ryan Schulz

Digital’s infiltration in all aspects of the customer experience journey has changed the concept of brand markedly throughout the years. We’ve seen brand move through four distinct phases, from simple identification to customer ownership. Here’s a look at how one of the best-known brands in the world has moved through what we consider to be the four phases of brand evolution.

Phase 1: Identification – “Help me find the item I’m looking for.”
The earliest phase of brand was purely about identification among the masses of similar products or services. These were packaged in a boring way with very little differentiation.

In the early days of the Coca-Cola brand (1880s through 1930s), customers purchased Coca-Cola because they recognized the unique contoured glass bottle, which was designed to stand out from the competition. Its original marketing budget was $11,000, which was spent to advertise Coca-Cola branded items such as calendars, painted wall signs, napkins, pencils and clocks.

Phase 2: Meaning – “Help me not only identify, but feel something about this item.”
This phase strived to instill an emotional connection between the product and the customer.

Around the 1930s, Coca-Cola’s branding started to communicate what drinking a Coke meant and how it should make us feel. It refreshes me. It can restore me. Vintage Coca-Cola ads at this time touted Coke as “the pause that refreshes.” Refreshment was and still remains a key theme for Coca-Cola today.

Phase 3: Personalization – “What does this item say about me?”
This phase entertains the idea of badge value: the perception and status symbol for the buyer.

Released in 1971 during the Vietnam era, Coca-Cola’s “Hilltop” TV commercial with the words “I’d like to buy the world a Coke,” became one of the most popular ads ever created. This iconic ad portrayed a multicultural collection of teenagers on the top of a hill sharing a positive message of hope and love. Coke was a small piece of commonality between all peoples in a time of hardship.

Phase 4: Ownership – “Allow me to help define your brand.”
‘Round the clock access to online channels and information, in addition to innovations in technology, has given customers the ability to play an active role in coloring the brand experience. We currently find ourselves in this phase.

Coca-Cola helped customers define its brand with the introduction of the Freestyle machine in 2012, which allowed customers to make custom flavors. While other beverage dispensers offer between six and eight drink choices, Coca-Cola Freestyle allows users to dispense more than 100 individual brands, like Diet Raspberry Coke, that typically wouldn’t be available anywhere else.

The ownership of brand experiences by customers has many implications for organizations. As customer voices become like digital breadcrumb trails for anyone to follow, the pressure rests on organizations to proactively harness these conversations, yet still allow for authentic dialogue between brand and customer. The B2C industry wised up early on, recognizing the power social media and other digital channels wielded in creating unique brand experiences heavily influenced and propelled by customers.

As B2B and professional services marketers, we are forced to embrace this new phase of brand evolution and work to attract the self-directed buyer.

Want to learn more about the self-directed buyer? Read John Simpson’s recent post on Targeting the Self-Directed Buyer.

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Ryan Schulz Managing Director, Experience Design

As Managing Director of Brand and Experience Design, Ryan Schulz is responsible for making sure clients’ true character is represented in everything his team does: messaging, brand, user experience, visual design and front-end experiences. With more than 15 years in brand consulting, he helps clients break through the sea of sameness that plagues the world of professional services. 

  •  Favorite color: Greenish
  •  Favorite breakfast food: Breakfast tacos

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