The current issue of Business Week Magazine features their choices for the “100 Best Global Brands.” Little surprise that they rated Coca-Cola at the top, which got me thinking how does a brand like Coca-Cola still remain so strong after more than 100 years, plus is able to extend its brand to such successful off-shoots as Diet Coke and Coke Zero without diluting it (pun sort of intended)? My previous boss at Fender, Ritchie Fliegler (who left to start his own firm, Fearless Marketing) and I always admired the mantra ”If you can’t be the first, be the best.” Coca-Cola was certainly among the first mass produced soft drinks, and they remain the best selling, and to a majority of consumers, the best tasting. And once your brand becomes synonymous with the product, you have won the ultimate battle for the consumers mind. “Xerox a copy of this.” “Hand me a Kleenex.” These are other examples of brands that are so powerful that they become the generic description of the product. In my own world, most major guitar companies have a slightly different version of the Fender Stratocaster guitar which people will still undoubtedly refer to it as a “Strat.” However, both “Strat” and “Stratocaster” are registered trademarks of Fender Musical Instrument Corp. and technically cannot be used with another brand. No matter - in the public’s mind, that’s being the first, and the best, and the only description they know.
The second key to a great brand is a pesky competitor nipping at your heels. That makes the leader work harder to sustain or build market share, and forces
the competitors to find new and creative ways to do their best to chip away at the leader’s supremacy. For instance, Hertz dominated the rental car business with Avis always a distant second. That’s until Avis launched their famous “We’re Number 2, We Try Harder” in 1962. Think about it; Ford vs. Chevy; Fender vs. Gibson; Coke vs. Pepsi - you get the picture.
Speaking of Coke vs. Pepsi, let’s put the above examples together by going back to the 1940’s and 1950’s, the golden age of the diners and drive-ins. Coca-Cola became so popular that “Coke” became generic for just about any caffeinated soft drink. Pepsi-Cola, almost as old as Coca-Cola but always the bridesmaid, was
finally frustrated enough to launch a campaign that urged and almost begged consumers to “Say Pepsi, please!” In 1985, after Pepsi showed major gains in cutting into Coke’s market share, Coke actually fought back by launching “New Coke,” shockingly changing the age-old secret original formula in one of the major marketing blunders of all time. New Coke immediately fizzled and “Classic Coke” was re-launched because after all, the customer is always right. Eventually the “Classic” was dropped and the legendary drink reverted back to the original good old Coca-Cola and, of course, climbed their way back to the top.
The moral of the story is when it comes to great brands - being the first and/or the best, is the most desirable position to be in. But being second ain’t so bad either.