Coca Cola iconic bottle turns 100

Customer experience might be all the buzz these days, but is it really anything new? Coca-Cola’s contour bottle has been creating the ultimate in customer experience for 100 years.

There is a lot of talk these days about customer experience and how in order for brands to be successful they must create the ultimate customer experience across all touchpoints. We all know that basic marketing has moved beyond the 4P’s product, price, place and promotion. While the 4P’s still serve as the marketing foundation, we have seen how the influence and the integration of technology and social media have significantly impacted how marketers think about the 4P’s.

Achieving the ultimate customer experience comes in all forms and is the best way for brands to keep their customers engaged throughout every step of the brand journey. And this holds true whether we are talking about B2B, B2C or CPG companies, brands, products and/or services. So what exactly do we mean by Customer Experience or (CX)? Wikipedia defines Customer Experience (CX) as: the sum of all experiences at various touchpoints a customer has with a supplier of goods and/or services over the duration of their relationship with that supplier, good and/or service. This can include awareness, discovery, attraction, interaction, purchase, use, cultivation and advocacy. It can also be used to mean an individual experience over one transaction; the distinction is usually clear in context.

But is all this talk about customer experience really anything new or is it just that we now have more touchpoints where brands can impact the customer experience as a result of technology and social media versus let’s say 100 years ago? Why 100 years you might ask? I just read an article where the classic and iconic contoured-shaped Coca-Cola bottle is celebrating its 100th birthday this year. While Coca-Cola is planning on celebrating throughout 2015, the official date has been designated as November 16, 2015.

The brand is planning on throwing a huge global birthday centennial celebration with ad campaigns featuring the likeness of Ray Charles, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley—each drinking Coca-Cola straight from the contoured bottle. I immediately thought to myself WOW, how could this bottle possibly be 100 years old? What foresight the marketers and packaging engineers and designers had in creating such a bottle and to have it patented no less. Not only has this bottle shape became one of the most well-known global icons in branding history, but its shape has also created one of the most lasting and memorable customer experiences — an experience that provides Coca-Cola with a unique point-of-difference versus any other soda brand and every Coca-Cola customer with a personal experience with each purchase and consumption. After all, who doesn’t have a heightened experience drinking Coca-Cola from its 8 fl. oz. contoured bottle versus a can?

Personally, when I see Coke’s iconic bottle, I am immediately transported back in time to when I was a young boy putting change in the Coke machine waiting in anticipation to make my selection and listening for the bottle to quickly (and hopefully, safely without getting stuck) make its way down the channel for me to grab, pop open and take that first sip. For me, the customer experience started from the moment I shook quarters loose from my piggybank, rode my bike to the nearest convenience store, reached deep into my pockets and put quarters into the machine. Talk about the ultimate in customer experience. I can still envision this experience like it was yesterday even though it was actually over 40 years ago. I even have a Coca-Cola contoured bottle proudly displayed on a shelf of collectable packaging in my home office.

I want to wish a Happy 100th Birthday to Coca-Cola’s contour bottle. Thanks for the memories and the ultimate customer experience your bottle shape has bestowed upon millions around the globe and will undoubtedly continue to do so for many generations to follow. You should be applauded for being ahead of the times in designing a shape that resulted in one of the most memorable customer experiences in branding history.

Can you think of any other brands, products and/or services that may have been ahead of its time in creating a unique customer experience?

Apple Watch and the Mobile Web

The modern age of the mobile web was heralded by Apple in 2007 with the introduction of the iPhone. Apple set to redefine what a mobile phone could be, but what nobody expected was how it caused a paradigm shift in computing, one from our desktop to our pocket. With it came the invention of modern web techniques to cater to the growing mobile audience like responsive design and a renewed focus on performance. We began to take for granted the notion that the entire world wide web is accessible wherever we are. Today support for mobile is no longer a luxury, it’s an imperative.

Almost eight years later, another paradigm shift in computing is rapidly approaching: from our pocket to our wrist. Google introduced Android Wear last year, and Apple will be launching its Apple Watch on April 24th. Wearable computing opens up exciting new possibilities, but it also raises many questions about how we’ll be using them. What is the primary use for a smart watch? To tell time? To track health and fitness? How will it practically extend what is already available on our phones? We simply won’t know until we try them on and settle in.

But what does a smart watch mean for the web specifically? Apple’s known to be an opinionated company, so let’s take a look at what they think a watch should do. Refer to this image showing the default apps loaded on the Apple Watch.

If you’re an iPhone or Mac user, and if you look closely enough, you might notice something missing. There’s no Safari icon. There’s no mention of the web at all on their page describing built-in functionality. Apple has predicted that browsing the web on a watch isn’t something people will be clamoring for. I agree wholeheartedly. With the largest Apple Watch having a screen size of 42mm, it’s hardly going to be a fun experience panning and zooming around your favorite site, let alone trying to type in the address of the site you’d like to visit.

If we agree that it would be less than optimal to browse the web on your wrist, what does this mean overall for the mobile web? Is it doomed as we gradually transition to wearable computing?

The Web is dead, long live the Web

Apple clearly believes that the future lies with apps. This has been a trend for many years since the introduction of the App Store for iOS, and with the Apple Watch it will be the only way to accomplish your favorite activities. What it means for the modern software designer is to think in terms of services and to ensure that service oriented architecture is baked in from the beginning.

Many of the apps you already know and love wouldn’t be possible without the web services and APIs that were built to support them. There are countless examples, but email and social media are ones that are ubiquitous. If you have a Gmail account you can access your email in a number of different ways. Open in your browser, open up your mail client, install the Gmail app on your phone. All of these talk to the same service that Google provides behind the scenes. Facebook and Twitter are other examples. There are a number of Twitter apps that you can install or you can visit in your browser. Any way you access will read from and write to the same set of core data.

At Tenet Partners the tools we build to help manage brands — whether it be online guidelines, a digital asset manager, or a brand review tool — are designed for the service enabled world.

Nowadays, the web is powered by these services, and they enrich our lives by the possibilities they enable on web sites and apps across all the devices we use. In that regard the Apple Watch will be no different. I’m excited for the potential of wearable computing, and can’t wait to see how it will change my daily life. I don’t think I’ll miss that Safari icon at all.

It’s all about the experience

Microsoft. Sony. Nintendo. Each one offers powerful brand experiences through their gaming divisions. What makes console entertainment so powerful that the XBox One, PlayStation 4, and Wii U combined account for 40.5 million consoles sold to date? Their community.

Entertainment is: Unique & Personal
There’s more to games than just button mashing to see what happens next. The soundtracks and special effects of games is, frankly, incredible. Mario, Sonic, Link they all have iconic theme music throughout their games. The Halo franchise’s music is balanced for action and awe. I still count Blizzard as one of the best cut-scene creators out there for their special effects and rendering. All of that builds upon the stories and creates unique experiences for each player.

The customizability of characters, weaponry, vehicles, and more has never been better. Being able to create a character, weapon and vehicle to your preferences is a gratifying experiences and a staple in most character-centered games now. I still consider Fallout: New Vegas my favorite customizable game, for its characters and weapons. There’s also an influx of “sandbox” and “open-world” games where there is no set path or plot you’re required to follow. You’re free to make of the game what you will, which allows for incredible feats of engineering, story crafting, and engagement.

And with the help of fundraising websites Kickstarter, Indiegogo and even GoFundMe one-person developers, and small indie companies are now capable of reaching out directly to the community to help fund and support smaller scale games. Steam’s Greenlight section is another method where gamers can learn about up and coming projects, and see alpha builds and sometimes obtain early access. The ability to see behind the curtain is a rewarding experience for many gamers.

Entertainment is: Long-lasting & Memorable
We are still a society built on the traditions of story telling. A well-written story, or fully developed character creates long-lasting connections. Taking the time to build up an experience users can watch develop and grow through their actions is why brands like GTA, Mass Effect, Fable and Dragon Age resonate with so many players.

Voice chatting with your team during a mission is integral for some games and allows human connections, regardless of actual distance. From local co-op (playing on the same console) to multiplayer (generally online), the experience of playing with friends or strangers either cooperatively or against each other in games has resulted in long-lasting experiences and resulted in entirely new ways for games to be experienced.

And, with resources like Twitch and other live-streaming services, we’re now capable of sharing our experiences with others, in real-time. It’s an incredibly bold move for games and consoles to allow and incorporate such abilities into their products. But, it allows for their audience to endorse, market, and promote games as never before. I’d rather not admit to just how large my gaming library is because of Let’s Players, live-streams, and community suggestions, but it’s allowed me to experience a greater diversity of content than I would have on my own.

Experiences are incredibly powerful and create long-lasting connections to brands. Building those connections, creating communities and leveraging experiences are what makes impactful brands capable of creating the good and surviving the bad.

What brands are memorable for you? Which ones have created emotional connections, provided unique experiences?

Thin-Slicing the Customer Experience

“I know there’s a problem. I just can’t tell exactly what it is.” Have you ever said this to yourself as you and your colleagues were working through a tough customer-experience challenge?

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, the author did a great job of showcasing research that reveals the incredible agility of our unconscious minds. His storyline is fairly simple. Humans make instinctive observations and associations in milliseconds. These observations, coined “thin-slicing” by psychologists in the early 1990s, have the power to inform rapid decision making. The second part of what Blink addresses is the danger of over thinking those immediate feelings and reactions. By trying too hard to explain or reconstruct the details, we do ourselves a disservice by distorting reality. Or, worse, we come to the wrong conclusions – and in turn, make bad decisions using built-up arguments to justify our thinking.

The concept of thin-slicing offers useful insight into the nuances of customer experience and areas for brand innovation. Extending this concept to journey mapping, we can see that a rapid, holistic view of customer touchpoints has a lot of merit. We need to pay attention to our first reactions – those moments when our instinct, gut, intuition – whatever you want to call it – tells us there is a problem.

One simple technique to help get to the heart of customer experience problems is the use of rapid word associations. As you sort through the finer touchpoints of the customer journey, don’t overthink or try to explain what is happening in that touchpoint. Just jot down a word or two that captures a key attribute of that experience. By accumulating impressions, patterns and themes begin to emerge.

Blink mentions a practice for handling this, which can be easily applied to the journey-mapping process. Have team members assign one or two words to a touchpoint, but without explaining what they are trying to say. Then, come back to those words as a group to see if there any themes or patterns that jump off the page. More often than not, key observations can be captured with tremendous clarity – and, surprisingly, with great accuracy.

In the field, we recommend that you be prepared to jot down immediate reactions at all times. Keep a paper journal with you, or use the notepad app on your phone. When you investigate a touchpoint, write down the first few words that jump into your mind. Then, take a few pictures if you can or draw a rough sketch that describes the problem without using any words. If you want, think of a solution right on the spot, describe it without any attention to what you can or can’t do. Focus on the intent, not the specifics. When you return to the office, put your notes into the journey map. Over time, you may find that by thin-slicing touchpoints, you get a deeper, richer view of the customer experience and inspiration for innovative, high-impact solutions.

As with any technique for gathering information and generating insights, applying the thin-slicing idea to journey mapping requires care. How teams are designed, facilitated and engaged does matter. Done incorrectly, you run the risk of introducing bias. That may lead to false assumptions about what is really happening to customers and how to create a better experience.

Done well, however, thin-slicing is a useful tool to unlock powerful insights that serve as the fuel for experience innovation – and, ultimately, more opportunities to win in the marketplace.

Political logos: The good. The bad. And the confusing.

What can I possibly add to the chorus of people (designers and non-designers alike) currently discussing the 2016 presidential candidate logos?

I’ll start by saying how much I love that so many people are talking about logos. On the subway yesterday, I overheard a grandmother say, “I would have gone with a serif for my logo, it’s just so much more friendly.” It made me smile that she actually knew the difference between serif and sans serif and could express the associated personalities of each. And, I appreciate that so many people are talking about the purpose of a logo and what it communicates. With that said, I find it unfortunate that the dialogue is often so mean spirited. It seems that logo bashing has become a sport these days and political logos just intensify online snarkiness — which I will do my best to avoid.

In the context of this particular competitive set, I believe that Hillary Clinton’s “H” is the most successful logo. Is it as inspirational and graceful as President Obama’s iconic “O”? No, but it does an impressive job of doing what a logo is meant to do. It clearly connotes an idea (Progression! Moving forward!) and is memorable in its bold simplicity. In addition, the absence of a waving flag or military star is unexpected. Designed by Michael Bierut at Pentagram, this logo clearly stands out in the crowded, boisterous world of politics. In my opinion, it will stand the test of time.

The other three logos are what you’d expect both visually and conceptually, with varying degrees of success.

I certainly give Rand Paul credit for the subtle “torch” in his logo and the lack of the usual red, white and blue. And, I appreciate the bold decision to go with “RAND” to convey that he’s approachable and just one of the guys. I personally would have avoided the heavy italic font that looks too much like a moving company’s logo from the 1970s.

Marco Rubio’s logo has some nice features and some real problems. The all-lowercase type is both modern and friendly, but the small American map dotting the “i” is really unfortunate. Not only does it look amateurish, but it also doesn’t translate at all in smaller applications. And, what about Hawaii and Alaska? I’m pretty sure they still get to vote, right?

That brings us to Ted Cruz and what appears to be an American flag on fire. The symbolism of this icon left me scratching my head. The most conservative of the group, I do think it was the right decision to go with a classic serif and an all-American color palette. Both of these elements clearly reinforce traditional values.

With the 2016 presidential campaign just getting started, I’m excited to see even more logos join the race. Who knows? Maybe the best is yet to come.

Apple Watch Next big thing or Tim Cook’s folly?

As Tenet Partner’s IT director, and as someone who has been involved with Apple in many capacities over the past 30 years, I can’t help but be amused by all the negative and often snarky predictions for the new Apple Watch.

As with any new Apple product, until it has been in the market for a year or more, no one can predict what role it will play in users day-to-day lives. However, the key to grasping its potential lies in the understanding that while Apple creates brilliantly engineered and beautifully designed devices, it’s the imagination and talent of third party developers that really make these devices “The next big thing”.

When the iPhone first shipped in 2007, we tech types were thrilled to have a phone with a real web browser, visual voice mail, standards based email, an iPod, and a handful of useful productivity apps. Moreover, all this goodness came wrapped in a sleek package with an brilliant touch based OS and a gorgeous display. As a groundbreaking phone, this was obviously going to be a very successful product, but the real revolution wouldn’t begin until Apple opened up the iPhone to third party developers.

When the app store eventually opened, I would check in every few days to see what new apps were available. Within a few weeks the trickle of apps became a stream, which in turn became a firehose. Who in those early days could have imagined today’s ecosystem of apps and accessories, and the sheer scope of the functionality now offered by this diminutive device. While ostensibly a “phone” it is more accurately understood as a connected and sensor-rich pocket computer, and a darn powerful one at that.

One example; my nephew, a cardiologist at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, is on call a few nights a month for cardiac emergencies potentially requiring emergency stents. When he gets a call he can quickly log-in with his iPhone and review the patient’s EKG, transmitted live from the ambulance, as both he and the patient make their way to the hospital. By the time he arrives he knows exactly what he’s dealing with and is ready to scrub in. This one tool significantly reduces the time from heart attack to repair, a critical factor in preserving life and preventing damage. Again, who could have imagined?

When the iPad was announced many confidently stated it was a device too far, just an overgrown iPod, and sure to be a flop. While tablet sales in general have slumped of late, they have carved out a vital role in our connected world. In a few short years iPads have replaced the 30 pound chart cases carried by nearly all airline pilots. They can also be found showing Frozen in the back of the family mini-van, used for data collection at scientific field stations and are replacing hard bound (and often out of date) books in classrooms around the world. Outfitted with a host of accessories and specialized software they can also be found on stage, in hospitals, offices, laboratories, museums, factories, etc., replacing existing tools, or creating new ones that none of us could have conceived of a few short years ago.

As a guy who grew up with Dick Tracy and his wrist phone, I’m naturally predisposed towards the Apple Watch. Most of my technical colleagues at Tenet Partners are as well, but what about the mass market? Could the naysayers predictions of an impending flop be accurate? I can’t begin to guess how the Apple Watch will evolve, but as with previous offerings, Apple has delivered to us an innovative and beautiful, yet relatively blank slate. Once smart developers around the world (and right here at Tenet Partners) dive in and make it their own, I’m pretty sure this could indeed be “the next big thing”.

Bud Light – The Importance of Understanding Potential Minefields in your Messaging

Bud Light recently ran in to some trouble with its “Up for Whatever” campaign. The issue highlights the importance of not getting too carried away when running a lighthearted and whimsical campaign that you could inadvertently become offensive or insensitive with. The campaign encourages people to be open-minded and go with the flow when it comes to a fun night out. They should realize that this could be dangerous water when promoting an alcoholic beverage. While not promoting irresponsible behavior, it is a fine line when you are promoting beer while telling people to be “Up for whatever”.

The controversy came when they put a tagline on their bottles that read, “The perfect beer for removing ‘no’ from your vocabulary for the night”. I don’t think that any reasonable person would look at that line and not have some concerns. Yet this same line allegedly went through five layers of approvals. This is astounding.

Anyone in a leadership position for such a prominent brand should be saying to himself, “I like this campaign, but we need to be careful that we don’t get carried away and go too far”. Apparently, that filter was not in place for the team at Bud Light.

As could be expected, the social media universe caught fire where users accused Bud Light of promoting a “rape culture”. I won’t go that far, I doubt that they consciously did that. However, at a minimum, they are guilty of horrible judgement and insensitivity. This episode highlights the need to have a filter in place and not get carried away. Communicators need to understand their product and intended message have the potential for creating a horrible misinterpretation if not communicated clearly and in proper context. The dangers in this campaign are clearly that alcohol consumption and bad decisions sometimes go hand in hand. With this message, they need to understand that there is a fine line between harmless fun and irresponsible behavior. Removing the word “no” from your vocabulary and consuming alcohol is a disaster waiting to happen.

The 2015 Top 100 Most Powerful Brands The Way Forward

Brands are boldly moving forward. This momentum is the strongest since the recession, thanks to significant investments in business model innovation, digital and brand. Corporate leadership is looking to deliver growth by reshaping customer experiences. Our Top 100 report shows these leaders are outpacing their peers.

The macro trends that are driving change are fairly concentrated – industry lines blurring, digital convergence, and the emergence of fast-moving disruptors. Together, these trends are altering consumer behavior, delivering new experiences and driving value through innovation. In some industries, the fast pace of change is overwhelming management teams.

To seize on the opportunity this presents, leaders are reframing the marketing function to have greater influence on operations and shape customer experience, digital transformation and design of organizational culture. Success today requires a broader, more holistic view of the customer. A human-centered philosophy can translate into a common language that unites the various disciplines of business to ensure the enterprise is future-ready for the opportunities ahead.

2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the CoreBrand Index, a rich data set covering 1000 companies. This represents a milestone in Tenet’s mission of enabling leaders to create value in one of the most critical assets for any organization: its brand and reputation. With eyes to the future, we see exciting times ahead for those pacesetters who successfully wrap their business strategy and brand experience around their customers’ needs and aspirations.

Coca-Cola Tops Tenet’s Most Powerful Brands List

The Coca-Cola Company retains its #1 position for the 8th consecutive year on Tenet Partners’ Top 100 Most Powerful Brands 2015 List. How long can this iconic brand hold onto its leadership position?

This week, Tenet Partners launched the 8th edition of our Top 100 Most Powerful Brands Report, and Coca-Cola once again occupies the #1 position since the inception of this report. Congratulations to a brand that has been able to maintain momentum, especially in today’s very challenging and competitive beverage environment. Coca-Cola is seeing consumers seek healthier alternatives to soda and orange juice – two of Coke’s core staples – as well as more experiential brand engagements.

Tenet’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands Report indicates that those brands who drive value through innovation and collaboration to create more engaging customer experiences tend to be the winners in not only capturing the hearts and loyalty of consumers, but of investors too. So what does the future hold for Coca-Cola? How long will Coke be able to remain at the top of our Top 100 list before Apple, Google, Amazon or even some other yet to be launched brand dethrones it? Coke must look ahead while keeping an eye on those brands that are right on its heels.

Surely Coca-Cola, either through collaboration Fit Family Challenge or through the acquisition of such “better for you” brands such as Vitamin Water, Honest Tea, Smart Water, Fuze and Odwalla understands that soda and orange juice will not sustain its future. But is Coke driving enough innovation to maintain or even increase its momentum knowing that consumers are seeking products and experiences that will complement their healthy lifestyles? I doubt that the Coke mini-can touting less sugar and calories is the solution. However, Coke Life, the recent “fist bump” modification to its iconic ribbon and its Ekocycle collaboration with are certainly ways in which the brand is starting to engage with its consumers through relevant messages and heightened brand experiences.

One thing that Coca-Cola has proven is that it certainly “gets it” when it comes to understanding the concept of customer experience. Whether through Coke’s classic contour-shaped bottle, which is celebrating its 100th birthday this year, or through its corporate and individual brand promotions and sponsorships, Coca-Cola often times exemplifies good, even great customer experiences. This was proven by their “Share a Coke” campaign which helped to increase previously lagging sales by 2.5% last summer.

Moving forward, Coca-Cola will not only need to rely strongly on continued acquisitions, collaboration and innovation that are relevant for its consumers and investors, but to also retain its overall BrandPower Coca-Cola strength and its leadership position.

Improving C-Suite Decisions Tapping the Power of CoreBrand Analytics

Since 1990, Tenet Partners℠ CoreBrand Analytics has set the standard for reliable corporate reputation data and insight. 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of Tenet Partners CoreBrand® Index, a rich data set based on rigorous research conducted annually among 10,000 Opinion Elites. This landmark study on corporate reputation assesses the health and trajectory of 1,000 companies across nearly 50 industries.

Tapping insights from this unique body of work, Tenet Partners recently released its annual study examining 2015’s Top 100 Most Powerful Brands. Beyond a mere ranking that highlights the biggest risers and steepest decliners, this study sheds valuable light on emerging macro trends that impact the corporate brand — one of a companies most precious assets. We uncover how some of 2015’s Most Powerful Brands embrace innovation, collaboration and customer experience to drive success.

Tenet Partners has built its CoreBrand Analytics practice to empower the C-Suite with quantitative information and measurement tools needed to understand their brand’s performance, the competitive environment they operate in and prescriptive guidance to drive success.

Here are 5 important and actionable reasons why Tenet’s CoreBrand Analytics can help your C-Suite improve its decision-making:

With custom insight drawn from our CoreBrand Analytics ROI model, questions about brand-building change from whether to invest to how much. Companies that understand the importance and value of investments can strategically build customer-centric experiences with confidence.

By measuring the impact of brand building, leadership can evaluate the quality of overall brand management without depending on biased opinion or personal perspective. Measurement and metrics add science to the art of creative brand building. Results of CoreBrand Analytics allow marketers to quantitatively track performance of initiatives, course correct as necessary and report progress to the C-suite with hard evidence.

Having a quantitative, enterprise-wide measure of impact means that leadership can be evaluated on their stewardship and management of the brand asset over the long term. Metrics are often incorporated into corporate scorecards and can factor into performance assessment and rewards systems.

Because the results of brand management can be tracked in detail over time, it is possible to thoroughly analyze the effort. This enables senior managers to work together for the optimum total return on investment, throughout the entire company.

Understanding the components of brand value gives dimension to the upside potential to advance a business, not only through geographical growth but also through product innovation, service development and strategic alliances.

I welcome the opportunity to start a conversation about how Tenet can put CoreBrand Analytics to work for your organization, please reach out to me at

Download Tenet Partners 2015 Top 100 Most Powerful Brands report.

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