Have you ever had a Coke?

If you’re a typical American, your answer probably ranges from something like “yes, of course” to “duh… this goes without saying”.

Not only is Coke a popular brand to American tastes and diet, but it’s a worldwide staple beverage. Coke’s in every developed country; in the bodegas, restaurants and cafes that litter the map. It’s also readily available in poorer and developing countries.

When we were on a trip to Peru a few years back, we found Coke in the tiny shops of an isolated mountain village you’d be hard pressed to even find on a map of the country.

For perspective, we were among the first “gringos” (that’s what they called us) that many in the community had ever seen. But they had ready access to one of our top nationally exported brands.

As a business geek, this amazed and baffled me. How could Coke’s branding and distribution be that good? How did trucks even manage to bring cases of Coke to this – and more than likely, other – far flung village of South America and keep the shelves regularly stocked? The roads were hardly even paved…

Why do we buy Coke?

What does Coke do for us that other beverages simply cannot? Why choose a Coke instead of a water? Coffee? Yerba mate?

Personally, I like the occasional Coke when I’m eating something spicy like buffalo wings. I’m not a big soda fan, but I’ll make an exception for classic Coke (NOT cola) or Dr. Pepper. For me, Coke is nostalgic.

I remember my first Coke. I was probably four or five and my mom woke my brother and I up early from our afternoon naps. We got to watch a movie – most likely The Lion King – and she served us this amazing snack: popcorn and the tiniest cups you could ever imagine of a delicious beverage we’d never had before.

It was Coke.

As memorable as that moment was for me, I can say with a level of certainty that I’m not the only American youngling who has some version of this memory imprinted from their childhood.

Commercializing Coke

Each year, we see commercials at Christmas time that show happy little polar bears and Santa dancing around in joy… drinking Cokes, of course.

Coke has pushed the envelope with inclusive advertising, creating, for example, communication machines that let users from around the world interact with one another as they participate in the same activity: buying a Coke.

Coke promises us many things: Happiness. Unity. Youth. A moment with someone special.

That’s a tall order for a 12-ounce can of pop.

It’s clear that the Coca-Cola advertising team has got their mission down to a science. After all, Coke is globally ubiquitous. But have you ever considered how they manage this?

How does a lowly little bottle of Coke get shelf space in a one-room shop in a remote village in the Peruvian Andes?

How is Coke so mainstream that it’s a “Coke and rum”, not a “cola and rum”?

How is it so prevalent that in parts of the US, people don’t even bother with the usual terms like “soda” or “pop” and they simply call every carbonated beverage “Coke” (whether it is or not)?

The Secret Recipe

Obviously, Coke is popular because it’s a good product. No other brown fizzy beverage holds a candle. This isn’t my opinion – well, it does happen to be my opinion, but that’s only because I agree with other humans who have been surveyed on their brown fizzy beverages of choice.

Coke has long been the leader in fizzy brown drinks, crowding out Pepsi and other cola manufacturers. To be fair, people are drinking far less soda these days than they once did, and the market share of fizzy brown drinks has shrunk significantly over the last decade or so.

But imagine a world where people didn’t care about things like calories and diabetes (for the record, these are good things to care about). In this world which once existed, Coke was king. Even now, you’re more likely to run across a restaurant or convenience store fridge that only sells Coke products than any other.


You may be tempted to answer that it’s Coke’s winning secret recipe that keeps customers coming back for more. After all, the beverage is rumored to have contained cocaine as an ingredient once upon a time.

And Also not the Secret Recipe

While the Coke secret recipe is certainly a factor that contributes to the brand’s success, it’s hardly the only component. In fact, I’d argue it’s a lesser factor when compared with others.

Most people agree that a product has to be good, if not nearly perfect, before it can succeed in the marketplace. I can get with that. After all, I definitely don’t want to bring home a bag full of items from, say, Target and find that half of them don’t live up to my expectations.

But when it comes to products that move, the best products are often not the ones that you end up coming home with. In fact, you may never even get a chance to handle some of the best products that have been developed in the product categories that you frequently shop.

The primary factors that contribute to the success of any product are the final two components of the marketing mix (more about this later): placement and promotion.

Placement is an incredibly important part of marketing that almost every single consumer pays not a speck of attention to. When placement is done right, you don’t even have to think about it.

A well placed product is right at eye level. Or at hand level when you open a refrigerated case at the supermarket checkout. Or on the shelf at a nameless shop in an isolated enclave in the mountains of Peru.

It’s placement that gets attention. Placement also feeds into promotion, which explains why commercials run during the Super Bowl can cost advertisers up to $5-million dollars.

Placement and promotion go hand in hand. Promotion deals with concepts – the ideas and image that advertisers want consumers to associate with their brand.

Placement deals with getting that item into their customers’ hands. They’re related concepts, but vastly different in their execution.

Back to That Secret Recipe

If Coke were about the secret recipe, you wouldn’t find polar bears skating serenely across snowy ponds with Cokes in their paws and colorful scarves around their necks. You’d see Pinterest boards with recipes for creating a batch of Coke of your very own.

Coke is not, and never will be, about the secret recipe. Sure, the recipe is likely locked down somewhere and no one is given the full information about how Coke is actually made, but that has nothing to do with how Coke tastes and everything to do with the value of the intellectual property (ie the Coke secret recipe) in which Coca-Cola has a vested interest.

In fact, Coke could give their recipe away like candy, and brands could spend years developing a copycat soda, packaging, client list and distribution channels to rival Coke’s, and they’d never come close to hitting the success that Coke has seen.

Coke’s secret recipe has nothing to do with the contents of the bottle, but rather what the bottle itself represents.




A moment with someone special.

Your Recipe for Success

What about your secret recipe? If you’ve got a product or creative service that you represent, you’ve likely considered the value of your own trade secrets. Maybe you have a literal secret recipe that represents your client success formula or the award-winning strawberry jam you make and sell.

I’ve had multiple creative minds share with me that one of their primary fears in establishing or expanding their online reach is the vulnerability that their ideas and secret recipes might face in the public arena.

If you have a special program, for example, how can you keep from giving up all of the important parts of that program as subjects for blog posts before your potential customers even bite at your paid services?

That’s a valid concern.

There are, in fact, some variations of that concern across every industry, whether you’re dealing with intellectual property or patents for tangible goods. If I give away some of what my product or service does, then someone is going to be waiting in the wings to snatch up my hard work and pass it off as their own.

It’s good to have a healthy dose of self-preservation and protection over your hard work. But when it gets to the point that you won’t let customers see into any more of your brand or process than what a standard product description might offer, you’re viewing your branding in the wrong way.

I don’t say this to offend. I say this because it’s the truth of doing business online.

The online marketplace is fierce and competitive. You have to work hard to woo clients, and even victories can be short lived when you learn that a client has chosen to instead work with someone who offers your same services for a fraction of the price.

Marketing Strategies for Overcoming Obstacles to Success

To build client confidence, you need to win your clients over. Your product is essential – without it you wouldn’t even be in business.

But the way you reach customers in the online atmosphere isn’t by giving away everything that makes you unique. You don’t sidestep the undercutters of the Internet by showing your customers a prized part of your unique process or product.

Like Coke, you show your customers how your product will change their lives. Instead of giving away your secret recipe, you’re developing your own recipe for success: reaching customers far and wide with a product that they absolutely cannot live without.

Perhaps you have an ecourse that’s jam packed with everything that busy bloggers need to know in order to take the perfect photos for their posts. You cover everything from setting up the right atmosphere to choosing props and adjusting the camera settings to get the perfect light. You even have an in-depth section with editing and watermarking tips.

You put a lot of time into the course, and for that, you’ve got your registration fee set at $350. This is reasonable, considering the time, effort and resources that went into it, but with free tutorials and cheaper one-off courses, you feel like you’re losing your target audience.

How do you turn no sales into a success story?

You give your customers what they want. No, that’s not free tidbits from your course. You worked hard on that – that’s your product.

Instead, you create an exclusive Facebook community where aspiring blog photographers can come to you for free targeted photo advice. You develop a series of ads and blog posts that focus on the things that your customers will get from your course: visibility, a larger following, prettier blog posts, more shares on Pinterest.

Over time, these value added perks will bring your audience flocking to your course. They’ll be there for your stellar content, sure, but they’ll also come for the promise of better blog visibility or of finding the perfect aesthetic to boost their Instagram presence.

Wrapping it Up

At the end of the day, good marketing depends on how well you can deliver what your customers want. They’re looking for your recipe for success; not your secret recipe.

Are you curious about what your web presence and products are saying about your brand? Contact us today for a free website analysis and learn more about our online marketing and strategy services.

We can’t wait to help you with your personalized recipe for success!

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