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Trial By Free Market

Ex-Coca-Cola-exec Sergio Zyman on marketing success.and New Coke.
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the July 2000 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Sergio Zyman may be the world's best-known marketer. As the chief marketing officer at The Coca-Cola Company for 13 years, Zyman masterminded classic campaigns for everything from Diet Coke to Sprite (and the not-so-classic New Coke campaign). Now a consultant, Zyman's insight is sought by big companies like Microsoft; smaller companies can also get a taste of his acumen at and through his two books, The End of Marketing as We Know It (HarperCollins) and the just-released Building Brandwidth: The End of E-Marketing (HarperCollins). What gets consumers excited enough to buy products? Here, Zyman shares his approach-part common-sense, part radical.

What is "the end of marketing" and what comes after it?

For 20 years we've had voodoo marketing, in which the emphasis has been on clever commercials that entertain us but don't sell more stuff to more people more often. Companies got away with it because the world was opening up to American products at the end of the Cold War and trade barriers fell, but now the process of global opening is slowing. You have to have imagery that's appropriately associated with the product and packaging, not just sexy images. Sports shoes got away from performance entirely and became just images. We have to get back to scientifically measuring the results of campaigns.

Have those selling over the Web done better?

Naked people and outrageous [stunts] eventually turn irreverence into irrelevance. What drives traffic to a Web site doesn't necessarily result in buying-it's as lazy a way of measuring success as determining brand awareness. There are 80 job boards whose marketing doesn't differentiate them from the competition in consumers' minds. Almost everyone is hiring people from companies with traditional marketing methods who are creatively bankrupt.

Everyone needs to go back to the basics of creating demand, like overdelivering on promises and supporting claims. You have to come up with a thorough list of reasons why customers need your products, then market those. When we did the "Always Coca-Cola" campaign, we had 35 different attributes to convince people to buy. Once you know your message, don't watch your market-watch the world and aim to get where you want to go, not to where you think you can get.

What's the lesson of your experience with New Coke?

You have to ask consumers the right questions or they'll give you the wrong answers. Consumers don't know how to tell you what you need to know and sometimes you need to ask the most naive questions to challenge assumptions.

Scott S. Smith writes about business issues for a variety of publications, including Investor's Business Daily.

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