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Making Good Marketing Decisions and Avoiding Bad Ones

Any Marketing practitioner knows that good ideas and creative thinking are the lifeblood of a brand and business. Effective ideas delivered in a creative manner can be the difference between life and death of a company.

Years ago, I worked in the Marketing Department of the Pepsi-Cola Company. If you are over 50, you might remember the Pepsi Challenge in the 1970s. It was a blind taste test that compared Coke vs. Pepsi. Consumers actually picked Pepsi over Coke a majority of the time. That simple idea led to a national advertising campaign and ultimately major decisions by Coca-Cola that were very costly.

Finally in the mid 80s, after the Pepsi Challenge reached virtually every market in America, the pressure Coke felt led to them making one of the most disastrous decisions in Marketing history. They decided to change the flavor of the legendary Coca Cola formula to make it sweeter, and more like Pepsi Cola!

They called it New Coke.

New Coke was a legendary marketing mistake. (Truthfully, in the Pepsi offices we were “high fiving.”) Pepsi even put a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal proclaiming, “The other guy just blinked.”

At some point, the Coke team looked at the research and decided that the formula should be changed to be more like the competitor. You can bet that they researched the outcome hundreds of different ways. And yet, the results were disastrous.

All of this begs the question of what things you can do to improve the ideas you explore, as well as limit the downside of a potential bad outcome. I believe that there are a few key tenets to follow to end up with a good outcome.

Think of your process as a funnel with a lot of ideas early on that get whittled down to a few good ones:

Clearly define what you are solving for – What is the true goal? What impact will this have on your business? Why are you seeking to implement this?

Engage many opinions early on – Use a classic brainstorming approach to come up with as many ideas as possible. No criticisms at this stage. We’re going for volume.

Sift and assess – After you have secured a reasonable number of possible options, sift the number down to those that have a reasonable chance of success. These will be evaluated on a deeper set of metrics and a higher level of scrutiny. Understand the financial implications of each option and the potential for sales and other market goals.

Review with stakeholders – After you have identified these several ideas, pull those players in that will have a learned opinion on the decision. Be ready to accept constructive criticism in areas that will make your ideas better. The purpose of this is to ensure you do not move forward facing any major unforeseen issue.

A final thought
There is inherent risk with everything you do. You can analyze possibilities until you run out of time. You will not be rewarded for what you do not do. Make your best decisions and make them quickly. The marketplace rewards the leaders. If you make a mistake, fix it quickly and move on.

In fact, that’s exactly what Coca Cola did. They brought back the original, just months after New Coke was introduced. New Coke is now just a memory. (However, I personally think it is the basis for Coke Zero!)

Now get in the game and make some bold decisions!