I loved Coca-Cola when I was a kid. I can still remember the sweet burn of a cold Coke on a hot Texas summer day. I can imagine the feel of the wet glass in my hand and see the tiny fountain of bubbles trying to jump over the rim. I remember the unique shape of the glass bottle and the commercials that ran each December featuring young people on a hillside singing, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke.” All of these individual images form a collage – a mental summary – of this particular product and the company behind it.
You also have a picture of the Coca-Cola brand in your mind. It was formed from thousands of pieces of information. Your summary probably includes an iconic white logo against a bright red background. It may include a glass filled with soda and vanilla ice cream, NASCAR races festooned with the Coca-Cola logo, or judges sitting next to large red glasses on American Idol. Your mental summary may also include warnings about sugar from your dentist or an article describing the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup. Each of these experiences and communications adds a piece of information to the brand you carry in your mind. A brand is developed over time, and includes the full history of communications and experiences we’ve had with companies and their offerings.
When you see a Coca-Cola logo on a vending machine, all of your thoughts and experiences merge into a single decision: either “I want a Coke” or “I don’t want a Coke.” Everything that the Coca-Cola company has done over more than 100 years — the goal of more than $3 billion in annual advertising spending — is to influence your decision in that moment. Coca-Cola understands this, and works hard to maintain the brand over the long term, adding new experiences for each new generation of consumers.
As you develop your business, you will need to plan how you want your brand to be perceived over the long term and understand how to change your brand as needs dictate. Many small businesses create a brand and then stop, hoping that the initial push will be enough to generate business far into the future. But as competitors arrive and new trends emerge, a brand must revitalize itself to stay present in the minds of existing and potential customers.
If you open a coffee shop and tea suddenly becomes trendy, you may have to change your offering to keep customers happy. If the price of gas increases dramatically, your auto repair shop may need to expand into motorcycles. These new offerings would require new communications and marketing strategies.
A brand changes over time, independent of the actions or intentions of business owners. Successful businesses must adapt as well.