As far as global recognition goes, Coca-Cola is one of the most successful brands ever established. With a presence in more than 200 countries, the company is still hard at work to maintain its status as the No. 1 global beverage brand and convey a corporate message of happiness and optimism.

“We are able to innovate on a local basis so we can adapt manufacturing to the needs of the regional culture,” says Jackie Duff, global licensing manager for Europe, Eurasia and Asia Pacific.

As part of Coke’s global retail and licensing team, Duff’s focus is on global projects based out of Europe or Asia-Pacific. Her licensing challenge concerns brand extension programs that require a lot of innovation to have a global reach while adapting to different cultures.

Promoting passion

Coca-Cola’s ability to manage its external licensing agency network and maintain long-term relationships with licensees on a global scale is carefully balanced. The company works to ensure brand integrity and synchronicity across markets from the U.S. to Europe to Asia and beyond. The company works with a select number of specialty licensing agencies based in local offices in key markets around the world. Its licensing agencies can work closely with a particular market’s licensees and retailers.

“The global landscape is very different,” Duff says. “What works for us in China is different than Europe or the U.S. Licensing programs succeed when they have an understanding of local market dynamics and respond to them at a local level.”

Of course, promoting innovation, optimism and passion for the brand internally, and driving that excitement out to the licensees requires a lot of communication across multiple geographies. Duff says Coca-Cola sees work force diversity as critical to ensuring that its global talent pool has the right thirst for the brand, so to speak.

It doesn’t hurt that Coca-Cola is constantly moving from one big, dynamic project to another. Coca-Cola recently celebrated its 125th anniversary, which enabled the company to reflect on its heritage and reconnect with core consumers. One aspect of the 125th ann­iversary included packaging redesigns that created anniversary bottles for collectors. The company also engaged in 125th anniversary retail projects with retailers like Kitson in Los Angeles, Colette in Paris, Selfridges in London, Chocolate in Hong Kong and Beams in Tokyo.

“The projects took on many different forms, combining where consumers enjoy the beverage whilst experiencing the brand through a variety of licensed merchandise,” Duff says. “At Selfridges, we set up a retro soda bar, which is not so common in the UK. Some of the collaborations we’ve done this year also have global reach and include working with Dolce and Gabbana in Italy and French designer Jean Charles de Castlebajac. In fact, we launched his Coca-Cola 125th Anniversary collection officially during the recent Paris Fashion Week at a high profile event that celebrated the best in music and fashion.  Consumers can buy this designer and iconic merchandise at a whole range of price points.”

A major undertaking in the not-too-distant future will be Coke’s involvement with the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The company is working on a program in the UK with the charity StreetGames and engaging youth in sport. Much of its focus on the games is about getting its consumers excited about London 2012.

“We know through research that young consumers get excited about London 2012, but usually only right before its about to happen,” Duff says. “We’d like to try to engage them earlier through existing passion points, which could be fashion or music, and tying that to a legacy of youth engagement with sport.”

Looking forward

Another piece of the puzzle for Coke that is connected to London 2012 and beyond is sustainability. The company actively promotes recycling and changing the way consumers think about recycling. London 2012 aims to be the most sustainable games ever, and Coke is working closely with the organizing committee, other large brands and sponsors to develop innovative programs and licensed products that will be in line with this commitment. In addition, Coke launched Plant Bottle packaging, a recyclable plastic beverage bottle made partially from plants.

“We work with a number of different designers to push the boundaries of innovation,” Duff notes. “In 2010, we partnered with Emeco to launch a chair made of 111 plastic Coke bottles. That has been a phenomenal success for us globally and built awareness for what we’re trying to do with recycling to give the bottle another life.”

Over the next few years, there is no doubt that Coke will continue to introduce new products and build on its inherent brand strength while trying to positively impact growth. At the same time, it faces the challenge of doing so on a global scale while economies around the world struggle to recover from the economic doldrums of the day. That is why the company will continue to combine global innovation and take a locally focused approach to licensing that will vary from region to region and market to market.

Duff says the company is able to capitalize on a strong retro trend in some markets through diverse categories for the home, which include furniture and décor. Coca-Cola is seen as one of the top three-brands among teens, so quality innovation and design are key factors in tapping into the teen consumer’s purchasing behavior, too. The company is embracing digital trends, as well, through product innovations that reach consumers’ social lives with accessories, sustainable products, content and design collaborations.

“We’ve had our most successful year ever in terms of licensing. In China, we have launched our first online retail site so we can reach consumers who are not necessarily in urban environments and are spread out across a huge territory,” Duff says. “We must understand the shopping habits of consumers in different countries so we know what’s inspiring those consumers to continue enjoying the happiness and optimism of our brands.”

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