Being an Atlanta native, there is something really fun about being in a foreign country, looking at the container of your drink and seeing 2 words : “Coca-Cola” and “Atlanta.” This past week I have been in Brazil, and as I was sitting in a restaurant the other night, I could not help to think of “home” as I drank my Coke Zero from a glass bottle in a country on the opposite hemisphere from where it all began for the company!
What I could also not help to think about was the influence of one man running a medium sized company was the catalyst that lead to Coke being one of the single most known products and brands in the world. If you are not familiar with Coca-Cola history, I will fill you in on just a small piece.
In 1932 – not long after his father purchased the company, a man named Robert Woodruff became the president of Coca-Cola. Woodruff was a marketer and more importantly an influencer who believed in the value of Coke and felt it should be a world-wide company. With this in mind, he introduced Coke to the world in the 1928 Olympic Games. This was a great start, but not the ultimate Catalyst that brings us to where we are today. During World War II, Woodruff made a statement that he would ensure the following:
“every man in uniform gets a bottle of Coca-Cola for 5 cents, wherever he is, and whatever it costs the Company.”
This may not seem like a huge deal, but I would argue (without knowing all of the Coke story) that this may have been the single decision that brings Coke to where it is today. As much as this may seem like just a nice thing to do for the troops, I believe that Woodruff also was thinking with a marketing and operations mindset.
This decision made Coke a world-wide brand for several reasons: One was that in order to make Coke available to all of our troops, the company had to plan a world wide distribution plan which was a big deal at the time (in 1941 there was no Wal-Mart…) The smart thing about the timing is that Coke was most likely able to learn from and partner with the US Military who already had a “distribution service” of arms, people, and materials. Also, this decision got the brand in the hands of people in countries all over the word – people started seeing the Coke Swirl way before they even knew what the product taste like.
The take away from this for me is what key decisions can you make today that will impact your life, your organization, and possibly the world? Woodruff may not have imagined that one day you could get a Coke from practically anywhere in the world (Over 200 countries and over 500 Brands) but he did know that he could make one clear decision that had a great impact and he stuck to his decision – even when it was not easy (I am willing to bet getting a Coke to every troop for 5 cents had its challenges)
Woodruff was clear in his decision – every man in uniform will have a bottle of Coca-Cola – and arguably one decision made one of the greatest brands to have ever been invented.