Brand marketing starts with consumer


Sharon Keith, marketing director of Coca-Cola’s Southern Africa business unit, believes that marketing essentially starts and ends with the consumer.

“All our marketing starts and ends with consumer insight. Understanding that and the structuring marketing programmes to act on those insights is the way that we do business. That might show up slightly differently in different markets but without a doubt, you need to personalise your marketing campaigns and bring them into the local context in order to make them meaningful,” Keith told

“If you asked somebody who was just a regular person on the street whether they thought Coca-Cola was an international brand or a local brand, the way that we market the brand is essentially local. That’s what people care about. Everything we do, in local communities, on local media, the packaging, everything needs to feel like it’s specifically designed for people in South Africa or whichever market you happen to be in.”



Coca-Cola recently launched its ‘Share a Coke’ campaign in South Africa, where it featured 600 of the country’s most popular names on Coca-Cola bottle labels and cans.

“The insight behind it is just that people love to see their name up in lights because what that says is ‘I see you, I recognise you’. It’s that little bit of personalisation and recognition that everybody looks for and there’s nothing more personal than your name. We’ve seen people buying for themselves, for their friends, for their family. [There’s] lots of reasons for people to give somebody a can or a bottle with their name on it,” Keith explained.

“South Africa is a very diverse country and it’s made up of lots of different segments of people. We needed to be representative and we needed to make sure that there was a fair distribution of names. We did a lot of research using different sources. We worked with the Department of Home Affairs, we validated the lists through research using Mxit and got that validation back from consumers. We feel pretty confident that we have a good representation of names.”


Coca-Cola was, up until recently, the best brand in the world according to an annual report done by Interbrand. Keith indicated that there are a number of crucial factors that make a successful brand.

“Consistency in terms of your brand promise as well as your brand’s delivery on that promise is a big piece of it. Constantly refreshing how the brand shows up in the marketplace is another element – you can’t rest on last year’s activities, you have to be constantly innovating and bringing new news to the consumer,” she explained.

“[It’s about] understanding who your consumer is and what their needs are, and being able to connect with them in a way that really delivers on those needs. There’s an enormous amount of effort that goes into keeping Coke fresh, doing surprising things that delight our consumers around the world, and being authentic.”


Keith said that while opportunity in the beverage industry is growing, there are those standard challenges which still need to be dealt with.

“There’s a massive opportunity in terms of meeting people’s refreshment needs, meeting their needs for choice and range in terms of different categories. We’re seeing some interesting beverage categories growing fast – energy drinks, ice tea, juice [is] growing nicely, bottled water – there are a number of categories that are performing well,” she explained.

“The challenges, I would say, [are] around making your marketing dollar stretch further and further across the proliferation of different media types, the fragmentation of media, the fact that people are much more mobile, much more active across different channels and different retail formats, to still remain relevant and present in a meaningful way.”


Consumer feedback is also vital to the marketing industry and Keith indicated that Coca-Cola could bring the ‘Share a Coke’ campaign back if there is huge demand for it.

“The campaign itself is planned for a four-month period. We started from the first of November and we will run until the end of February. Post the end of February we will probably be kicking into our FIFA World Cup programming, as the World Cup will be happening in Brazil from June – that’s a big, global Coca-Cola property and we’ve got lots of exciting things lined up around that,” she said.

“We listen very hard to what our consumers have to say and if they say we haven’t had enough yet of the ‘Coke names’ campaign then we’ll keep going or we’ll bring it back.”