Bruce Burton

Energy drinks are a mother of a market to crack, and Coke will need more than fizz and fashion to get there.

Who’s your Mother?

You might have noticed that Coca-Cola has recently launched Mother, its fourth attempt at an energy drink up against the “owners” of the category, V and Red Bull.

And as industry observers point out, with Coke’s pervasive and all-powerful distribution channels overlaid with substantial entry price discounts, you would think it will get trial sales and eventual acceptance from its growing market of 18 to 24-year-old guys.

But even with a huge promotional budget, it’s going to be hard to dislodge or even make a dent in such a tightly held market, even if it is growing at 20% each year.

But, as Neil Shoebridge points out in his Australian Financial Review article on 5 February, Coke’s MD Gareth Edgecombe believes he has found just that gap: natural ingredients.

But when out for a big night, and faced with the choice of V, Red Bull and Mother, does Coke really think that these lads are going to choose “natural ingredients” ahead of the semi-omnipotence of, say, “wings”? Does Coke really think these guys care what they pour down their throats? I think not!

Of course Coca-Cola is not that silly. You only need to look at the ads and how the product is positioned with its strange bat-like creatures and moronic attitudes to see that it is appealing to members of its market who want to be seen as weird and unique, a characteristic you’ll recognise if you are “lucky” enough to have any teenage males living with you.

Personally, I think the natural ingredients thing is a diversion. More importantly though, how could Coke ensure that it has found a unique market position that justifies the expense of all those shareholder funds?

Well, for innovation to be successful and more than a bucket for processing half-baked ideas, it must do (at least) two things.

First it must uncover all the needs of target customers for the “job” they are trying to do. Simply understanding half of what your customers’ value when they use your product is not enough.

The iPod would be history by now if Apple hadn’t identified that managing playlists, sharing music with friends and accessing new music were all un-met needs.

Second, your innovation process must help you identify opportunities. It must allow you to scan all those un-met needs and identify which ones should be prioritised for development – the ones that are important to most of your customers or a viable segment, but currently under-served by available products.

And it seems to me this is where Mother might get some traction. In the energy drink category, the “need” to stay awake and alert is well satisfied and is now nothing more than table stakes. What’s probably not well served is the ability to be perceived as different or unique.

“Two Mother F*ckers please!”


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