The president of Coca-Cola North America was in Tulsa on March 24. The visit was made possible by Oklahoma State University's Spears School of Business. Now I'm a Sooner, but I regularly hand it to OSU for its successes and contributions, such as its long-standing and immensely successful "Tulsa Business Forums" speaker series.
After a one-of-a-kind introduction by Jack Allen, Jr. (full-time owner of commercial insurance brokerage firm "CFR" and part-time shock jock), Coke's president J. Alexander M. ("Sandy") Douglas, Jr., said some interesting things. One of note: "Gone is the day companies could 'talk the talk but not walk the walk.'" He said that if a company fails to live up to its own image, consumers will quickly spot it, blog about it and call it out publicly.
"Used to be people just watched your commercials and accepted what you said about yourself," he said. "Branding was easy then. Those days are gone."
I can see this. People don't seem as trusting as they used to be. They are more skeptical, maybe even smarter in some ways. They observe and evaluate.
Douglas said that with the advent of Web sites, blogs, Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, your true persona is easily disseminated. So what people think about a company today has as much -- if not more -- to do with how the company behaves as the image it portrays.
Coca-Cola executives are well aware of this, Douglas said. They also know that the rate at which people around the globe reach for a Coke is directly proportional to how much people admire what Coke is and like how it makes them feel.
Yes, people want to do business with corporations they admire and trust. Coke must conduct itself in a way that is not only admirable and trustworthy but lives up to the brand messages it puts forth, messages of friendship, care and good health.
Douglas said that if consumers don't genuinely see Coke doing all that it can and should for the environment, fewer will reach for Coke products. And Coke makes it very clear that it intends to sell many more of its products around the world, not fewer.
Wow. I grew up in the '70s and '80s when consumers felt powerless against corporate behemoths. Moreover, conventional wisdom was that corporations could not be trusted -- at least not to do anything other than exploitation.
Coca-Cola is a corporate behemoth, one of the largest and just maybe the most well-known corporation on the planet.
Large corporations are now powerless against the all-powerful consumer. Technology and social networking have turned the tables. Power has shifted from the corporation to the consumer.
Consumers want corporations they patronize to be honest, real and accountable for their actions. If a corporation fails to live up to consumers' expectations or corporate messages, the business will fail and the executive stock option packages will become worthless.
Ding-dong, the wicked corporation is dead!
David L. Perkins, Jr. is Managing Director of Tulsa-based Acquisition Advisors, a firm that consults on the purchase, sale and valuation of mid-size U.S. companies.
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