Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Live from FEI EMEA 2013: The Coca-Cola Man

At the Front-End of Innovation conference in Copenhagen last night, there was a fascinating presentation on “Why Companies Can't Afford Not to be Design-Centric: The Future of Strategic Brand Identity” by Vince Voron @vincevoron from Coca-Cola, North Americas.

Vince has an interesting background: he is former senior designer of Apple where he worked for 16 years, before joining Coca-Cola six years ago.

Vince in essence deconstructed the Apple methodology, so he could teach it and apply it in other companies. He looked back at the 1998 – 2004 history of innovation at apple, where designers were key to drive innovation for their business and their cultural relevancy. I like that: for their cultural “relevancy”

In the early days, R&D money was going first into software, hardware engineering and product design; in that order. So the first big insight was where does the money go, and how can you switch the priorities.

Good Design was NOT good brand identity: all products in 1997-1998 looked/felt differently, even though all products were designed by one design company (IDEO). Personal design preferences were not controlled.

Then there was a phase of designing with constraints. Apple identified a geometric shape to be core to visual identity, the lozenge (on oval shape) as a unifying element of design. It was a way for objective, non-confrontational conversations on design.

Apple started designing for all consumer touch-points. Hardware buttons that were touched most were designed like “Jewels” and there was a move towards empowering passion inspired innovation; from functional to emotional experiences.

Apple also was (still is ?) a better integrator than innovator; for example integrating packaging and product design.

The biggest lesson learned however was that packaging was valued and incentivized on productivity and cost containment. And the way to make package creators think like designers was to give credit to those people and let them shine based on their metrics.

Over to Coca-Cola. When arriving at Coca-Cola, the biggest challenge was to develop a culture based on design driven innovation. When Vince started the biggest R&D investments went into liquids/beverages, packaging and equipment; in hat order.

In 2006, Coca-Cola made a huge investment in equipment, integrating people, assets and partners. To sell the idea to finance people to like their models, it was really about using the same language as the CFO.

Vince did an awesome job in decomposing the language used, whether you talk about your innovations to Finance, Marketing or Manufacturing, realizing that this way each of them could be a designer. “Everyone is a designer” and professional designers are best suited to drive innovation to shape ideas and provide tools for x-functional team to achieve success. Designers had to come out of their design studios and into the organization. Designers also need to be trained to understand business jargon like ROI, finance terms, marketers, etc

A great example was to reposition vending machines to marketers as “Consumer Touch points” and “Media Assets”, and to measure success based on the number of “impressions”.

Same for manufacturing. Before: it was about design what we could manufacture (vending machines). Now it was about manufacture what we design.

All this lead to the second big insight to “respect your partners in different business units” and make them win on their terms and based on the metrics that they are incentivized on.

The third big insight was about the importance of language and narratives. Vince described this as “Design by Common Nomenclatures for “Inclusivity”. Instead of talking about industrial designers, graphical designers, digital designers, it was now about “Media Designers”, “Iconic Assets” Engaging with the equipment (vending machine) and “emotional engagement with the equipment (in this case vending machines).

Not just thinking about the transactional experience of buying a bottle of Coke, but looking what a young person’s first experience was when that person for the very first time in her life decided herself on what machine to put your 1 $. This was about brand love at first retail experience.

Even for vending machines there is a way about thinking in terms of a “3D Visual Identity System”: similar geometric shape, respect the past, sculpted flows, and using on purpose asymmetric design as it was prove to be more attractive. And yes, even in vending machines you can conceive “jewels” for the touch-points, thinking in great detail for example about the shape and look and feel of the refrigerator plate, making sure it is well lit where you serve the ice.

Coca-Cola is now also experimenting with digital consistent user experience. “We are so na├»ve, we have so much to learn”, said Vince and showed crowdsourcing experiments for creating environments for co-creation: checkout http://unlock.coke.com/. They went also so far in integrating new tech on old machines; replacing all refrigerator doors with a new door with Samsung screens (yes, Samsung, not Apple). Results are staggering: +38% brand love, +78% volume lift, +83% media savings.

Integration is also at the level of “Integrated Partnerships”. Coca-Cola partners with all their suppliers on THEIR innovation initiatives. They now operate as a multi-dimensional agency; brokering and bringing together BMW and Coke for example, and make them play in the same Sandbox.

Vince was rightfully proud to close his presentation with the reward by Forbes of the iPhone and Coca-Cola listed as the coolest products of the decade. Vince is now in the list of great design thinkers. Checkout this video http://designthinkingmovie.com

The Q&A was fairly interesting as well, and about a theme that I have heard a lot about during this conference. Vince does not really like the term “design thinking”. It was just a term invented by an IDEO guy who wrote about it. In essence the big achievement of design thinking is that it brought together Engineering academics and Business academics to have a conversation and get their act together around “customer driven integrated design”.

I would have loved seeing Vince coming on/off stage with tanned torso, carrying a crate of Coca-Cola on his shoulder, as from a design point of you, he is probably the real Coca-Cola Man ;-)

By @petervan for #FEIEMEA

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