Brand Renaissance: Reimagining Converse with Geoff Cottrill
If you start your day with the understanding that people really don’t care about your brand, that you’ve got to care about them first before they’re going to care about you, you’re going to have a very different mindset and you’re going to do very different things. One of the things that we all need to do is super basic — step back and reset, and think that our job as a marketers is to identify and understand who our core consumer is. And then our job is to serve them. Serve them through products, serve them through experiences, serve them in any way that makes sense for them.
Geoff Cottrill and David Carrewyn hold key roles at The Cola-Cola Company in creating consumer engagement both through powerful design and relevant experiences that Coke brings to life. Their professional affiliation and friendship began years ago as they worked together on the revitalization of Converse. With a small budget, they resuscitated Converse by focusing on digital and social media. The messaging had to link to brand heritage and loyal fans while finding new ways to engage with consumers to renew the long-time love of the brand. Converse not only evolved the products it brought to market but became a curator for new innovative music and art. The efforts were wildly successful, and converse returned to a powerhouse of growth and consumer engagement.
Geoff and David will draw on stories of the past as well as the challenges of today to share a narrative of brand evolution and passionate relevancy. We are here to serve those who love our brands and create meaningful experiences that open the door to deeper engagement and a world of possibility for the future of our brands.
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Brand Renaissance: Reimagining Converse with Geoff Cottrill
This is the full presentation of Geoff Cottrill’s talk titled Brand Renaissance, Re-imagining Converse from the 2019 Coca-Cola CMO Summit. Enjoy.
My name is Geoff. I am the SVP of Marketing for Coke North America. This is my second stint at the Coca Cola Company. I worked for Coke for nine years. I got super frustrated and wanting to go do some other things. I left and went to work for Starbucks for three years, realizing after three years that I don’t like coffee. I don’t drink coffee. I didn’t love living in Seattle. My family and I packed up and moved to Boston where I was a CMO and General Manager of Converse. I’m going to share a little bit of this story with you about how we took a brand that was flatlined and put some new life in it. My slides are super simple and I’m going to tell some stories. I’m not going to try hard not to present to you. There aren’t a lot of fancy charts and graphs.
Whatever You Think About The Most Will Grow
You’ll see my PowerPoint skills are on point. I went to Florida State. I like to start with this because it’s an interesting quote that as I look back on my days at Converse this applies. Whenever you think about the most will grow. If you’re thinking about something daily, within two months, your brain is changed to accommodate this new pattern of thought. Before I get into the Converse story, I have a little bit of fun with marketing, marketers. When I make fun of marketers, I am included in that. I’m not making fun of people where I am not included. Think about what do we think about. What do we, as marketers, think about all day, every day? What’s in the press we read? It’s by buzzwords. That’s what we do.
We live on buzzwords. We live on words like digital transformation, geofencing, omnichannel, advertainment, one of my favorites, paradigm shift and clickbait. You come home from work, your daughter says, “Dad, how was your day?” “It was awesome. It was Disrupt The Status Quo Tuesday at Coke. We got at it. We thought, we start with digital transformation and then we got to be transparent. I needed an algorithm. I went over to the smart people in the tower and they gave me an algorithm but we had to find those Millennials, we found and geo-fence them. We put a big old fence around them. Now we got them. We’re going to put big data, programmatic and advertainment. We’re going to shift their paradigm.” This is what we do.
I asked the question, “What is wrong with us?” We read all these articles. We as marketers copy each other. We’ve lost the plot of why we’re here, what our job, what our role is in the organization. Our role in the organization is to find the consumer and to understand the consumer. We find ways to connect deeply to serve them through your products, through experiences that you create and in some cases through services. We got to get back to talking about the consumer. If I’ve witnessed or noticed anything in my year-and-a-half back at Coke, it’s that we had lost a little bit of our passion and our focus on the consumer.Just because we can reach consumers on a mobile phone doesn't mean we should all the time. Click To Tweet
We sometimes call them shoppers. and then we defined them within the walls of Kroger but we forget that they are people. We shouldn’t be calling them targets. You shoot arrows at targets. If you were a consumer and someone called you a target, you’d be like, “What is that?” We got to think about that. Where’s the consumer? I want you to know that this is the mindset that we approached repositioning Converse. I’ll talk about that in a little bit more, but where’s the consumer? News flash, is there anybody a CMO in here? You’re fired. It’s 100% guaranteed when you become a CMO that at some point you’re going to get fired. You’ve got to embrace that. I’ll tell the story about my recruiter but you realize that like every football coach, baseball coach, basketball coach, at the end of their tenure, very few retire. Most of them get fired. It’s what you do once you realize that’s going to happen, the action you take, and the frame of mind that you approach things with. I have a notebook that I carry. I didn’t bring it but when I started writing in the notebook at Coke, I went to the very last page at the bottom corner and I wrote, “You’re fired.” I know how the book is going to end. Let me see what I can write on the pages between now and the end of the book. You’re fired.
Nobody Cares About Your Brand
The second thing is nobody cares. Nobody cares about your brand. Nobody gets up in the morning wondering, “I hope Sprite has a new YouTube video today.” They don’t. They might love your brand. They might connect with your brand. They might use your brand, and they might use your product. Do people care about our brands? It’s another mindset to think about because we get up in the morning and we think, “I work at Coke, I get to lead advertising and media for Coke in North America. Our brands are super important.” When you do the math and you think about how much we interact with consumers and people, it’s very small. It’s a very small part of their life and we need to start thinking about their lives.
The idea of nobody cares, I’ll come back to that in a little while. This is my definition of marketing. I did not go to business school again. I went to FSU. It’s the science of understanding people in the art of knowing when to shut your mouth. As marketers, we would get up in the morning and we have things to say. We’ve got to get out there and say those things to those consumers, whether they want them or not. If they don’t hear us, we turn it up and we spend more media. We get them any way we can but we don’t think about them and about whether or not they want to hear it. People talk about mobile all the time. That’s another buzzword. It’s great. It’s a great platform. Just because we can reach consumers on a mobile phone, it doesn’t mean we should all the time.
Working For Coke
We have to think again about them and their perspective. A little bit about my story. I’ve been back at Coke for 1.5 years. I’m happy to be back. I see massive opportunities for the Coca Cola Company, not just with our flagship trademark Coke but with all of our brands. As we are transforming the company from a branded company to a true beverage for life strategy, having beverages, if you’re thirsty, we should be the company that makes what it is you want to drink. That’s a big mindset shift and it’s a huge opportunity. I started my career at P&G where they beat into your soul. I spent eleven years there. I learned the fundamentals of sales. I learned the fundamentals of marketing. I managed the brand.
It was great but you got to the point where you’d say, “I have an idea.” They would say, “Geoff, I love your initiative. Your initiative is really good but we do it this way.” You’re like, “Okay, that’s cool.” They liked my initiative and then the next minute you’re like, “What about this?” “Seriously, your energy is so good but we do it this way.” You’re like, “All right, cool.” You do that for a number of years then you get into meetings and you stop. You stop contributing because you do it the way it’s supposed to be done. That bothered me. I left there, had a chance to come to Coke. I worked for Coke for nine years. I worked for a guy named Steve Koonin who now runs the Atlanta Hawks and he’s run a bunch of TV networks.
He taught me how to think, how to not sit on my hands and how to contribute and how to participate in meetings. I did that. I got the opportunity to work for Howard Schultz for three years, which was an amazing experience. I learned retail, I learned the foodservice business. I learned what experience truly means. I also learned what it’s like to work for a founder who is super passionate about what he does. As I said, I went to Converse. I ran an advertising agency and now I’m back. That’s a little bit about my story. I’m going to talk to you about Converse. I’m going to take you through the steps that we went through to revive this brand.
I started at Converse in 2007. We were a $350 million a year business. I’ll come back to that number in a little while but $350 million and we were flat. You could predict exactly how many shoes we were going to sell. It didn’t go up. It didn’t go down. It was flat. The flat number was not good. Nike had purchased us a couple of years before. Nike put a new team in and revived the brand. We went in from the very beginning and shook the place at its core. We took it into a new direction. The, “You’re fired,” thing, on my first day at Converse, I talked to my recruiter from Spencer Stewart. She was amazing.
The whole way through the process, she was incredible. I call her my first day, “I’m at Converse. I’m so excited.” She’s like, “Don’t unpack your bags.” “What?” “Don’t unpack your bags, you’re not going to last that long.” I’m like, “That would have been nice to know because I just moved my family from Seattle to Boston.” “Yes but CMOs last about ten months, eleven if you’re lucky.” I was like, “That’s amazing. Thank you for that.” Don’t unpack your bags, what a greeting that you get. I started to think about what all these CMOs are getting fired. I wonder why. What are they doing to get fired? You watch, it’s a very predictable pattern. You come in, you’re like, “I’m the most amazing marketer in the world. The people were doing before me was stupid. The agency people are idiots and I’m going to take it in a new direction.” You’re not given the time to implement your new direction before it comes back around on you.
I started thinking about what are the things that CMOs do? I had a brand that was dead. I had very little money. I had a lot of experience with big brands with big money. With all due respect to where I work now, I would ask myself, “What would Coke do?” I would do the opposite. It’s a true story. We built Converse on the brief. I never told my team this. We built it on the brief of, “What would Coke do?” “Let’s do the opposite.” We did everything the opposite of what I had been taught at Coke and it worked.
During my first couple of weeks at Converse, I met with a team. I spent a lot of time with the folks and I said, “Tell me about Converse.” Everyone started the sentence with, “We used to be the number one performance basketball shoe in the world. We used to be the number one leading sneaker in the NBA. We used to be what Nike is today.” “Keep going.” “We used to be,” was in every single sentence in the mindset of the company. That’s a dangerous place when you talk about heritage of a brand of holding onto the past for too long. Converse had been bankrupt three times in its history. There are a couple of different reasons why but three times, yet they held on to who we used to be. To this day, when you talk to people at Converse and you ask them, “Tell me about Converse.” “We used to be Nike,” but you’re not anymore. It’s time to move on. “We used to be.” These were the images that surrounded us at Converse, the sepia tone, black and white, shorts that are questionable. This was everywhere.
This was on all the walls in all the buildings. Everywhere you looked, it was an old picture of somebody playing basketball. The question was, “How are we going to reinvent ourselves if this is what we look at all day? This is who we used to be.” Keep in mind that image. That was outside my office when I first got to Converse. I was like, “We’ve got some work to do.” I asked people, “Tell me what’s going on?” We were getting ready to turn 100. Everybody was super excited about converse turning 100. “We’re 100 years old.” I was like, “That’s awesome. 100, that’s a big number.” Back to my FSU days, three-digit numbers are big numbers for me.
We’re at 100 and we sat down with consumers as we tried to figure out who we wanted the brand to be. We sat down with consumers and asked them what the brand was, not what we wanted it to be. We had a focus group, I’ll never forget this. The moderator says to one of the kids in the room, “Did you know that Converse was 100?” The kids are like, “Yes, cool.” “They’re 100 years old. That’s amazing.” The kid’s like, “Yes, cool, whatever.” The moderator goes off to something else. He comes back and says, “I’d like to circle back one more time, Converse is 100 years old. That’s pretty cool.” The kid looks at the moderator and says, “You keep telling me how old you are, I’m going to think you’re old.” It was like I got hit by a bolt of lightning.
At that moment behind the glass, I still get goosebumps thinking about that moment. That moment made us turn and go into a new direction and to talk about celebrating the next 100 years of Converse, not the last 100 years of Converse. It’s a very important moment for us. I said this before. Sometimes I like to put this in a deck and go math is hard. We were spending all of our money to ask you to buy a pair of shoes. Everything we did was, “Do you want to buy some shoes?” You would tell us, “No, I just bought some yesterday.” We’d be like, “I know, but do you want to buy some shoes?” We kept hammering, “Do you want to buy shoes?”
We weren’t realizing that buying sneakers was such a small portion of their life. It’s what they were doing in the sneakers that was the thing that we needed to be participating in. I did the math one day, I sketched it out. 99.5% of my life is spent not buying sneakers, yet you are spending 100% of your money and 100% of your time trying to get me to buy more sneakers. I don’t want or need more sneakers. How are we going to have a conversation if you don’t recognize that I spend most of my life not thinking about you? Even if I’m wearing you, I’m not thinking about you. That’s a remarkable thing to start to think.Holding onto the past for too long is a dangerous place when you talk about the heritage of a brand. Click To Tweet
Everybody at Converse was looking at me like I was a bit crazy. Some people think I am and maybe I am a little bit. This idea was something that also made us change and think about, “Why are we spending all this money asking people to buy shoes?” I use the story. I grew up in Florida so if you and I started working together this week and we went and got a Coke downstairs and I said, “I’m from Florida,” you’re like, “Right on. Cool. That’s awesome. Worthless piece of information but thank you for telling me that.” Maybe you think in the back of your head, “If I ever go on vacation, maybe I’ll ask that guy where I should go.” Next day, “What’s up? How was your first day?” “It’s great. It’s awesome.” “Something you should know about me is I’m from Florida.”
You’re like, “Yes, you told me that yesterday.” I’m like, “I know, but it’s cool, right?” You’re like, “Yes.” On the third day, we’re talking, “Let me buy you breakfast. I’m so glad you’re at the company. That reminds me, I grew up in Florida.” You’re like, “You told me three times.” The fourth day, you’re going to get your Coke twenty minutes earlier because you don’t want to see the guy who’s talking about being from Florida. It’s the same thing, “You want to buy some shoes?” “No.” In today’s world, kids will turn you off like that. You don’t get to ask them the third time. You ask them, they say no, you got to move on. You got to figure out other ways to contribute to their life. Think about that. We put some basic marketing principles in place.
These four principles drove every single decision we made at Converse. It’s hard to believe but from a marketing and engagement standpoint. One, celebrate your audience, not yourself. Make it about them, not about us. Do not get up in the morning and think about what Converse wants to say. Get up in the morning and think about what our consumers want to hear. Let’s celebrate them. Two, be useful. Spend some of our money to do things for our consumers, not always to or at our consumers, but for our consumers. I’ll give you an example of that. “Own don’t rent,” came straight from my days at Coke. We sponsored pretty much everything at the time. We used to have a strategy for moves sponsored that doesn’t paint it red. That was true. That was a stated strategy. It was the idea of creating your own marketing platforms, not always borrowing somebody else’s. I had a hard time spending a lot of money and somebody telling me that my sign could go there and it could only be that big. To create your own marketing platforms that are applicable, that are flexible, that can move at the speed of the market.
The last one is to bring cultures together. Don’t divide them. We as marketers, we divide people into groups and then we talk to them differently. This was from Coke, find ways to bring people together and celebrate the beautiful, messy, diverse world that we live in. Celebrate it, enjoy it and embrace it. These four things. If you came to my office and said, “I have an idea,” I would say, “Go.” If it didn’t pass these four things, we wouldn’t do it. We wouldn’t do it because these were the four things that drove everything we did. The one consumer group that kept Converse alive through the three bankruptcies and through all the years, we affectionately used to refer to the Chuck Taylor as a cockroach of footwear.
What Can We Do Help You?
It’s the shoe that you cannot kill because there was always a super small group of kids who are musicians and artists who wore them. They wore them as a sign of rebellion. It’s a sign of the counterculture. It’s a sign of, “I don’t necessarily belong but I don’t necessarily want to belong.” We went to China and we were working with these two punk rock bands in Beijing. If you’ve ever seen punk rock music in Beijing, China, it’s remarkable. It’s still one of the coolest, craziest, most unusual nights of my life spent with these guys. After the show, I said to them, “If I had some money and I can help you guys, what would that look like?” They were like, “What are you talking about?” I’m like, “No, seriously. If I take some of my marketing dollars and invest them with you to do something fun, what would that look like?”
They said, “We’ve always wanted to play our music in a different city.” We were like, “What are you talking about?” “We’ve never been able to leave Beijing before. We’ve never left Beijing. We’ve never been able to play our music in other cities.” We looked at each other like, “That’s crazy.” We bought a bus. We put these two bands in a bus. We put cameras on the bus and we toured them around China during the Beijing Olympics. We shot a documentary film called Love Noise because the elders and China called punk rock noise. That’s what their reference is. We call it Converse Love Noise. We gave away about a million copies of the movie and we won the Advertiser of the Year in China during the Beijing Olympics by just asking a simple question, “What can we do to help you?”
We came back to Brooklyn and we knew there’s a whole bunch of starving artists in Brooklyn, particularly in Williamsburg. We asked them, “What can we do for you?” They would say, “I’m a bartender but I’m in a band. I love my band but I can’t get signed because I can’t afford to record a demo. I won’t be able to afford to record a demo until I get signed, so I’m a bartender.” There was a sadness in that. We were taken back by so many people telling us, “I’m a barista, I’m a bartender, I’m a waiter.” We’re like, “You need a place to like hang out and record your music, that kind of stuff?” “Yes, totally. That would be amazing.” “A place to rehearse?” “Yes.”Celebrate your audience, not yourself. Click To Tweet
We came back to Boston and we were like, “We’re going to build a recording studio.” My boss is like, “What? Why would you do that?” I’m like, “Because they need it. These kids need this.” “We’re not going to do that.” I was like, “We are.” I quit. I said, “I quit.” My boss was like, “What?” I’m like, “You’re going to fire me because I know that.” He’s like, “You just quit. It makes it hard for me to fire you.” I’m like, “No, I believe in this idea so much that we need to do this for these people that it’s going to change the brand. It’s going to change everything about the brand. We’re going to give back and not take anything from.”
We went from that to opening a number of studios around the world called Rubber Tracks. The idea was simple. You can come in. You can record for free with your band. You need it to be unsigned, not signed with a major label. If you could afford a big studio, then we didn’t want to put a studio out of business, so go pay down the street. These were for kids that couldn’t afford to get into a studio. We run a building in Williamsburg. We run a building another one in Boston and then we run a building one in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We did popups all over the world. It changed everything about the brand. The brand became about helping and about serving and doing things for consumers. It started with one studio in Brooklyn. As we got into it, our only rule was don’t be mean to other people in the studio.
The only promise we made is we’re not going to make you famous. We’re not going to be a brand that ever claims that we helped you become famous. If you become famous, it’s because you’re pretty good. If you don’t become famous, there are probably 100 different reasons why but we won’t take credit. Anybody that was involved in the project, we don’t talk about the A level bands that went through for the first recording session with our studio. I went from that to doing a number of shows where we did live shows with people like Chance the Rapper, an A-level artist. We’d give the headline artists five bands that had recorded at Rubber Tracks. We give Chance the Rapper the music. Chance will listen to the five bands and say, “I like that one.”
We would call the band and say, “You’re opening for Chance the Rapper next Thursday at the Music Hall, Williamsburg.” It’s like a second shock of, “Oh my gosh.” We were working with a bunch of musicians that don’t play instruments that do set that sample. Every single artist that came in contributed beats, stems, sounds that we then published a free sample library, the biggest sample library in the world and we created a massive army of advocates for the brand. When we started and when Facebook mattered, we had seven million fans on Facebook. We thought we were amazing because we had seven million fans. In the course of three years, we’re the number two brand on Facebook behind Coca-Cola and we spent $0 promoting any of the content.
Every time a band came in, they got halfway through their day. They took out of their phone. They took a picture of themselves and their bandmates. They blast it out to their fan base. “Look what Converse is doing for me.” Our whole objective was to give them an incredible experience and with the one-word brief being karma. Do something truly nice and unselfish for someone and maybe their favor will be returned, but don’t ask for a return favor. We saw every single day people stood up all over the world and spoke on our behalf. While we were not doing any advertising or anything in the traditional sense, we created a massive army. At the end of the run for the studio, we recorded with over 3,000 artists.
That video said 1,000, but it was with over 3,000 artists all over the world with a combination of three permanent studios, pop up studios, live shows, the whole thing. It became our marketing. The things that we were doing in culture became our marketing. The message was the things we were doing, not the things that we were saying. It gives you a little bit of one thing, one question asked to consumer in an honest way with open ears and a willingness to listen and a willingness to do can change an entire brand. That one conversation in China when we asked that band, “What can we do to help?” They told us that changed everything. I’m sure there are people can get up here and give you strategic marketing, studies and all that stuff. This was super simple.
This was super human and we cared about these kids. Our job as marketers is to understand who your core consumer is. Our job is to serve them deeply. It’s to understand them and serve them. Our consumer in this particular case was a young artist, a young musician that needed something. We served them and they paid us back. As all this was going on, we decided our business was growing rapidly. We decided to move our corporate headquarters from North Andover, Massachusetts, not even Andover. That’s in North Andover, Massachusetts to Boston to Downtown. We spent about five years building a new corporate headquarters. It was amazing experience. The first week we moved in, I had this true story.
Some of you know that I’m a little bit weird sometimes. I had a dream one night that one million kids showed up at our front door on this wharf in Boston. They demanded that someone from Converse come out and talk to them. In the dream, my boss goes, “You do it. You go.” I woke up. I thought that was weird. That was a weird dream. I couldn’t get it out of my head. What would I say? I asked you to ask yourself the same question for million consumers showed up at your front door and wanted you to say something. What would you say? In the old world, we would roll back, pull up the screen and show you an ad.
We wouldn’t even say anything. In the old world that Coke, we would maybe say we bring everyone a Coke. Maybe people would say, “I don’t want a Coke. I wanted a Dasani or a Smartwater.” We would come out and assuming that we knew. I say there’s only one thing you can say if one million people show up at your door and that is, “Thank you.” Two words, simple as that, “Thank you.” This building that we moved into, you built this. The vacation that I got to take with my family, you paid for it, so thank you. We were celebrating moving into Boston and celebrating a new campaign and celebrating the Chuck Taylor.
Made By You
For the first campaign we had done above the line for the whole time I was there. The brief was, “Thank you.” We went back and forth with the agency for a number of months because they didn’t love the brief. The brief said, “Thank you.” That’s it. They were like, “Wow, there’s none.” “You’ve been telling us our briefs are too complicated. There you go. Two words, that’s what I want you to say.” After a big argument, a big fight back and forth, we’d landed on this idea of thank you. We launched a campaign called Made By You. What we did was we went and took fashion photography level portraits of people’s Chuck Taylors from all over the world.
We did tens of thousands of portraits. We mixed super famous people in with super non-famous people and we treated everybody exactly the same. We turned the world into a gallery. All of our advertising was a gallery of people’s sneakers and it was a massive thank you to everyone. We won all sorts of awards for this. This is celebrating the four things like it’s not about us, it’s about you. Celebrate you, you guys did this, you make the Chuck what it is. It’s not us. We make a blank one and you fill it in with your life and your life story. That was a result of a simple brief called thank you and the guys at Anomaly still laugh at how much we fought about that brief.
We said, “What else? Let’s keep asking this question. It seems to be working.” Has anybody worn Converse before? The number one complaint with Converse. What is it? “I hurt my feet.” Every time I would meet anybody and I was literally the CMO of Converse, this shows you how blind I was. I’m a trained consumer marketer. Every time I met somebody they’re like, “You worked for Converse. I used to play basketball in Chucks, it’s amazing. I love Converse.” “Do you wear them?” “No, I don’t wear them anymore because they hurt my feet.” I’ll be like, “I know. They totally hurt your feet. That’s the quirky thing about our shoes.” It’s a true story.
I would say that all the time. One day I came back to the office and was like, “People’s feet hurt and they’re not wearing our stuff anymore because their feet hurt.” The first initial conversation was, “I know, but we’re not changing the Chuck. There’s no way we’re changing the Chuck.” We had a moment where we considered a new Coke move. Unfortunately, my experience at Coke was the only sane voice in the room. Let’s throw away the Chuck and let’s come back with a new one. I was like, “No, they tried that in Atlanta. It didn’t work so well. I don’t want to. No, we can’t do that.” We then kept doing research and consumers said and I won’t say the whole world but in every focus group they would say, “Don’t F with the Chuck, whatever you do, don’t F with that shoe.”
We were like, “That’s okay.” We’ve got to make it more comfortable because people tell us it’s uncomfortable but at the same time do not change it. We decided to keep the existing one in place, which wound up being a good move in hindsight. We came up with a new one called the Chuck 2 where we went to Nike and we deconstructed the entire shoe. It’s the same shoe we’d been selling for over 100 years at virtually no changes to it. We reconstructed the whole thing and came with a new comfort platform, a new sneaker platform. In the sneaker world, if your first year out of the gate, if you sell one million pairs or something, you had a pretty good year with that particular model.Our job as marketers is to understand who your core consumer is and to serve them deeply. Click To Tweet
The first year we sold six million pairs of these. They were $20 more expensive than the core Chuck’s. They only cost us about $2 more to make and people told us “We love them. I’m going to stay in your brand longer and I’m now going to be more loyal to your brand.” What else can we do for you? It didn’t take a huge industrial-strength research project. People said, “My feet hurt.” It took me a long time to hear them. We came out with the Chuck 2. In 2007, the company was nearly 100 years old. We were selling 5 million pairs a year and that was a peak. The most we’d ever sold was 5 million pairs. The line was more or less flattened out, again, $350 million business.
Within seven years, we went to over 100 million pairs a year and we were almost a $3 billion business, 10X in seven years. This is how we did it. We didn’t get cute. We didn’t overthink it. We didn’t talk about ourselves all the time. We got to know our consumers and we serve them with everything that we could. It was an incredible story. It was an incredible ride to be on a brand that has so much heritage and so much rooted in its history, but then to be able to take it to a new place. Myself, my team, we don’t take credit for it. We ask kids what we should do and they told us and then it worked. That’s a lesson for all of us to learn is sometimes ask the question and be willing to hear the answer.
A Couple Of Things
The initial answer might feel like something that you don’t think is very meaningful, but it might be meaningful to your consumer. That’s what matters in the end. Whatever you think about changes. It took us about a year to change our way of thinking. When we changed our way of thinking, it transformed everything about the company, everything about the brand, everything about the people and the people we hired and the people that we attracted and recruited to come and work for the company. I’m going to leave you with a couple more things. Anyone wearing a Fitbit or an iWatch, you know you’re supposed to take 10,000 steps a day. Let’s say you get up in the morning and you think, “People care about my brand.”
A different person gets up in the morning and says, “No one cares about my brand.” You’d go to work and you scan your badge and you walk into your office and you take 10,000 steps. The person that thinks they’re super important to the consumer is going to wind up here. There’s some good stuff here but the person that doesn’t think they’re important winds up here. You wind up in two very different places. That causes a lot of tension and a lot of drama inside of a company. Ask yourself, are we that important and what am I going to do with my 10,000 steps? How am I going to use them? How am I going to think about serving them in a new way? This metaphor, this example was one of the things that changed the way we thought about things.
One other thing. I do this all the time. I did it at Converse. I do it at Coke. There’s an empty chair sitting right there. Let’s say at the end of the meeting, you look around to the folks in the meeting. You say, “Let’s say one of our consumers is sitting in that chair right there at Converse, it was a teenage girl.” I’ll say, “If she sat there and she heard the way we talk to each other, she heard what we say, she heard how little we referred to her. She heard that we didn’t even bring her up. She saw that we paid no attention to her at this meeting. Do you think that she would ever buy sneakers from us again? Probably not.” Occasionally, leave an empty chair in a room and look at that chair and imagine that one of your consumers are sitting there.
Our job as marketers is to represent that person. We are the voice of that person. We sometimes have to flip the model a little bit. We have to think about them and their voice first, not our brand and what we want to say first. I promise you, you do that in a couple of meetings and it starts to turn people’s heads like, “You’re going to do the empty chair thing again.” I’m like, “I’m going to keep doing it until we get this right.” I’m going to keep doing it until we recognize that someone could be sitting there and we shouldn’t be ashamed of anything we do anything we say. We should always be to one of the buzzwords upfront, transparent. We should be welcoming to consumers. There should be no secrets. There is, there are, I get it. There always will be. In terms of the way the marketers think, we’ve got to think a little bit differently. Transformation, that’s what we did at Converse. It’s a result of what we spent our time thinking about. We didn’t use any buzzwords. Thank you.
About Geoff Cottrill
Geoff Cottrill joined The Coca-Cola Company on March 1, 2018 as Senior Vice President of Strategic Marketing. Cottrill leads integrated marketing strategy across creative content, media planning and investment, marketing capability, digital, regional marketing, marketing assets, entertainment, music, and gaming in the United States. He is also responsible for building and maintaining external partnerships such as UM, W+K, Anomaly, Netflix, Blizzard/Activision, NCAA, and NASCAR, while leading communications programs that drive integrated messaging across our portfolio of brands.
He rejoins The Coca-Cola Company after serving as President of the advertising, digital, and media agency MullenLowe in Boston.
During his time in Boston, Geoff spent nearly nine years as the General Manager and Chief Marketing Officer at Converse (Nike Inc.), where he and his team led the brand during a period of unprecedented growth, resulting in the Chuck Taylor All Star becoming the #1 selling sneaker in the world. Geoff also spent three years at Starbucks as Vice President of Product Development & Marketing for Starbucks Entertainment. Additionally, he spent the first 11 years of his career working in various sales and marketing roles at Procter & Gamble.
Geoff draws from his experiences at Converse, Starbucks, P&G, and MullenLowe to share strategies on creativity and branding with audiences around the world. A champion in disruption, Geoff is known for challenging the industry standard in an effort to promote creativity without boundaries in a meaningful and authentic way that transcends generations.
This is Geoff’s second term with Coca-Cola. He worked for the company from 1996 to 2005 and was Group Director, Worldwide, Entertainment Marketing.
Outside of the office, Geoff has an ardent love of music. Geoff credits this passion with “jumpstarting” his career at Coca-Cola. At the age of 13, he sold fountain Cokes at Tampa Stadium so he could see rock concerts. For the past ten years, Geoff has served as a member of the Grammy Foundation, including the role of Chair. He also serves as an advisor to a number of music related start-ups.
A proud Florida State University alumn, Geoff has dedicated dozens of hours to collegiate service and development at colleges and universities, including Harvard Business School, Yale Center for Customer Insights, Babson College, and Boston College. He currently serves on the Board of the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta. Geoff and his wife, Allie reside in Atlanta. They have two grown daughters; Abby, a budding advertising executive, and Claire, an established musician with more than 101 million Spotify streams, who is currently on tour with Khalid.