Global thinking, Local vision – What the Liberal Democrats can learn from how Coca-Cola operates in Africa.

With the exception of Cuba and North Korea Coca-Cola is sold in every country on earth. Altogether, 1.7 billion servings of their products (the group has a portfolio of around 500) are sold every day, and that number is increasing year on year. While Africa produces around 10% of the company’s total revenue and volume the group expects this to double in less than six years, meaning that by 2020 the continent will boast more Coca-Cola consumers than the US and Europe combined.

While the comparison of a political party and the sales strategy of a multi-national corporation on another continent may seem poles apart, Coca-Cola’s success story provides some valuable lessons for an organisation needing to re-launch its brand to overcome a number of barriers to reconnect with a disillusioned electorate.

Real-time data:

Coca-Cola is obsessional in collecting what it calls ‘real-time’ data – that is, collating localised sales reports regarding promotions, distribution, product placement etc. and reacts to it (relatively) instantly by adapting the product (i.e. how the drinks are sold) in order to help maximise sales. While the Lib Dems need to have a shared list of policies, these policies need to be prioritised, packaged and presented to the electorate at local level so then local parties can adapt to changes in local attitudes and local events. While a policy announcing increased spending on national flood defences would be welcomed across the country, the policy would have a higher precedence in areas recently effected by flooding (such as Cumbria) than in those who weren’t.

Micro-Distribution Centres:

Due to the poor transport and freight infrastructure of many remote areas in Africa, top-down distribution models (i.e. bringing the products from the warehouse to the stores in a huge lorry) do not work in the same way they do in North America and Europe. To overcome the limitations in infrastructure many locals buy Coca-Cola products in bulk and then sell them on (usually transporting them by bike and handcart) in hard-to-reach areas. To help facilitate this Coca-Cola have set up over 3000 Micro-Distribution Centres (MDCs) across the continent to help distribute their products even further. On this note local Liberal Democrats should try and have representatives as close to the electorate as possible, preferably with street level representatives, in order to act as their own kind of MDC so then they can collate and disseminate information quickly and to improve real-time data. This, backed up with street-level Focus leaflets, can allow these representatives to become ‘go-to’ people for information and local issues; allowing them to feed into real-time data ever more effectively.

Adaptive local marketing:

As local distributers in the more remote areas of Africa have little money for marketing the products they sell from their bikes and handcarts, they are completely (if inadvertently) reliant on the company’s aspirational global marketing of the Coca-Cola brand. While the current global slogan for Coca-Cola is ‘open happiness’, that message is localised dependant on the needs and attitudes of the area. In Latin America, happiness is represented as part of family life, while in South Africa happiness is celebrated as a form of sereet-I, or ‘community respect’. To effectively promote Liberal Democrat policies nationally, overarching policy statements and goals must be loose enough to allow for being repackaged and reshaped according to the local needs as mentioned above and as shown in the real-time data.

Primarily, the reason Coca-Cola is a successful global brand is because there is a huge demand for their products. However, the reason that demand exists is because Coca-Cola are adaptive to local markets. The company uses instant feedback to help shape their approaches and changes its distribution practices to meet the needs of their customers. Their voice is global, but their message is local, and allows consumers to buy a lifestyle rather than just a product. The Liberal Democrats also have an inspirational message based on liberty, equality and community but how this message is reflected across the country has to differ because different areas of our country differ, as each area having its own needs, wants and priorities. Like Coca-Cola our thinking must be global, but our vision must be local.

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