Sunday, April 11, 2010

“Belief” Brands and “Experience” Brands: The Case of Coca-Cola’s Aquatherapy Minaqua and ILOHAS

A brand is a knowledge product. The brand is comprised of both beliefs (explicit knowledge) and experience (tacit knowledge). Among consumers, beliefs about a brand include topics such as quality, benefits, imagery, etc. Experience with a brand includes emotions, usage, sensations, etc. A goal of the brand marketing strategy is to identify the type of knowledge that is valuable to consumers and to plan a way to create that knowledge. In terms of capturing value in the market, some brands rely more on beliefs, and some brands rely more on brand experience.

Marketing companies generally have a portfolio of brands. For the most part, companies tend to create the same form of knowledge across all brands in the brand portfolio. For example, Apple is known for creating brand experience that consumers value. Many of Apple's brands - such as the ipod, iphone, imac, etc - are valued by consumers because of a unique and enjoyable experience. The experience includes the visual aesthetic, the easy to use interface, and the emotional reward of being seen to use a unique, cutting-edge product. Dell, on the other hand, created a portfolio of brands -- in computers, printers, peripherals, etc. -- that are valued by consumers due to the belief that it has high quality for the price. The value of Dell’s brand proposition can be communicated explicitly through comparisons of price, reliability, customizability and other dimensions.

Few companies successfully create both brands that are differentiated on beliefs as well as brands that are differentiated on experience. However, a good example of a company creating both brands differentiated on belief and brands differentiated on experience is Coca-Cola Company Japan in the mineral water category.

Several years ago (2005), Coca-Cola Company Japan introduced a mineral water brand named Aquatherapy Minaqua. The approach was to differentiate the brand on the belief that the water was extremely pure. The early brand slogan was “blessings of 25 years of nature” (which referred to the length of time the water moved through the natural water system before being extracted for bottling), and an early TV commercial had an image of a female forest spirit transforming into a waterfall. A later campaign (2008) used the slogan “pure you” and the image of a rain drop on a leaf and teardrop on a cheek. Aquatherapy Minaqua had success but did not take over the top market share, which was held by Volvic.

In 2009, Coca-Cola Company introduced a new mineral water brand -- ILOHAS – and phased out Aquatherapy Minaqua. ILOHAS appealed to consumers based on brand experience rather than brand belief. The PET bottle was made of a new type of thin plastic, so each bottle used less plastic than other brands. The use of less plastic was communicated as being good for the environment. The early slogan for advertising was “delicious + good for the environment”. The bottle also had another quality. The bottle was so thin that it could be twisted like a piece of paper when the bottle was empty. The TV commercials highlighted this experience by showing the actors twisting up the bottle and by showing the twisted up bottle at the end of the commercial. Moreover, twisted up bottles were often displayed in vending machines. Clearly, the brand was differentiated to consumers on the fun experience of twisting up the bottle. ILOHAS was very successful, and it took over the top sales spot from Volvic about one year after launch, according to Nikkei Shimbun.

The point of this story is that a branding process should be strong and flexible so that it can produce both “belief brands”, such as Aquatherapy Minaqua, and also “experience brands”, such as ILohas. A marketer with a branding process such as this has more strategy options to approach consumers and to respond to competitors.

If you think about the brand portfolio of your organization, you may ask yourself “How many of our brands are ‘belief brands’ and how many are ‘experience brands’?” This may tell you about the level of strength and flexibility of your organization’s branding capabilities.

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