Indra Nooyi: A Story in Being Yourself and Persistence

thinkstockphotos-500841556Have you ever heard of Indra Nooyi?

Maybe not, but you’ve probably bought her product at one time or another in the past year. Ms. Nooyi is the CEO of Pepsi-Co., the makers of the popular and well-known Pepsi soda brand. However, her position at Pepsi is not necessarily what is the most amazing fact of her story. Granted, reaching the status of being a Fortune 500 company CEO is huge and significant, but how Ms. Nooyi got her start is the real story. That’s because she risked everything with no safety net to fall back on.

Some Compelling Advice

Indra Nooyi came to the U.S. like so many other great minds, arriving as a student immigrant. Ms. Nooyi jumped to a slot in Harvard’s master’s degree program in business. However, graduating wasn’t her biggest challenge. It was translating her academic success into a result: getting a job. Ms. Nooyi’s first real interview was total failure – no connection, no rhythm, no job. However, she received a piece of advice from a professor that Ms. Nooyi has carried forward since then to her role as a CEO. She was told to simply “be herself.”

Ms. Nooyi clearly took the advice she received to heart. Not only has she been herself as intelligent, smart, persistent, and daring, she has also scored an enviable position of 75 percent plus support by her own employees worldwide. See if you can find a politician with as much support even when winning a national election.

What Makes A Person Successful?

For business owners and leaders, the lesson from Ms. Nooyi is to never forget what really makes a person successful. It’s not the suit, it’s not the past laurels, and it’s not the school degree. What makes the difference that catches people’s attention and gets their support is one’s personal confidence and persistence. Ms. Nooyi gambled everything with not just coming to the U.S. to succeed but to also establish herself in a highly competitive arena: business consulting. Had she failed, Ms. Nooyi would have had to return back to India and likely would have disappeared into a vast number of IT companies there; everything for her was on the line. But she persisted. And Ms. Nooyi, with her new advice on being herself, was quickly hired. That in turn became her path to eventually becoming Pepsi-Co.’s latest CEO.

A Better Choice

Business leaders trying to keep a company going will at some point face a challenge where everything has to be put on the line to get to the next level. Many don’t take that leap. It’s too risky, it’s too costly, or it’s too unknown. Yet from Ms. Nooyi’s example, the last thing anyone should be doing is trying hard to fake their way through the issue. Be yourself. Trust your skills and trust your gut to make the right the decision. That’s what got a person to a leadership role in the first place, so why should he or she be any different at the moment that counts the most? Risk, responsibilities, fears of what-if can all combine to make someone think behaving differently may be the best path forward. Clearly, from Ms. Nooyi’s example, there’s a better choice.

What the Cola Wars Can Teach About Marketing

Imagine you are walking down the street and see a group of people trying to get volunteers for a taste testing. In the cups before them they have two identical-looking colas. They ask you to try both cups and pick which one you prefer. You will then need to try and identify which is Coke and which is Pepsi.

Do you think you would be able to tell the difference? Do you think you would actually pick the flavor you usually drink (in other words, if you usually drink Coke, would you actually select that one as your favorite)?

Shockingly, many people don’t. A number of different experiments have shown that many people are unable to correctly identify which cola is which. Even more surprisingly, in double blind taste tests, Pepsi often wins. It was this phenomenon that led to Pepsi steadily encroaching upon Coca-Cola’s lead in the market in the 1970s and 1980s. In an effort to win back customers, Coca-Cola introduced the debacle that was New Coke. The new formula was quickly rejected by consumers, and the company worked to gain back the trust of their loyal customers.

Coca-Cola managed to transition out of their problematic campaign and back to their original formula, but this left them in an interesting position. They still used the original formula, which customers said they wanted, but this formula was the one that often lost to Pepsi in taste tests. In the twenty years since this fiasco, Coca-Cola still manages to lead the market and has been holding steady.

According to what many people view as the unwritten rules of marketing, this should not be happening. Coke has two major points working against it.

  1. Coke’s formula is often deemed inferior by the consumer base in taste tests.
  2. The company completely alienated much of its loyal consumer base when it introduced New Coke without adequate market research.

Yet somehow Coca-Cola remains ahead.

Understanding why this happened and what companies today can learn from it can help you revolutionize your advertising campaigns.

Branding

Coca-Cola’s advertising works to develop a certain mentality in us. When we see the brand’s familiar script logo, we connect to the company’s rich history. We see small children walking up to drugstore counters to buy a Coke. We also connect with the company’s familiar advertising icons (its polar bears, for example) that are often featured in various advertising campaigns. Of course, Coca-Cola’s friendship ads help us feel connected to other Coke drinkers around the globe, as well.

The key here is the brand. Coca-Cola is now an iconic brand. It has become such a staple in our culture that in some regions, the word ‘Coke’ is used to mean any soft drink.

So what are you doing to develop your brand? Creating and maintaining a strong brand should be at the center of all your marketing. Customers make decisions based on the subconscious associations they develop between a company’s brand and its intangibles, including its quality, reliability, and history. Successful marketing helps to encourage positive associations in consumers’ minds.

Thinking about the entire customer experience

Taste tests often show that Pepsi is the preferred brand, especially considering it is slightly sweeter. While this might be better for short-term tastes, many people drink soft drinks in vast quantities. They don’t just drink a sip or two. They drink large bottles. Given the entire customer experience, it’s easier to see why the slightly sweeter brand seems to be less preferred in the long run.

Branding and considering the entire customer experience have both had an enormous impact on Coca-Cola’s ability to hold onto its lead over Pepsi, despite taste tests and marketing troubles. When you keep these criteria in mind for your company, you’ll also be able to boost your success. So grab a soft drink, sit down, and work with us to begin determining how you can better market your company. Call us today at 847-768-2679!