3 Marketing Lessons from Coca-Cola’s 60-Year Relaunch in Myanmar

You haven’t sold your product in sixty years.  What to do?

Photo: The Coca-Cola Company.

Coca-Cola Truck in Myanmar. Photo: The Coca-Cola Company.

That’s the challenge the Coca-Cola team faced in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) after sanctions were eased last year, enabling the iconic beverage’s return.  A bottling facility opened this month.

There are many layers to this story (Geo-politics, capitalism, global business, etc.), but it’s the marketing story that really jumped out to me.

So, here are my 3 Refreshing Insights gleaned from Coca-Cola’s head of marketing in the region, Mr. Shakir Moin.  They’re easy to apply.

1.  Don’t Dismiss Back to the Future

There’s a wonderful saying that goes something like this:  “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you won’t know where you’re going.”  Too many marketers ignore the brand-building, revenue-generating success of their predecessors.  Don’t!  You might learn something important.

Mr. Moin did.  He went to the Coca-Cola archives.

“He was looking at how the company marketed its product before the internet, before TV, even before radio. Eventually he found his perfect model for Myanmar, [a] place where nobody knew anything about Coke — Atlanta, 1886.”  (Source:  How To Sell Coke To People Who Have Never Had A Sip)

Make time to find and peruse some of your company/brand history, preferably at the beginning of your assignment.  You’ll be better informed and better prepared to tackle your challenges.

Man Enjoys Coca-Cola in Myanmar. Photo: The Coca-Cola Company.

Man Enjoys Coca-Cola in Myanmar. Photo: The Coca-Cola Company.

2.  K.I.S.S. Works in Marketing, Too

In our quest to be different and better, we marketers sometimes make things more complicated than they need to be.  Pages could be filled on this topic.

The point here, though, is that Moin and his Coca-Cola marketing team sifted through the options and distilled a simple marketing approach:

“[We realized] the importance of sampling, of clear messaging.  Over the years, marketers have tried to make things complicated. I think we’re also guilty of that.”

“In Myanmar, brand messaging is centered on “delicious and refreshing.”  That uncomplicated proposition won out over other possibilities such as friendship, sharing a Coke and Coke’s global “Open Happiness” platform.”

“A totally new market made me appreciate the beauty of keeping things simple and making the simple things matter to our consumers.”

(Source:  Coca-Cola Introduces Itself to Myanmar)

3.  Learning Never Stops

I highlighted “Keep Getting Better” as a key leadership and success factor in my post What the Marines Can Teach Business Leaders.

Not only did Mr. Moin get better, he wasn’t afraid to share his learning experience within the Coca-Cola organization.

As Anita Chang Beattie reported, he organized his thoughts into a presentation titled “How Myanmar Re-Taught Me Marketing,” and shared it with “senior marketing executives.”

Now that’s a presentation I’d like to see!


Coca-Cola’s return to Myanmar after a 60-year hiatus offers three refreshing marketing lessons:  Don’t Dismiss Back to the Future; K.I.S.S. Works in Marketing, Too; and Learning Never Stops.  Thanks to marketing leader Shakir Moin for the inspiration.

Harvey Chimoff is a hands-on marketing leader and business-wide collaborator who builds marketing capabilities in B2B/B2C organizations that drive customer success.

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