Thursday, 10 October 2013

PepsiCo's Strategic Focus

Today’s blog post is a repost from Evaluate Market Performance Lecturer, Geoff Fripp. Geoff has 25 years marketing experience working for organisations such as Telstra and St George Bank. During his distinguished corporate career, he has worked hands-on in most specialty areas of marketing, as well as holding senior strategic roles. He has also held several adjunct teaching appointments since 1988, with the Australian Institute of Management, the University of Sydney Centre for Continuing Education and the Business School.

I've just finished writing a case study for the recent launch of Pepsi Next into Australia in September 2012. No doubt you've probably been touched by some aspect of their Australian launch, ranging from guitar-playing babies with inept parents, to taste-test challenges across 300 outdoor locations, to heavy in-store promotion and discounting.

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By way of background, Pepsi Next is best described as a mid-calorie cola beverage, consisting of a half sugar and a half artificial sweetener formula. Upon first consideration you would think that this new product would find itself in no-man's land as it violates the first rule of modern marketing; appeal to a target market. And at first glance, the Pepsi Next product appears to be a good 'bad example' of how not to do this, by offering a product mid-way between the needs of two segments and probably appealing to neither very effectively.

However, my first glance at the product wasn't quite accurate. According to PepsiCo, this new product has a very defined target market - lapsed cola drinkers. Since 2005 in the US, the soft drink market has been in early decline with unit volumes slightly decreasing each year. Research has identified that sales are being predominately lost to bottled water and, to a much lesser extent, to energy drinks, sports drinks and juices and teas.

This shift in consumer drinking preferences isn't too much of a concern for PepsiCo across the board, being the second largest food and beverage firm in the world (behind Nestle) and boasting 22 brands that each generate over $1 billion in sales per year, including non-soft drinks brands such as Gatorade and Tropicana.

However, the concern at PepsiCo is more related to their flagship brand, Pepsi itself. Only last year it lost its long-term second place in the US market, with Diet Coke sales now exceeding Pepsi. In fact, Pepsi has lost about four market share points in the last ten years in the now declining US carbonated soft drink market.

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Hence, they introduced Pepsi Next in the US in February 2012; a brand that they hope will become the 'choice of the NEXT generation' and lure lapsed cola drinkers back into the market by providing a lower sugar alternative and to help re-energise the overall Pepsi brand.

But while all this sounds like a pretty straightforward strategic response to a more challenging marketing environment, where PepsiCo stands out in this case is with its incredible strategic focus. This is a firm that has tried and failed a number of times before with the same product concept. In fact, this is their fifth stab at a mid-calorie cola beverage; starting with a version Pepsi Light in the 1970's, Jake's Cola in the 1980's, Pepsi XL in the 1990's and Pepsi Edge as recently as the mid-2000's.

Many firms would have got the message from the market and walked away from such a troublesome idea. However, PepsiCo's persistence and commitment to their strategy has paid dividends throughout the corporation. Despite previous setbacks and failures with mid-calorie beverages they introduced Gatorade G2, which became the most successful food and beverage new product entry into the US market in 2008. This was followed by Trop50 in 2010, a mid-calorie version of Tropicana, which now generates over $150 million in annual sales in its own right.

While it's too early to determine whether Pepsi Next will survive in the highly competitive soft drink market, the commitment of PepsiCo's to this style of product provides a very important strategic lesson for all firms.

I think it was WC Fields who said, "If at first you don't succeed, try again, if you still don't succeed give up - there's no point being a damn fool about it". And it appears that this is a motto that many firms adopt and there are even firms that don't even try again the first time.

This style of approach to the market is going to lead to an organization being too flexible and inconsistent in their strategy development, as they lack the courage to pursue the market as they see it. But, of course, there's a fine line between strategic commitment and strategic stubbornness - the skill is in not only knowing the difference, but also convincing everyone else on the team that we should 'keep going'.

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