Listening is an important part of being a good teammate. Teammates who listen facilitate efficiency, increase productivity, and minimize grief. Listening leads to team success, especially when it involves listening to feedback.
This week in 1985, The Coca-Cola Company launched “New Coke,” a reformulated version of its signature soft drink. The change in formula came in response to Coke’s declining presence in the marketplace.
Coke had dominated the soft drink market for decades, owning a whopping sixty percent share by the end of World War II. Aggressive competitor advertising and the emergence of diet soda alternatives saw that number shrink to just over twenty percent by the late 1970s.
Pepsi had been steadily gaining ground on Coke and was starting to outsell Coke in grocery stores. Their popular Pepsi Challenge campaign demonstrated that consumers preferred Pepsi’s sweeter taste—a fact confirmed by Coke’s own internal research. With sales sliding and Coke on the verge of losing the Cola War, Coca-Cola executives made the bold decision to change the soft drink’s trusted ninety-nine-year-old formula.
After months of testing and tinkering, Coke unveiled a new, sweeter tasting formula. At first, consumers latched onto the new taste. The launch led to an immediate spike in sales, and New Coke became the water cooler’s trendiest topic. Everyone was talking about New Coke.
But the hype was short-lived. Within a few weeks, the company began to experience backlash. Stock prices plummeted as tens of thousands of angry calls flooded Coke’s corporate hotline. Petitions were formed, protests were staged, and lawsuits were filed demanding a return to the old formula.
New Coke became every comedian’s go-to punchline.
The backlash surprised Coca-Cola executives. They had conducted nearly 200,000 blind taste tests and the data showed that consumers preferred the taste of New Coke over both Pepsi and Coke’s original formula. Most experts believe Coca-Cola’s bold decision backfired because they underestimated their most loyal customers’ emotional attachment to the brand.
On July 11, 1985, a mere 79 days after launching the biggest change in the company’s history, Coca-Cola held a press conference to announce the return of its original formula. Television networks interrupted regular programming to share the big announcement.
Donald Keough, then-president of Coca-Cola, said, “Our boss is the consumer. We want them to know we’re really sorry.”
People appreciated Coke’s response. By the end of 1985, Coca-Cola Classic was outselling both New Coke and Pepsi, and Coke’s market share increased more than double that of Pepsi.
The launch of New Coke is often viewed as the biggest marketing blunder in corporate history. Business schools use the company’s bold decision to change its formula as an example of why companies shouldn’t try to fix what isn’t broken.
While that may be true, the company’s equally bold decision to listen and respond appropriately to their loyal customers’ feedback should also be highlighted. Coca-Cola could have ignored the feedback, held firm, and forged ahead despite the backlash. Instead, they wisely chose to listen to what their customers—their “teammates”—were telling them. They then had the courage to set their egos aside and act on what they had heard.
Listening is an important part of being a good teammate. But ultimately, the action that follows listening defines a good teammate. Like the Coca-Cola executives, a good teammate must have the humility to listen to feedback and acknowledge flawed decisions—and the courage to take the necessary action to amend those decisions.
As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.