Coca-Cola, Michelin and a shared spirit of Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité?

The new CEO of Coca-Cola, the world’s most valuable brand, has axed the post of Chief Marketing Officer and called on staff to take more risks and not fear making mistakes. Meanwhile Michelin is running a ‘trust experiment’ to reinvigorate its employees after years of paternalistic micro-management.

Does this matter – well, here’s a few ideas for you.

One, its about how Coke sees the future of brand-building.

James Quincey, Coke’s new CEO told the Wall Street Journal: “The way brands are being created today is not just [about] making ads that people love. It’s through interaction directly with customers, without advertising at all.”

It’s a clear statement, if we needed it, that even the biggest brands understand they need to communicate differently with consumers rather than an one-size-fits-all expensive TV advertising campaign.

Quincey has dev­olved marketing responsibility to regional teams instead and we can expect more locally-driven and relevant campaigns, seeking almost one-to-one interactions with consumers. Coke has always done this but this is now the big play, with fewer adverts on the telly with perhaps just a few ‘statements’ like this year’s Together is Beautiful Super Bowl commercial. Values, not product. PRs will be hoping this also means a bigger slice of the marketing budget for their smart thinking.

Two, in the same interview Quincey has sent a loud message to his staff that he trusts them and wants them to stretch themselves and the brand: ““If we’re not making mistakes, we’re not trying hard enough.” It is more the cri de ceour of a challenger brand, not the category leader, and signals how he wants to lead the business and how he wants his people to think and act.

It chimes with a story the FT highlighted this week about Michelin’s ‘trust experiment’. Michelin has ditched its embedded ‘paternalistic’ managerial approach in favour of ‘responsabilisation’ – something between ’empowerment’ and ‘accountability’ according to the FT who ran the headline ‘Power to the Workers’. The pilot has not been plain sailing, particularly in France, but is working enough to be rolled out globally.

So the world’s biggest [and most American] brand and a venerable Old World manufacturer agree that key to building businesses and brands is simple – engage with people as individuals, not collectively, trust them, encourage their freedom of thought, give permission to take risks and permission to fail.

Its also a good lesson for us PR types, for internal and external communications and engagement. Perhaps we can sum it up as ‘Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité’?