Play to your strengths

Strengthening a brand starts with a long, hard look at strengths and weaknesses. These aren’t always what you think they are. A good example is the case history of Coca Cola and the role of the distinctively shaped bottle.

Shortly after the inception of Coca Cola by John Pemberton in 1887, the focus was on the drink and how good it tastes. The next big upgrade in sales and profits came from the innovation of bottling it – previously, it was only sold on draught and consumed on the premises.

In the 1970s, the focus was on making popular TV adverts (one of the biggest being the one with the famous song: ‘I’d like to buy the world a Coke’), and that was soon to be followed by the ‘Pepsi challenge’ with the focus on taste.

Then came one of the best ever marketing decisions – the move to not just use any old bottle, but one with a unique shape. The management got the message that the bottle was one area where Coke had something that Pepsi couldn’t match.

Along with the Harley Davidson motorbike, Elvis Presley and the Corvette, the Coke bottle is a piece of classic Americana. Even plastic Coke bottles have the curvy shape, when standard plastic bottles would be much cheaper.

Next, there is that standard philosophical question that applies to life in general: is it better to play to your strengths, or is it better to strengthen where you are weak?

In any business where the resources of time and effort are limited, the key is to focus on which one gives the highest returns on time and energy invested. Almost always, that means playing to your strengths.

But before you can make any headway, it’s a good idea to be clear on exactly what your strengths are. Most people and organisations may not know themselves and their organisations well at all. To quote Sun Tzu and The Art of War: “If you know your enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”


A repeating lesson from history books is that, in military situations, so many nations lost battles because of poor knowledge of the opponents, or poor knowledge of themselves, or both.

What are the oils and fats industry’s strengths? That’s a question that really needs more investment and market research than has been done so far. All too often, folks in the industry focus on reacting to a newspaper report here or a government import duty there, rather than seeing the total picture.

I’d suggest the following strengths as a starting point for palm oil:

  • Taste: people like food cooked with it
  • Health: humans need fats in their diet for survival
  • Social benefit: helps low income families in developing countries
  • Environment: needs less land for production than other oil crops


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