Cola, competition, challenges

How have you seen cola marketing pan out in India over the last few decades?

New Delhi

Saloni, the moment you use phrases such as “the last few decades,” you sure do make me feel old. Suddenly!

The cola category has moved many generations of brand-think over the last several decades in India. From basic product to functional product to cosmetic USPs to emotional highs and more. It has traversed Hollywood, Bollywood and Tollywood, cricket, golf, hockey and more. It has moved from simple straightforward messaging to fun and humour that is raw.

The innovations will now occur when the category fights to establish itself as a staple beverage with deep per capita consumption. Today, colas are a fringe player in the beverage segment. As they aspire to deepen per capita consumption numbers in India, the biggest paradox to crack is the fact that a cola competes not with another cola alone. The cola competes with every unnatural drink. With every natural drink. And most importantly with the mother of them all drinks: water.

The assumption to crack is that a cola is a cola is a cola. We need to wait and watch as to how this is going to be attempted in a market like India.

What advice would you give me, a budding brand consultant? I have just finished my PG Diploma in Management.


Don’t, Raghu, don’t enter this business till you have slapped on very valuable industry experience. I recommend a full 15-year engagement in industry before you take the plunge. Entering the business early spoils you. Burnout is quick. And the glass ceiling is out there, just above you. A bit too close to your head for comfort.

Is marketing important, or selling? How does marketing help selling?


Rohit, the first key point to understand is that there are fewer brand marketing people than brand activation people in India, and fewer salespeople than consumers. The largest stakeholder in the marketing game is the consumer. The salesperson is the next biggest in sheer numbers. Brand marketing people are a small number that sit atop the pyramid of the marketing process.

Marketing does play a major role in driving sales.

A good marketing manager who has grown up being a sales manager in the field emotes with this sale-generation point and process that much more than one who does not have this background.

Marketing provides many planks for driving sales. First, it is the umbrella air cover that brands receive in the field. The salesman is quite like the cavalry and foot soldier out there in the marketplace, and the marketing manager is quite like a part of the Air Force that provides umbrella cover for the brand in question. Just as some marketing programmes reach out to consumers (B2C), the B2B process reaches out to intermediaries such as C&F agents, distributors, wholesalers and retailers of the product in question.

In India, while most companies are very good at the B2C role of marketing in aiding the selling process, they are rather weak, insipid and uninspired in their approach to B2B internal marketing.

Harish Bijoor is a business strategy expert and CEO, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc. Send your questions to >