Craig Cotton, the chief executive at The Better Drinks Company, speaks rapidly—a characteristic that seems to amplify when he’s excited about something. And, with journalistic finger cramps as evidence, StopPress can confirm that Cotton’s level of excitement regarding the launch of the latest product in the Charlie’s range of drinks is pretty high.
The company has just released its first batch of Charlie’s Straight Up Cola, and the backstory suggests that Cotton’s preference for speed extends beyond his talking style to his business approach.
“The idea came up just over 10 weeks ago,” says Cotton. “We wanted to introduce something before Christmas, and so we just did it.”
Cotton attributes the rapid turnaround of the new product to the team that worked on the project.
“A week after we first announced the plan, they came back with a range of different options to try. The samples were produced so quickly that they were still in the syrup form, which meant that we had to fizz them up to try them.”
While impressive, the speed of the product development isn’t even the most interesting part of the project.
As part of the launch, Charlie’s is asking customers to take to social media and say exactly how they feel about the new product. The company is giving Kiwis the chance to share their opinions, and only if the feedback is positive, will it produce another batch.
Cotton admits that this is a bold move given how scathing social media commentary can be at times, but he says that this open approach is what differentiates Charlie’s brand.
“One of our mantras is being committed to listening and acting on it,” he says.
As evidence of this, Cotton points to the fact that the very idea to launch the cola came down to customer requests, in the sense that consumers often enquired why Charlie’s didn’t offer a cola in its range.
The chief executive concedes that it could prove a costly mistake if the cola fails, but he says that he believes in the ‘fail fast, fail cheap, fix quickly’ rule when it comes to running the business.
In this sense the immediacy of social media provides the perfect platform to gauge consumer reactions to the product. And the fact that the company promises to take action in response to the feedback only gives consumers further impetus to get online.
This transparency of the company’s business approach also extends to the ingredients that are put into the cans. As illustrated in the ‘real lemons, real malt, no numbers or chemicals, no sausages’ tagline on the can design, The Better Drinks Company has stuck by its policy of using real ingredients.
“You could literally look at the ingredients on the bottles and cans of most our products and have a go in your kitchen at making them,” says Cotton.
Cotton backs this claim by telling the story of how he helped his daughter and her friends make Charlie’s Honest Lemonade to sell to passersby over a weekend not too long ago.
Cotton says that in his experience “millennials don’t like to be told what to do,” and he says that Charlie’s aims to do as much as possible to listen to them.
And it seems that more brands are becoming interested in what their consumers have to say.
A recent example of a company responding to customer requests would be Sealord, which promptly dumped Heidi Montag shortly after customers started criticising the seafood company’s choice for an ambassador.
Sealord’s creative agency, Ogilvy, followed up the Montag debacle by creating a second ad that featured “real Kiwis” in lieu of plastic surgery’s favourite beneficiary.
Glassons also recently pulled mannequins that featured their ribcages showing from store displays in response to criticism from concerned consumers who felt it was glamourising excessive skinniness.
However, as illustrated by the continued screening of its controversial bull-riding commercial, the clothing company is prone to selective listening, and doesn’t respond to every criticism levelled by consumers.
And while it’s impossible to accommodate every single social media request, the power of Tweet should not be ignored. And this is something that Abercrombie & Fitch recently learned the hard way.
Earlier this year, a series of ill-advised quotes from the company’s chief executive Mike Jeffries, which initially appeared in a 2006 Salon article, were republished on Twitter.
The tweet informed the social media community—and more than a few Abercrombie & Fitch consumers—the Jeffries thought this of them:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
The outrage and boycotts that followed led Forbes to write a the brilliantly titled article ‘How A CEO Can Wreck A Brand In One Interview: Lessons From Abercrombie & Fitch Vs. Dove’.
In the foreseeable future this will be used as an example of how bad things can get when Twitter turns on a brand. And in this sense, it certainly pays to not only listen but also respond when consumers start making a social media fuss.