Coca Cola Fountain Machines

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Great marketing starts with great products, all of the high flying tech companies that have quickly become household names have understood the importance of great products. Apple is famous for setting a trend within the tech industry for a focus on the minute details to create exceptional products, I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes the first trillion-dollar company before the year is over. With this being the case, it is my expectation that anything technology related coming out of the Bay Area to be breathtaking.

It is the older industry leaders that have for many years been complacent before presenting a change that have more of a wow factor for me when they get something right. The company I would like to document is Coca-Cola, this industry giant has a very interesting history and although proven in the Pepsi Challenge to not have a superior product, it has a brand and taste that people cherish. Pepsi for a long time had a fast food division that held; Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut to name a few and by owning fast food brands they acted as competitors to other fast food chains and thus probably lost the chance to have more of the fountain drink market. Coca-Cola Fountain drinks aren’t a Bay Area hot tech startup and one wouldn’t think that there is a way you could innovate putting Coke beverages in a cup over ice, but Coca-Cola did with their Freestyle machines. I remember the Pre-Freestyle machine world when as a child I would be thrilled to find a large gas station convenience store that had set up an aisle of fountain drink dispensers to total fifty or so different flavors. This all changed with the introduction of the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine which featured 165 different flavors and some large factorial amount of custom flavors.

I would argue that the old fountain wasn’t a product in of itself, but the Freestyle machine is itself a product, just like one might say that the Apple App store is a product. The old way of delivering fountain drinks involved a less concentrated beverage syrup and a carbonated water mix that took up more space for the retailer and probably didn’t last as long. In the old machines if you looked closely you could often see a contrast between the syrup and carbonated water mix, with the Freestyle machines it seems to dispensed all in one color. There was no defining factors of a great product in the previous Coca-Cola fountain, the beverage was the only product through the eyes of the end user. The old soda fountains today seem like a cool throwback to the 1980’s, they involve no real digital technology and don’t feature the touch screen display. The look of the Freestyle machine is more appealing than the old soda fountains, it has the back-lit Coke logo and a lit touch screen display that welcomes you over, these features may resonate with me on some subconscious level because Apple products have featured back-lit logos and welcoming easy to use touch screen displays. There is a strategy to how products are presented, not only in their packaging but also their placement in a retail store. The presentation can greatly effect sales because a good number of sales can be made on an impulse or because the presentation was positive. I feel that the only down side to the new Freestyle soda fountains is that it encourages me to consume a larger quantity of unhealthy beverages. From the perspective of the company that is a plus because there exists few if no one who doesn’t recognize the Coke brand and I have never been further than a couple miles of a Coca-Cola no matter how remote the country or region. This means that their focus is to sell more to their existing customers and I would have to say that the Freestyle machine offers an improved presentation that should have strengthened their lead on Pepsi in the fountain drink market.

Ease of use and a great user experience and design is something you see emphasized in technology products that come out of Silicon Valley, but is something that may be overlooked in the older industries. I don’t like how some car manufactures such as Cadillac, with its history of advanced luxury products, is somehow unable to master their technology and make it easy to use. The old fountain drink dispensers may have an edge over the Freestyle machines when it comes to ease of use, because a user only has to decide which flavor they want and then push their cup against the lever actuator to have the product dispensed, but there is almost no experience. Using the Freestyle machine is an experience, from being welcomed by the digital touch screen display that sometimes loops a cool animation when not in use to the thrill of being able to select from 165 different flavors. Some may argue that you shouldn’t give users too many options or choices because the burden of having to make a selection may discourage them from making any selection at all, but I would argue that this is one instance where that doesn’t hold true. Having the 165 different flavors the machine is able to appeal to those that know exactly what they want when they approach the machine and those, like myself who would like to have the nostalgia of being like a kid in a candy store. The user experience of touch screen and a wide selection fits with the times and in my opinion offers a superior user experience.

While the Freestyle soda fountain is an awesome product, it also ignites some thoughts in my mind on how they may advance the rest of their product line. Will Coca-Cola one day expand this technology to their bottled drink vending machines. Where the product is mixed and bottled in the machine with a custom label printed and attached before it is dispensed. To stretch it a little further, will households begin to have the Freestyle machine technology built into their refrigerators.  Whatever the future may hold, I am confident that there will be many more products created that will have a wow factor that takes your breath away, but I would wager that they will all apply the same simple principles of being aesthetically and physically appealing in their look and ease of use.

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