The democratisation of design: The Coca-Cola Freestyle

28th May 2018
Author: Etienne Clergue
Posted in: Design, Thought leadership

Content design adviceWith a bit of design thinking it’s possible to take a problem or opportunity and meet it head on. Learn how Coca-Cola applied design principles to solve a customer problem – and create a new opportunity in market…

About a decade ago Coca-Cola discovered a problem. Consumers in the US were becoming tired of walking into bars and being presented with four or five options by a bartender. Coke knew consumers wanted a lot more variety from the dispensers and vending machines than was being provided. What the company didn’t foresee was exactly how much variety was being demanded.

“We initially thought it might be 20 or 30 different drinks,” a Coca-Cola executive told Marketing Week magazine at the time. “The research came back and told us it was more like 100.”

Coca-Cola’s response was a new kind of vending machine. The Freestyle would give consumers the power to design and create their own drinks. With external expertise in the fields of software, technology and design from the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Ferrari and BMW, the beverage company designed and built the Freestyle, a vending machine offering up to 165 different drinks and limitless blends of them.

“Our customers wanted to play,” said the executive, “to make their own drinks.”

Coke consumers all over the US now use the Freestyle to mix products and invent their own drinks before sharing information on the cloud to get their ‘creation’ known and loved by others.

‘New’ soft drinks are put together from limitless combinations using the machine; if a consumer wanted to for example, they could combine eight different flavours of Sprite.

The Freestyle has been in the US market since 2010 and was a business reinvention story for Coca-Cola. It required innovation in product, in packaging, in the supply chain, in route-to-market and in consumer interaction.

New products are also being tested via the machines by looking at what consumers are creating for themselves. If a certain blended flavour of Coke became a very popular selection in a certain region it may become a new product. New ideas can be rolled out relatively cheaply across Freestyle with an instantaneous verdict from the consumers.

In short, the Freestyle – the “mass customisation solution” that Coca-Cola used to democratise design of its products – has entirely re-informed the way it engages and serves its consumers.

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