Emotional & Cultural Value: Lessons from Inca Cola & Starbucks

Imagine being an executive at Coca-Cola, one of the most recognized global brands. Your role with the company is to grow market share in Peru. Despite your extensive marketing efforts, you continually miss your sales goals because of a local drink: Inca Kola.

Developed in 1935 by Joseph Robinson Lindley, Inca Kola’s distinct lemon verbena flavor is reflected in the slogan, “The taste of Peru.”

After years of market resistance, Coca-Cola had to finally adopt an “if you can’t beat them – buy them or partner with them” approach. Today Inca Kola’s trademark, outside of Peru, is owned by The Coca-Cola Company. Inca Kola is a joint venture between Coca-Cola and the Lindley family in Peru.

Inca Kola: More Than Just a Drink

Why couldn’t Coca-Cola steamroll Inca Kola in Peru? My answer is that Inca Kola delivered emotional and cultural value that Coca-Cola could not.

Inca Kola wasn’t just a drink for Peruvians; it evolved into a cultural symbol. Celebratory events in Peru, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and soccer matches felt incomplete without the beverage. It wasn’t just Inca Kola’s taste; the drink represented the essence of Peruvian pride and heritage.

Emotional and Cultural Value in Modern Business

Starbucks is a brand that I’ve worked with and written about that successfully taps into emotional and cultural value.

For example, every winter, Starbucks introduces their red cup, shifting from the traditional green and white. Those cups have become synonymous with the holiday season’s joy and warmth, as evidenced by tweets like that of Caroline Smyth:

“@CazSmyth Had my first Starbucks red cup experience of the year… Christmas has officially started wooo hooo.”

What Can You Take Away from Inca Cola and Red Cups?

  1. Understand Your Brand’s Emotional Potential: What emotional connections can your product or service forge?

  2. Identify Relevant Social Causes: Connect your brand to causes or values that genuinely resonate with your target audience.

  3. Leverage Seasonal or Cultural Significance: Can your product or service be associated with a significant event or time of year?

  4. Solicit Feedback: Gauge how your customers emotionally connect with your brand. Are they having meaningful experiences?

  5. Stay Adaptable: As market dynamics change, so should your strategy to authentically resonate with stakeholder emotions.

As business owners, leaders, and managers, you must forge unique emotional bonds with those you serve. You must also do more than deliver quality products and services. Specifically, you have to envelop your products and services in memorable experiences that evoke positive emotions.

Inca Kola or Starbucks’ red cups are reminders that functional product or service value can be commoditized. By contrast, deep emotional value can be a marketplace differentiator and loyalty builder.

To learn more about how you can create emotional and cultural value, please contact me at josephmichelli.com/contact.

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Joseph A. Michelli, Ph.D. is a professional speaker and chief experience officer at The Michelli Experience. A New York Times #1 bestselling author, Dr. Michelli and his team consult with some of the world’s best customer experience companies.

Follow on Twitter: @josephmichelli

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