BMGT451 Depth Interview (PDF)

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Depth Interview: Melanie Kiebuzinski & Diet Coke
I interviewed Melanie Kiebuzinski, a sophomore at the University of Maryland. When I
asked her to identify a product that she had purchased recently for under five dollars, she quickly
replied, “Diet Coke!” I probed her on the five steps of the consumer decision-making process in
hopes to gain insight to what factors along the way strongly influenced her decision to purchase a
Diet Coke as opposed to other alternatives. Additionally, for both Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi, I
created an associative map based on her thought process, and I had her make a collage for each
brand that she considered to help determine her intangible feelings about both products, which
ultimately led to her decision. The interview revealed Melanie’s perception of different sodas,
and what Diet Coke clearly has done extremely well to position themselves as the go-to diet cola.
The results are telling for marketers both at Coca-Cola and other competing soda companies.
Melanie recognized her desire for a diet cola when she began to feel tired at work. She
knew she needed some form of caffeine, but opted for a cola rather than a coffee or tea because
she wanted to treat herself with something sweet. She specified her need for diet sodas because
although she wanted to treat herself, she did not want to have to worry about all of the calories
that come along with a standard bottle of soda. The idea of soda as a “treat” is definitely a link
that marketers for soda companies should seek to weaken. In order to maximize their sales, they
need people to think of soda as a beverage that is normal to consume on a daily basis. Melanie
saw soda as a direct substitute for coffee and tea, which is something that I think marketers
should emphasize more. Obviously, soda has no place in people’s morning routines, but
establishing soda as a midday “pick-me-up” could increase soda sales as a whole.
After Melanie decided that she wanted to purchase a soda, she scanned the refrigerator at
The Bagel Place for her options. She identified four possibilities: Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Coke

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Zero, and Diet Dr. Pepper, but quickly narrowed down her decision to Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi
when she decided that she wanted a more traditional diet cola.
Generally, soda isn’t a product that people do research into before making a decision.
Melanie evaluated her alternatives based on her already established knowledge of the four
brands. She knew the attributes that she desired in her diet soda, which included caffeine, good
taste, low to zero calories, familiarity, and packaging. Both of her options contained caffeine,
few calories, and a level of familiarity, although the familiarity varied by brand, with Diet Coke
topping Diet Pepsi based on her experiences. In terms of taste, Diet Coke again ranked
significantly higher than Diet Pepsi. Melanie loves the Diet Coke packaging but dislikes the
packaging for Diet Pepsi. Her evaluation process identifies key points of differentiation for
marketers. Labeling and familiarity are the two factors that stood out the most to me as they both
can be relatively easily controlled or altered by marketers. Labeling is self-explanatory, but in
order to increase familiarity with products, marketers can engage in operant conditioning through
free samples, discounted product, venue sponsorship, and numerous other strategies.
Melanie’s product choice was an easy one because she prefers Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi in
every one of her evaluative criteria. She explained that the only reason she took other products
into consideration was just the idea of mixing things up, but Diet Coke is her favorite soda and
has become a habitual part of her life. She identifies with it so strongly that she said it feels like a
part of her identity. It is brand connections like these that marketers dream of establishing, and
apparently Coca-Cola has done an excellent job with marketing to Melanie. When asked if she
would purchase Diet Coke again she responded, “Yes! Hell yes. Always and forever!”
I also utilized two methodologies, associative mapping and collage making, to enrich my
analysis. The associative maps for Diet Coke and Diet Pepsi naturally had many similarities,

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considering the similarities of the products, but the differences make it clear what Coca-Cola has
done right, and what Pepsi hasn’t done well. The first difference is that Melanie associated her
familiarity with Diet Pepsi based on seeing her mother drink it throughout her childhood, while
her familiarity with Diet Coke is that it is the “classic” diet soda, and the first thing she thinks of
when thinking of diet soda. Melanie even went as far as to call Diet Pepsi a knockoff. This
implies to marketers at Pepsi that they are not doing a good enough job of making themselves
seem like a legitimate competitor in the diet cola sub-category. Although they really are the
lesser brand in terms of market share, they need to do a better job of making it seem like their
product is an equal option to Diet Coke. In terms of accessibility, Pepsi has made their products
easily accessible for Melanie, and made it more difficult to obtain Coke products through their
sponsorship of the University of Maryland. This is a good move by Pepsi because they can
impose their products on young consumers and to condition them to like them for the rest of their
lives. However, the final association counteracts this marketing move by Pepsi, at least in
Melanie’s case. Melanie finds Diet Pepsi to be too sweet, while she finds Diet Coke to be just
right. This is not something that Pepsi can take action on without affecting their existing loyal
customers, and thus in this case makes Melanie a tough customer to steal from Coca-Cola.
Melanie’s collages revealed that she both brands have done an effective job with branding
themselves. She views Diet Coke as classic and American, and associates it with all of the good
times she has had while sipping on a Diet Coke. She views Diet Pepsi as modern and glamorous,
an image that Pepsi has certainly been working on developing for the past decade. From this,
both brands can take away the fact that they can effectively position their brands in consumers’
minds through continued classic conditioning.

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