What Zico Coconut Water Learned in Its First Year as a National Brand

And How It Aims to Take Advantage of Coca-Cola Distribution Behind It

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It's the rare marketer that cites 50% year-over-year growth as a disappointment. But Zico, the coconut water brand that last year became majority owned by Coca-Cola Co., wanted to do better than that in 2013 -- and is in the midst of a course correction to ensure it accelerates growth in 2014.

The small, entrepreneurial brand was born in 2004, positioned as a sports beverage thanks to its naturally hydrating properties. The company is now 75 people strong with the power of Coca-Cola Co. behind it.

As Zico VP-Marketing Bill Lange told the audience at the Ad Age CMO Strategy Conference this week in San Francisco, the way forward is for the beverage brand to remember its essence, rather than delivering what the boardroom or the bottlers necessarily want to hear.

Among his next-year initiatives: to ensure that everyone tasked with selling Zico -- a vastly expanded group thanks to the national distribution of Coca-Cola Co. -- knows the power of the brand.

One way he ensured that starting in the pre-Coca-Cola days was with a program called Commitment Day, which requires every employee in the company to report to him with a physical challenge they set up for themselves. The company supports employees with Zico, athletic gear and fundraising support -- and celebrates achievements when the campaign is over. It "establishes who the brand is for every employee in the company," he said. Then Mr. Lange took it a step further: In year two, he required agencies to sign up for Commitment Day.

He sat down with Ad Age for a frank assessment of the brand's strategy and performance.

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