Other than when she’s asleep or at a social gathering, just about the only time Aaliyah Shafiq is not connected to her BlackBerry is when she’s driving. During the hour or so she’s behind the wheel for her commute from suburban Lithonia, Ga., to Coca-Cola’s headquarters in Atlanta, she will not text or email. But before she leaves for work and as soon as she gets to her desk, she’s up-to-the-minute aware of what’s happening at the company — including the stock price. Such is the life of a Coca-Cola brand manager.
A Longtime Coke Fan
For Aaliyah, 35, it’s her dream job. Throughout her suburban Atlanta high school days and undergraduate years at Harvard, she cheered for Coke, in a sense. She was a varsity cheerleader, often staring at Coke-sponsored football and basketball scoreboards. Not only is the brand visually seared into the memory of her youth, she literally grew up with it. “We never had anything but Coke products in my house,” she says. “My mom is a loyal Diet Coke drinker, my sister is a Sprite drinker, and I’ve always liked Coke. It was my favorite brand way before I started here.”
At Harvard, Aaliyah’s major was German cultural studies and she spent her summers interning at Coca-Cola offices, both in Atlanta and London. At a recent college reunion one of her friends recalled how Aaliyah in her freshman year championed Coke as being her favorite brand while other students were more in the Apple and Gucci camps.
“I didn’t realize how much I used to talk about it,” she says.
While pursuing her Harvard MBA, she developed a passion for marketing, which led to working on Cheerios cereal at General Mills in Minneapolis. After a time, she became aware of a position for Diet Coke back in Atlanta. She applied online and got a call a few days later. In addition to the Diet Coke opening, there was an opportunity to become one of the seven brand managers for Coke in North America. Bingo!
Even though she enjoyed Minneapolis and her work at General Mills, the offer was easy to accept. “It was a great way to get home to Atlanta,” she says.
Reaching the Buyer
Aaliyah has been a Coke brand manager for a little more than two years now. Her spending power for advertising is $20 million in fair market value. The question running through her mind is: How do we talk to Mom outside the beverage aisle? Her focus is on mothers and families, how they connect around food and how Coke can be part of an everyday meal, a special holiday or a snack. How is Coke relevant to Mom as she’s shopping and planning what she’s going to serve that night? What's the passion point?
“She might not call it a passion point,” Aaliyah allows, “but we’re thinking about ways for Coke to come to life. How do we make sure our brand message of happiness and optimism is coming together?”
One of her latest campaigns is an in-store collaboration with Walmart. The three-year program, called effortless meals™, was activated in May 2013 and pivots around the deli department with two-liter and 16-ounce Coke bottles displayed alongside rotisserie chicken and ‘take and bake’ pizza. “We’re looking for ways to help Mom put a good meal on the table that doesn’t require a lot of work,” Aaliyah explains.
To promote effortless meals™ the brand manager helped produce a TV spot, digital ads on parenting websites and a radio script that runs from 3pm to 7pm when Mom might be in the car contemplating what she's going to put on the table.
“What’s the best return on my investment?” Aaliyah says is her guidepost for allocating the marketing budget. Newspapers and magazines haven’t been as effective a bet as other forms of media, she’s found.
Full Days, Every Day
Strategizing, mulling synergy with other companies, cranking out spreadsheets, analyzing trends and budgets and making presentations to marketing teams are among Aaliyah’s duties. Most days she has one or two meetings in the morning and another two or three in the afternoon. She eats lunch at her desk, usually a custom-made salad from the company's cafeteria and a 12-ounce Coke.
Aaliyah’s work day ends at 6 pm, but she keeps going! She is on the board of the Harvard Business School Club in Atlanta, attending evening meetings and events on behalf of the organization, and loves going to exhibits at the High Museum. As a member of the public service sorority Delta Sigma Theta, she mentors local high-school girls on etiquette, colleges and careers. And she does know her etiquette. Aaliyah was an Atlanta debutante, which she credits for helping her become a functioning member of society as a woman as well as teaching her to waltz.
Sundays she likes to see her family, going to church and having a meal together. Her mother is a physician of internal medicine and her father owns a consulting company. Her younger sister is a business education teacher.
Working back in Atlanta and promoting Coke is a good fit all around. “I’m happy and optimistic and a people person,” she says. As it happens, Aaliyah is exactly what the brand stands for.
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