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Coke … no Pepsi: customer awareness

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When John Akers ran IBM in early 1989, he began a campaign to focus on customers. To emphasize that goal, he invited Donald Keough, a client and president of Coca-Cola, to speak at an IBM meeting.

Embarrassingly, when pictures and statistics about IBM were presented, one slide showed senior executives with a bottle of Pepsi.

Keough told them: “You and your associates are talking about awareness of the customer, and yet as a group you are oblivious to one of your customers who is standing right here on the stage.”

The IBM employees applauded Keough for his sincerity, and Akers was damaged by a blunder that so obviously challenged his appeal to think about customers.

If you want to be taken seriously, stay resolute about continuity and align your actions with your words. Sending mixed messages not only confuses your workers, but also undermines your cause.

—Adapted from The Ten Commandments for Business Failure, Donald Keough, Portfolio.

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