Sergio Zyman knows how to make mistakes. He was, after all, chief marketing officer for Coca-Cola during the ill-fated launch of New Coke, but he rebounded to be named one of Time magazine’s top pitchmen of the 20th century. We recently chatted up the author of Renovate Before You Innovate: Why Doing the New Thing May Not Be the Right Thing (Portfolio).

Doesn’t “renovate” sound a bit stodgy, like fixing up an old house?
Everybody likes the sex appeal of innovation, but in renovating, you preserve something that has value while taking advantage of all the equity you’ve got in it. Before trying something radically new, maximize use of your current assets.

You say Starbucks was a smart renovator with its wireless networks. What about the Starbucks Media Bars for downloading music?
They’ve created one more reason for you to stay there and drink a lot of coffee, maybe have a pastry or something. They’re tapping into a humongous cash flow.

On the other end of the scale, you praise Pabst Blue Ribbon beer for savvy renovation. How so?
They repositioned the brand not as a premium beer, but as a branded generic with a lot of heritage. And they did it with almost no advertising. Their last TV ad aired more than 10 years ago.

New Coke was definitely an innovation flop. What did you learn from it?
We found out the hard way that it wasn’t about the product itself, but the positioning and what the brand stood for.