Reaching out to an international audience of consumers is top of the agenda for international brands keen to reach an expanding middle class worldwide. But it’s not easy to get the right balance between brand consistency and local relevance when you’re a major global brand.
It’s a challenge to any organization at structural, technical, and operational level.
One thing that’s clear is that a single message will not suit all markets. Campaign messaging needs to be tailored to suit the needs and expectations of local consumers, wherever they may be.
Marketing that’s not tailored to its audience is less likely to resonate with them, and may even alienate them. Global brands can’t afford not to invest in ways to adapt messaging for local audiences.
But adapting your campaigns at a local level isn’t about seeking to understand what makes that audience unique. It can be as simple as trying to understand the commonalities between different audiences.
Great marketing speaks to human universals and aligns with the fundamental motivations of all people. That’s why brand slogans need to work at a global level and unified brand identity needs to be maintained across all regions.
The extent to which your marketing messaging needs to be customised to individual markets then needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
An article in The Drum earlier this year argued that the degree to which your message and product needs to be adapted for each market depends on how personal it is to the consumer.
If it’s an item for home consumption, such as a face mask, the consumer is far more likely to approach it with unique tastes, perceptions and make choices based on their own values and history. If the item’s less personal, such as a forklift truck, the more global their marketing needs, ie there’s less requirement to tailor to their market.
The article implies that companies marketing these more intimate home-use products, such as food, need to localize their message more intensely than goods for public consumption, such as shoes or private airplanes. It’s a handy rule of thumb for companies unsure how much they need to adapt in each market.
Investment is key
Spending large amounts of money isn’t enough to assure success with locally-relevant marketing but brands do need to invest in tools, and resources if they are to create campaigns that resonate. For global organizations, having the technological infrastructure in place to support the delivery of campaigns and sharing of results can be a valuable asset.
On a practical level, some major players are investing in portals that can make assets available to all their partners. By centralising production, then opening marketing assets up to local partners, big brands are hoping to speed up marketing cycles and even cut costs by delivering efficiencies.
The big ideas and concepts are developed centrally, but there’s still allowance for local marketers to add context and make these ideas work at their level.
It’s a way to capture efficiencies of scale, streamline production of assets, and move quickly. Language translation efforts can be integrated into customised portals to speed up the process and reduce language barriers.
The advantage of using portals is not only that ideas and assets can be shared speedily with a global network but results can also be shared.
Local brand teams and ad agencies get what they need to craft local content and messaging, and the process can happen at speed. Local marketers can share their work with colleagues in other markets, demonstrate the results they are getting, and feedback on how the global campaign is performing at local level.
Approach decentralization cautiously
The trend now is against decentralization of marketing efforts. Global brands are finding their central authority and global campaign messaging is weakened by the decentralized approach, where local agents have autonomy and manage their own budgets.
A recent survey by HH Global found that CMOs of global brands reported a low-level of confidence in business and agency partners. Decentralised approaches mean brands rely heavily on local partners, so this lack of confidence is a big problem for this strategy.
There’s some evidence that brand building at global scale is more cost-effective than doing it at local level, but this isn’t a strategy that suits all brands.
Harvard Business Review uses the examples of IBM and Visa; brands that save themselves money by creating global advertising campaigns rather than using the more costly approach of creating separate campaigns in each market.
But the same article warns that the same approach may not work for all types of business. Not all brands will benefit from a global campaign, usually because their product and message needs to be adapted more than Visa’s or IBM’s.
Smaller brands also have to confront the reality that they don’t carry the same marketing clout as giants such as IBM or Visa. It’s very hard to craft a global brand message that’s going to work successfully in every market, and smaller brands may find it harder to achieve this on a humbler budget.
Brands also need to work with their existing reputations in the markets where they already have a presence. A global messaging strategy may not benefit them if they have an established reputation at local level. And for companies trying to penetrate emerging markets, an entirely unique approach may be required.
Consumers in emerging markets may be buying that type of product for the first time; a global marketing message crafted for more established markets and sophisticated consumers may not support this type of consumer.
Decentralised approaches can also be slow to respond to changes in the global marketing approach: it’s hard to get a huge network of marketers all singing from the same hymn sheet.
Speeding up communication of results between the regions and the central marketing team is a struggle. Coca Cola has focused on shortening the feedback loop between local partners and central teams in order to react to and quickly scale up local success. That’s a fast track to use a global network to improve marketing efficiencies and get better results.
There’s no single solution to the marketing challenge faced by international businesses. Getting the structure and the practical infrastructure in place can help to support marketing networks, but ultimately brands also need to have the vision, discipline, skills and resources to support their marketing ambitions globally.