Let’s take a look back
In the late 1980s KFC tried to expand their success in China but got off on the wrong foot when they translated their legendary slogan “Finger-lickin’ good” to a less appealing: “Eat your fingers off.” In 2011, Kenneth Cole made a bad joke when promoting his fashion house website during the Cairo protests tweeting: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at KC.” Ford Motor Company learnt the hard way that in Belgium, instead of highlighting the car’s excellent manufacturing by stating “Every car has a high-quality body” they were trying to entice their customer by offering a dead body: “Every car has a high-quality corpse”.
So what went wrong?
Corporate annals abound with cautionary tales of culture blunders, but one would rightly wonder: did the brand not sense-check the messaging? Did they not consult their local offices to avoid similar mishaps? How easy is it for global HQ to communicate with their local markets? I would like to be able to answer these questions but first I will provide a framework for a better understanding of what it takes for global businesses to succeed overseas.
What does it take to succeed?
The reality is that we live in a digitally interconnected world and global exposure for brands is just one tweet away. An ill-thought-out advertising or marketing campaign can actually prove to be detrimental for the entire brand. Often mistakes stem from linguistic errors, while others occur because of different meanings of body gestures, humour, colours, divergent social aspirations and cultural values.
The ability to create and deploy globally relevant positioning content and stories across all channels almost instantly, is more important than ever. Global campaigns normally fail to hit the nail on the idiosyncrasies of the local markets. On the other hand, locally conceived advertising sacrifices consistency of global messaging and does not benefit from economies of scale.
We have seen the ‘Think Global, Act Local’ mantra being embraced as the philosophical foundation of a successful global brand. This advertising strategy entails local adaptation of a universal core idea in order to resonate in every single market, while maintaining global brand consistency. What are the ingredients of success though? How is local autonomy achieved within a global framework?
First of all we need a brand mission that stems from a universal human motivation. Coca Cola’s mission is ‘To inspire moments of optimism’, while Samsung redefined their brand mission and values in 2013 by using a more humanised mission statement: ‘Inspire the world, create the future’.
Ballantine’s Scotch whisky, part of the Chivas’ family launched a hugely successful campaign in 2007. Conceived by M&C Saatchi, it starts with the understanding that people worldwide want to achieve their aspirations by staying true to their beliefs. This universal human motivation unlocked a global brand positioning and a campaign line that as thedrinksreport mentions serves as “an invitation to consumers to express themselves in a genuine and authentic way, applauding conviction and self-belief”. The ‘Stay True, Leave an Impression’ campaign portrays talents in all the accompanying brand communications ‘that reflect their passion and commitment to staying true; demonstrating that whatever you do, it’s about doing it with conviction, doing it because you believe in it.’ The creative agency came up with a concept that is trying to “cut through some of the false gloss one would normally expect from similar brands in this category.” Jeremy Hemmings, the global account director said:
“Marketing today is about telling great stories that demonstrate brand attributes in a way that is humane, stories that are able to transcend boundaries without getting lost in translation.”
As Marc Mathieu, SVP of Marketing, Unilever says ‘While marketing used to be about creating myths, today it is about finding truths.’
‘Glocal’ – the status quo
So, say you have found a brand mission, positioning and campaign that will resonate worldwide and will make a huge impact for the brand. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty: how do you make it work across markets, languages and cultures? Most importantly how do you communicate with your local markets to make it happen?
Implementing the right transcreation and localisation strategy is key to a successful brand campaign and can be a real differentiator. Getting this right means you are where your customers are and that you speak to them in their own language by delivering culturally relevant messages and content. Getting this wrong can lead to alienated customers and lost sales.
Marketers are increasingly facing the challenge of having to shape the square peg of their global ad campaigns into the round hole of the heterogeneous local market needs. Global brand teams are often faced with the cries of their local counterparts “My needs are different from the globally produced work”, “This positioning/key message is not going to work here” and “Global doesn’t understand my market.” These challenges are usually exacerbated by decentralised budgets which normally impede adoption of central governance models and weaken global authority.
Reasons things go wrong:
Delving deeper into the reasons for this vicious circle usually throws up a few steps that have gone amiss during the process.
Global vs local relationship
It all depends on how the central global team perceives and treats their local colleagues. More often than not, local markets are not considered as key customers, hence their needs are not taken into account are dismissed.
Very often global might not even revisit the overall brand strategy before they sign off a new campaign brief. This means that perhaps the competitive landscape of the local markets has already changed, or even worse the strategy is not relevant anymore.
Communication and campaign planning
During the brand campaign development process, HQ holds the reigns and tends to leave local counterparts out of the picture. It is not unusual for local markets to be involved at a later stage of the process, once the concept is already locked. Also, campaign planning which needs to cover creative needs, timings, and resources tends to be ignored. No wonder issues such as TV adverts being rejected in individual markets because of legal regulations on claims and imagery, as well as flashing images, crop up when time is of essence. ‘Quick fixes’ are then implemented and the budget hits the roof because of additional localisation costs, while the campaign ends up running late.
Local campaign development
Lack of communication and non – systematic planning result in duplication and cost inefficiencies, since most markets are not aware of what other markets are doing. The typical scenario brands are facing is local stakeholders trying ‘to reinvent the wheel’ by developing local campaigns that differ strategically and creatively from the original one. This is compounded by the tight timeframes and little time allowed for localisation, when the global creative has taken months to be delivered.
Post-launch most of the stakeholders don’t really know how to measure success. This is because the SMART objectives (S – specific, M – measurable, A – achievable, R – realistic and T – time-based) of the projects were not identified and set from the very beginning between the brand campaign core team and local stakeholders.
What is the best way of getting this strategy right through?
Involve local stakeholders early in the development & testing process
Bring all the markets on board and involve them during the planning and testing process. Create a team of brand advocates that can listen to their needs. Shorten feedback loops between global-local.
Implement brand strategy review process
Revisit overall brand strategy before developing a new brand campaign. This means evaluating and reviewing the brand vision, mission and positioning statement with the local counterparts and aligning the strategy within the whole organisation. Key questions to ask: Is this brand strategy still relevant? What are the key issues for sales growth? Is the strategy addressing the changing competitive landscape?
Systematise mandatory vs adaptable elements
Providing guidance on which elements of the brand campaign process are standard and which are adaptable is advantageous. Moreover, you avoid the need for additional activities/spend at a local level. Make sure the core key selling points and positioning remain unaltered across markets. However, based on local market research, if alternative approaches are supported you should consider adaptation or supplementary key selling points to address market needs. This should be done carefully, without compromising the brand positioning statement and key branding elements such as visual identity, logos, fonts & colours.
Choose the right terminology
Make sure the global marketing team and the local offices speak the same language. It is important that all stakeholders understand the brand terminology and brand communications are aligned between parties.
Focus on global systems and streamline processes
- Make sure that you have an organisational architecture in place that enables collaboration, knowledge-sharing and empathy, and which ensures that you are making the best use of your resources for each channel and market. This can give your business near-instant global reach, reducing time to market for products, as well as messages.
- This architecture needs to include culture, technological infrastructure, and dedicated resources.
- Finally create the tools that will enable global collaboration and minimise strategic leakage; guidelines, toolkits, content management systems. Such an approach will help maximise resources, as it avoids the duplication of locally developed assets.
Follow this guidance, and your global campaign will avoid making headlines for all the wrong reasons.