Freedman International: Giving Brands the Freedom to Explore Cultural Nuances with Confidence

{Interview from LBB Online} Put simply, local insights is fundamental information needed to understand and connect with audiences in different countries. Informed by carefully curated insights, the cultural specialists expertly employ inventive solutions to common brand challenges. With over thirty years’ experience, Freedman International’s localisation strategies have proven to boost the global market positioning of some of the world’s biggest brands. 

In their latest launch, Local Insight Products, they offer in-depth insights across multiple markets covering four key pillars; Explore, Belong, Communicate, Validate. Here to talk about these different local insights, is global strategy director Matthias Gray. With a background in agency work, Matthias understands entering unknown foreign markets can feel like a daunting task to most brands. In a bid to demystify common concerns about connecting with global audiences, the cultural insights expert explains how Freedman’s new products help brands conquer different marketing challenges and approach the right consumers with the right storytelling.

LBB> How do you unlock insights to global markets for clients?

Matthias> First and foremost, we are integrated with the overall production process, from start to finish. We do not replace creative agencies, we collaborate with them to optimise creative communication throughout the process, which starts 9 – 12 months out, when brands need to decide how to enter specific markets.

We start by investigating social conditions, as well as the economic and cultural landscape, giving clients a full understanding of what they are getting into. We look at the identity and personality of a country and particular people in specific societies, regional differences that shape people’s motivations and behaviour. When the creative agency is formulating concepts we can sense-check ideas to see if they resonate with local consumers and if they are culturally relevant. This specific angle complements the brand’s existing research.

For brands, entering a new market can be like stepping into a black void, you don’t really know what the conditions are. The key to what we do is integration with all partners throughout the creative development process; we play the role of cultural expert and advisor to help the brand establish relevance and achieve impact.

LBB> What sort of clients do you typically work with?

Matthias> We work with global brands operating in multiple markets – at least three or four markets – who face cultural challenges. One of our biggest clients is Fitbit, a global brand that operates in over 100 markets worldwide. Fitbit has a great setup, with a creative agency, in-house planning teams and a media agency, and they acknowledge the multi-market cultural challenges they face. They run global campaigns that must appeal to various markets and have to understand the needs and wants of consumers across different markets.

In addition to big global companies like Fitbit, we also work with scaling companies. The work we do for these companies focuses on establishing framework and core ways to grow a company, splitting out narratives for each market. We turn communication into multi-market communication. This is where the Explore product comes in most, in terms of strategy and operations.

LBB> How have you informed Fitbit’s global marketing strategy?

Matthias>  We have worked closely with Fitbit for over 8 years now. Our relationship exemplifies how we want to work with clients to add real value. Rather than just being pulled in for a specific translation, transcreation or project, we are a partner – the cultural expert in the room that supports the analysis teams and creative agency at various stages. We are bringing cultural insight to the table and helping the creative agency deliver better work for multiple markets, while helping the media agencies on the production side.

Fitbit – Feel Your Power

LBB> How would you summarise the importance of local consumer insights to someone unfamiliar with the concept?

Matthias> The simple answer is: one-size-fits-all doesn’t work. It’s about acknowledging the diversity of the world and the diversity of consumers that brands need to reach. The way people behave, what motivates them and what shapes their identity is dictated by their cultural context; for example, where they grew up and what has influenced them. For a brand to do better, grow and sell more, they must make meaningful connections with the consumer, whatever that means for the brand.

Brands need to understand what moves minds and hearts and implement that into their communications for the local market. Big universal ideas do work to a degree, but in those cases, brands must find a universal human truth. Coca Cola is a good example because their tagline “Open Happiness” resonated globally, because happiness is a universal theme. However, it also lacks depth, and it’s important to strike a balance between the local consumers and market, and a global audience.

Our recent work for a leading online recruitment platform focuses on the idea that a better job leads to a better life. This is a universal truth that applies to all of us, but when you then think about in more depth, what does a better job mean to a jobseeker in Thailand, versus someone in Finland or Germany? What does better life mean to them? What motivates them to work? Do they need to support a family? Do they have a big family? What are the social dynamics? In Western developed nations working tends to be more focused on self actualisation but people in other parts of the world work for completely different reasons. As soon as you bring this thought process in, it raises questions about how to approach the right consumers with the right storytelling.

We strive to help our clients to fine tune ideas, developing stories and narratives that sit underneath a bigger universal truth, making an overall narrative more relevant. It all boils down to global growth for our clients. How do you achieve global growth? By being more relevant to your local consumers – there’s a limit to what a one-size-fits-all approach can deliver.

LBB> Tell us a bit about the new Local Insights product offering?

Matthias> There are four new products – Explore, Belong, Communicate, Validate – all of which play a specific role at different stages of the creative development process. Clients can mix and match because all products complement each other, while also functioning on their own – it really depends on the client’s needs. We know from experience that clients face different hurdles throughout the process, from localization to creative development, so we partner with them to cater to their various needs. These products are designed to play the role of solving those problems and answering questions along the way.

  • ExploreExpand globally by planning with local evidence. Whether you are exploring new markets or evaluating existing markets which are underperforming, the Explore Product can help provide local insights to ensure you have the information you need to make the best decisions for your brand.
  • Belong –  Impact through empathy. Put your brand’s core purpose at the heart of your communications, and gain a deeper connection with your local target audience. The Belong Product enables you to connect your brand’s purpose with local cultures, and authentically communicate to each market.
  • Communicate – Improve creative effectiveness in local markets. Keeping up with cultural trends and ensuring your brand resonates with local audiences in an authentic and appropriate way, can be complex and fraught with challenges. Supercharge your brand communications with the Communicate Product, and gain insight into cultural trends which will ensure you are relevant in every market.
  • Validate – Your safety net for global campaigns.
    You will never want a campaign to go live without Validate again. From checking that creative concepts will work in-market, through to cultural advice on campaign imagery, we will pick up any cultural red flags in enough time for you to amend and go live with peace of mind.

LBB> Why are you launching these products now? How is this product offering different?

Matthias> The reason we launched Local Insights now is because we often receive a creative at the final stage when there is nothing we can do about it. However, if we are working with teams right from the beginning, we can help inform the right thinking from the offset. When you start to develop an initial idea or communication approach and plan to roll it out as global campaign, you need that extra cultural lens from the beginning because you can go through the whole process and find, at the end, it doesn’t work in 15 of your 20 markets, which is a huge waste of creativity. It’s a shame for the creative agency because their big idea doesn’t work and a shame for the client because they have spent a lot of money on creative that doesn’t resonate with people in the market because it doesn’t tell a story that’s connecting with them.

LBB> Are there any brands that have produced data-driven, localised campaigns which have inspired you?

Matthias> An example of a brand that does really well is Nike. They are not one of our clients, but their campaign ‘Nothing Beats a Londoner’ is a great example to use. As a brand their territory and universal truth is their slogan, ‘Just Do It,’ which is about encouraging people to reach their optimal potential. They deploy that message everywhere, but for Nothing Beats a Londoner, they looked more closely at London – which has a bigger population than European countries like Finland or Sweden – and developed a really good understanding of what motivates Londoners.

The spot captured the essence of London; from kids growing up on an estate in Tower Hamlets, to private school kids from West London competing in their local rowing club, whatever life throws at you, Londoners are always on the move, always trying to achieve their best, even if the conditions are tough. This acute understanding that grit and determination is what connects Londoners is a creative idea that marries the brand purpose with true experiences and an understanding of what makes people move. It worked really well.

LBB> What has been the best feedback you’ve received from a client about positively transforming their brands on a global scale?

Matthias> We help clients write better marketing briefs or inform creative briefs. We help clients avoid potential cultural missteps and better understand their mission. We test messaging and tone to give brands a peace of mind, rolling out content with a proper safety net.

“Big Freedman advocate! Freedman has been pivotal in driving brand growth in Europe.” – Marketing Director, UK, Fitbit

First published on the LBB

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