As the global middle class grows from 1.8 billion to 5 billion by 2030, a brand’s moment in the world spotlight will increasingly be as close by as one particularly good or bad tweet. In today’s highly interconnected digital economy, brands, even regional ones, are thinking more and more about international reach and consistency.

But while global brand consistency is undoubtedly a beneficial strategy and position of market strength, the reality is “think global, act local” creates persistent challenges for marketing executives across their org structures, agency relationships and technical infrastructure. These challenges are also frequently compounded by decentralized, market-by-market budgets, which can slow the adoption of central governance systems and weaken global campaign authority.

From the local market perspective, global teams may be seen as out of touch, trying to apply a one-size-fits-all messaging model that doesn’t speak to local consumer needs and cultural realities. Back when Proctor & Gamble first started selling Pampers diapers in Japan, the brand used an image of a stork delivering a baby on the packaging. While the packaging was effective in the U.S., sales slumped in Japan until the company discovered Japanese mothers and fathers were concerned and confused by the stork. The story of a stork bringing babies to parents didn’t exist in Japanese culture.

So how are forward-thinking global brands balancing local, multi-channel relevance with global storytelling, thematic consistency and economies of scale? Our research and client work highlights five strategic pillars for successfully localizing global marketing campaigns and empowering local marketing autonomy within a global framework:

1. Humanize the global brand with a vision and mission that inspires (and translates in) local markets

Successful global brands capture and convey universal insights that attract customers and inspire employees. IKEA’s brand mission is to “create a better everyday life for people,” while Intel’s is “delight… customers, employees, and shareholders by relentlessly delivering the platform and technology advancements that become essential to the way we work and live.”

By positioning the brand behind a core mission to solve important human needs, then fulfilling on that mission with local sensitivity, brands can traverse cultural differences to provide their markets with truths that transcend language barriers.

Diageo’s iconic Johnnie Walker campaign started with an understanding that people around the world, regardless of culture or nationality, want to advance in their lives. This universal motivation unlocked both a global brand positioning and a campaign slogan: “Keep Walking.”

Johhnie Walker and BBH Keep Walking Global Brand Campaign

With this truth providing an overarching brand framework for the voice and look of Johnnie Walker and agency BBH’s campaign, “Keep Walking” was then localized across 120 countries, using culturally relevant quotes like Laozi’s “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” to connect with consumers in markets like China. Using more than 100 different quotes from all over the world, Johnnie Walker kept the thematic momentum behind “Keep Walking” going for over 13 years, increasing sales by 94% and transforming its business into a globally recognized whiskey brand.

While marketing used to be about creating myths, today it is about finding truths.

– Marc Mathieu, SVP of Marketing @ Unilever

2. Reorganize for global-local alignment and relationship-building

To revitalize its marketing organization for better global-local success, GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer health care division reorganized their marketing in the late 2000’s to closely partner globally-focused brand marketing teams with country general managers tasked with local innovation and resource management. Peter Kirby, GSK’s VP, global marketing excellence, also consolidated the brand’s agency relationships to have a greater percentage of its brands work more closely with agencies like Grey and TBWA that GSK’s marketing leadership felt had better multi-market communications positioning. The changes spurred an 11% increase in sales, while improving in-country marketing innovation.

3. Shorten the feedback loop between local and global

Coca-Cola sells nearly 2 billion servings of its beverages daily. To systematize sales at such scale, Coca-Cola relies on a vast supply chain of local partners who manufacture, package, merchandise and distribute its products, supported by the brand’s global and regional marketing operations and Bottling Investments Group division.

Coca-Cola's Global and Local Brand and Bottling Presence

To improve global-local marketing alignment and scale local successes more quickly, former CMO Joe Tripodi and successor Marcos de Quinto have both focused efforts on shortening the feedback loop between local market insights and global messaging. When Coca-Cola sales spiked in Australia during an Ogilvy campaign that let customers send their friends a Coke with their first name on the label, the brand acted quickly, using its global charter model to successfully re-deploy the  “Share a Coke” campaign in 30 additional countries.

“[We] don’t believe that an idea has to come from the U.S. or London,” remarked Tripodi on how Coca-Cola keeps its marketing relevant in over 200 different countries. “We encourage our agencies to let the best idea win, no matter the geography.” The best ideas are then adapted and distributed to local regions and marketings, enabling what Coca-Cola Chairman-CEO Muhtar Kent calls marketing that is felt “in every country that we operate in large or small.”

4. Streamline content access and guidelines

Although this principle seems intuitive, making it as easy as possible for local teams to access a rich library of global assets, campaign resources and brand guidelines goes a long way to improving global-local brand alignment and visual consistency. By using Percolate as a single, central technology for asset management, image editing and content approval across dozens of different local markets, Unilever captured major efficiencies and economies of scale in its marketing operations, leading to an estimated reduction in average cost per social post by 20% in 18 months.

Global to Local Marketing Campaign Consistency

5. Focus on driving adoption of global systems and processes

Global-local marketing efficiencies accelerate when a company’s marketers speak one marketing language, track the same agreed-upon metrics, centralize core technologies and learn from internal successes and failures. To reinforce such activity, marketing leaders need to invest in making employee-training programs for key technology implementations and processes more thorough and consistent. At Unilever, “brand calibration” sessions are organized for each market to ensure teams are producing content that’s locally relevant, on-brand, and in line with global standards for image quality. Internal Unilever and local agency teams also complete integrated training curriculums on Percolate and other critical marketing processes, then the results are measured with tests, surveys and quarterly check-in meetings.

Today, more than ever, brands can and must realign their marketing for a global stage that features a diverse mix of local performance demands. By systematizing global frameworks, truths, guidelines and tools, then creating a common marketing vocabulary between global and local teams, marketing leaders can craft global messages that make customers feel at home — no matter what language they’re delivered in.

To learn more about how the world’s largest brands are winning on a global and local scale, join us for Transition in New York City on September 28.