[This essay originally appeared on Forbes.]

In a global world, brands need to speak a lot of different customers’ languages. And, as mobile, social and software increasingly break down traditional communications borders and transform how brands communicate with consumers, marketing leaders are facing new strategic challenges as they look to develop global marketing fluency.

1. The Convergence of Brand and Customer

Today, every customer is a multichannel customer and every employee is a steward of your brand’s story and culture. The carries several important implications for org structure, brand strategy and enterprise technology needs.

The first is that the connection — and organizational “ownership” of the conversation — between marketing and service need to be as seamless as the experience for buyers passing from pre-purchase (interaction and exposure to marketing messages) to post-purchase (interaction and exposure to marketing, community and service communications). It’s becoming more common for brands to separate service accounts on Twitter from their primary branded account to streamline social customer service (examples: @AmazonHelps@ATTCustomerCare, @MicrosoftHelps, @WarbyParkerHelp), while simultaneously centralizing help desk tickets and customer interaction records in one CRM or database for use across departments. In most companies, marketing is taking responsibility for a larger percentage of the customer lifecycle and service communications it includes. However, in an alternate example from Optimizely, a fast-growing leader in A/B testing software, all social media and community management functions sit inside its service organization, rather than marketing.

A second, related takeaway is that as the customer experience happens across an increasingly diverse set of brand interaction points throughout sales, marketing, services, engineering and potentially retail for brands selling physical products, every employee is acutely becoming a brand ambassador. According to a 2014 omnichannel study from ZenDesk, 67% of consumers make e-commerce purchases through multiple channels, meaning more than 2/3rds of online shoppers experience brand touch points from multiple teams or departments before making a purchase. Regardless of how much planning has gone into a company’s values and culture, those two attributes play a critical role in how a brand’s people tell its story, both directly and indirectly via their personal social accounts, blogs and conduct. Similarly, whether or not someone is taking ownership for what your brand stands for and how it should be communicated, employees will communicate it — in sales emails, customer service interactions, recruiting interviews and everywhere else. Tomorrow’s CMO will need to educate and mobilize this audience, using new channels like mobile, social and software to lead them.

2. The Future of Agency Alignment

It’s not easy to be an agency these days. Marketing and advertising have become for too dynamic, technical and multi-channel for any single agency to act as a full-service, one-stop-shop for a complex global brand. However, at the same time, agencies that historically acted as “local specialists” need to increasingly integrate their work, storytelling and/or media buying with big global ideas, themes and brand movements — as well as the creative that comes with it. Moreover, although marketing continues to become more technical and programmatic, agencies have been slow to develop true expertise in systems design and integration. Agencies can and will be key technology influencers, but — outside of a few exceptions like Acceleration, HUGE and Sapient Nitro — rarely are they architects.

Tomorrow’s global marketing leaders need to think about the right approach to developing and structuring agency relationships to get the most out of their capabilities. What partnership structure will let the brand leverage talent and technical expertise across a major holding companies’ agency portfolios, while simultaneously connecting local agency expertise to a global, closed-loop system for planning, execution and reporting across teams and geographies? And where and how should agency workflows be integrated with a marketing technology architecture whose goal is to reliably connect creative with revenue attribution?

3. A Global Hub-and-Spoke Brand System

Structure needs to follow strategy, and as marketing evolves, departments, teams and responsibilities need to as well. As core brand pillars and “big idea(s)” become globalized faster by international, borderless channels like Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, top performing marketing organizations are frequently restructuring towards a global-to-region model, where regional teams translate global ideas into regional — then ultimately local — action plans, media and campaign positioning. For CMOs and global marketing leaders this process must be planned, organized and orchestrated across six strategic layers:

The Six Layers of Global Marketing Strategy

Strategy LayerDescription
Brand pillarsThe brand’s promise, purpose and positioning
Brand growth planThe strategy to build sales and market share
Big idea / storyThe single global story connected to the growth plan
Global connections planThe key points where consumers are converted or influenced to buy the brand.
Local connections planWhere global connections are mapped to local channels and media
Operating architectureHow ideas and content are shared across teams and geographies

Source: Percolate’s 2015 Global Marketing Handbook.

However, global brands often vary broadly in terms of the strength of their central digital influence. Some brands, like Coca-Cola and GE, are highly effective at centrally deploying standardized programs to regional offices and teams. By comparison, Nestlé varies its approach significantly on a country-by-country basis depending on its local market presence, share, sophistication and resources. In the latter case, a strong, autonomous local management will have to buy in to the big idea for effective global-local marketing coordination. At Lexus, 25 senior marketers representing ten different global regions all work together to plan new product releases, then meet quarterly with local teams and agencies for feedback sessions on local implementation. P&G has also employed a similar approach with some of its recent product launches. Product, branding and positioning are designed centrally, then local managers are invited to suggest how the global program can be improved and adapted in their markets.

Whichever model your brand employs, cross-regional team collaboration is a key element in success global marketing orchestration. In our recent Marketing Executive Insights Study, nearly half (47%) of low-performing marketing organizations’ leaders cited collaboration across different teams and stakeholders as a capability weakness. Being able to take an activation that’s successful in one market then tailor and re-deploy it to other strategic markets like Brazil or India has increasingly become a critical capability for global brands.

4. The Internet of Everything

More and more products are becoming complex systems that use sensors and software to share data with other systems. This Internet of Things — or Internet of Everything, depending on who’s writing about it — is an abstract term for a very real and tangible trend where physical things like packing labels or pill bottles become internet connected. According to Gartner, the volume of physical goods connected to the internet will increase by nearly 500% over the next five years to 25 billion units, with trillions of dollars in economic impact coming alongside it.


Smart, connected products will allow marketers to form new kinds of marketing relationships, while also gathering new data and insights on customer preferences and behavior. Leveraged strategically, connected products will enable more personalization of marketing messages, better product storytelling, and a more inspired, immersive customer experience. Walgreens developing a mobile app for customers to print their Instagram, Facebook and Dropbox photos in store, for example, or Tesla creating software where its cars automatically schedule a valet to pick them up for service appointments so owners don’t have to spend time worry about third-party garages or maintenance.

Walgreen's mobile photo app for Instagram and Facebook


For marketers looking to understand this trend better, please also see our recent report, The Trillion Dollar Customer Experience Trend.

5. Talent and Team Structure

The evolving speed and complexity in modern marketing is making it harder or CMOs to staff teams of generalists. Both internally and with external resources, marketing leaders need to organize for expertise around a new set of key competencies recently profiled in Percolate’s Global Marketing Strategy Handbook, including:

– Data science, analytics and cross-channel attribution
– User experience design and development
– Mobile
– Content marketing and brand storytelling
– Connected experiences and devices
– Marketing technology evaluation and integration

Overall, marketing leaders will need to recruit new talent and [re]educate existing teams to keep pace with a rapidly evolving landscape of channels, tactics and technologies. This may entail a portfolio of talent, employee and culture initiatives, including developing new education programs, incentivizing marketers to participate in relevant massive open online courses (MOOCs), building internal systems to accelerate the transfer of internal expertise from subject matter experts and top-performing teams to laggards, working more closely with agency and consulting partners on digital re-education, developing venture, accelerator and center of excellence programs that proactively evaluate, acquire and learn from startups and industry innovators. In some cases, even executive education is being reinvented, with universities like Harvard and UPenn’s Wharton School of Business introducing new digitally-informed CMO development curriculums.