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How to Take Your Global Brand Local
The forces of globalization — the installation of telecommunications infrastructure in more countries, standardized transportation systems and international logistics, a more populated Internet, a burgeoning global middle class — present a bit of a conundrum for marketers and their advertising.
On the one hand, there’s never been a larger potential audience. If you work at a large organization, chances are your organization has set out to realize the promise of emerging markets. Virtually anywhere your brand wants to be, there’s a way to place creative in front of target customers, whether that’s through digital channels like social or through traditional means like out-of-home banners and TV ads.
On the other hand, you’re literally venturing into new territories. Not every advertising strategy or media buying tactic can be neatly copied and pasted from your core markets to unfamiliar regions. And certainly, not every ad or brand element will translate directly.
Here are the things you’ll want to figure out to be able to nimbly create and distribute ads in new, unfamiliar territories.
Put a Global Brand Operating System in Place
Before thinking about localizing or tailoring advertising to a region, you need to know what will stay the same across markets. You need consistency on two levels: visuals and narrative. Achieving that consistency and getting every advertiser on the same page means having a system to distribute on-brand creativity at a global scale.
Brand-building is in large part about being consistently distinctive; certain core brand elements shouldn’t change from region to region. For instance, look at how Head & Shoulders uses the same color pallette and logo in the images it uses in its French website and in its Vietnamese website:
Depending on where your organization is expanding, you may have to reconsider which “core” elements resonate and abandon others to be more effective. Pampers, for instance, learned to stop including a stork in its packaging in the Japan market—the idea of storks carrying babies doesn’t exist in that country.
But with that caveat, your brand should be as visually consistent as possible across regions.
The brand pillars — like the mission and vision for your brand — that advertisements evoke should be the same across the world. Unilever’s vision, for instance, is to make sustainable living commonplace. That’s why sustainability is at the center of the brand’s messaging around the world. And Nike’s vision is to inspire the athlete in everyone, so its messaging is going to speak to inspirational athleticism no matter where it advertises. If your brand vision and mission speak to a human need, you can find a way to tell that story no matter where you are.
To pull off visual and narrative consistency at a global scale, you need a brand “operating system” that sits between the brand’s visuals and global narrative and the brand’s local markets.
This operating system is a combination of people, processes, and technology to keep your different regions aligned on brand’s core visuals and narrative, even as they localize key facets. The system you have in place can facilitate global coordination in at least four ways:
1. Provide visibility into scheduled advertising campaigns around the world, to understand at a glance how the brand is being represented.
2. Sharing photos, videos, and other visual assets between regions, to keep brand elements consistent and reduce the cost of having to purchase visuals at the local level.
3. Facilitate the sharing of entire campaigns from region to region, so that successful initiatives don’t stay confined within one area. “Share a Coke” was first an Australian campaign before it gained worldwide popularity.
4. Make it easy to find and discover new brand guidelines that work in one region and can be applied elsewhere.
Translate Global Narrative to Local Resonance
Once you’ve figured out what will be the same across markets, you can start figuring out what will be different.
For each global campaign you run that will have local ads attached to it, ask: How can marketers translate the brand’s promise, purpose, and positioning for this campaign to align with this unfamiliar region?
Making sure that your global campaign is successfully localized could also mean reorganizing to make sure that question is properly answered; consider partnering marketers at the brand’s center with country-level researchers and team members. This lets you make sure you avoid embarrassing cultural faux-pas or wasted efforts on campaigns that miss the mark while ensuring your brand is positioned in the most relevant way possible.
Understand How People Consume Media To Win Brand Awareness
If your company entered a market, it (should have) identified demand for your brand’s products from a specific audience. These potential customers may or may not have heard of your brand already and may or may not rely on competitors to satisfy their needs.
That means you face an initial decision early on in campaign planning: Target advertising to your target audience or go big on creating mass brand awareness.
You could save advertising money by tightly targeting your most likely buyers. But there are several reasons to go bigger.
1. You may be wrong when it comes to who your most frequent buyers are. New markets will carry their own surprises, and you may find yourself needing to speak to different customer personas. For instance, Pabst Blue Ribbon made an unlikely comeback in the U.S. after decades of slumping sales by nurturing sales among anti-establishment hipsters (ironically, by staying under the radar).
But in China, where the conspicuous consumption of alcohol abounds, the brand goes to market as Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1844, which sells for about $40 USD in 750 milliliter bottles that evoke premium liquor. One ad reads: “It’s not just Scotch that’s put into wooden casks. There’s also Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1844.”
2. Most of a brand’s purchases will likely come from “light buyers.” These are the people that won’t fit your ideal customer persona to a T — so if you advertise simply to those most likely to be heavy buyers, you’re excluding the majority of your purchases.
3. You limit yourself with tight-targeting. When you maximize impressions, you’ll reach out to both likely buyers and light buyers. You might get a lower rate of conversions, but it’s the total number of sales that count when growing brand.
The takeaway: identify the key points where a large number of people can be influenced to buy from your brand. Mapping your strategy purely to a specific persona stunts, not accelerates, brand growth.
Once you’ve done that, you and your team will be able to identify local media and channels to maximize visibility. These will vary, of course; different countries have different media consumption habits. For instance, internet users in Thailand are on social networks for about two hours a day—but in Japan that figure is less than half an hour, according to GlobalWebIndex. Shifts in strategy can even happen at a city-by-city basis; outdoor advertisements can make sense in densely populated cities like Rio de Janeiro, but are an immediate no-go in Sao Paulo, which has banned outdoor advertising.
Work with regional subject matter experts — which could include your team or your local media buyer — to work out which channels will maximize your brand’s exposure.
Finally, don’t fall for the trap of short-termism with your messaging. You may be new to a market right now — you won’t be forever. Demonstrating quick wins to senior leadership is important to provide reassurance, but if your advertising is too focused on driving sales you might sacrifice long-term brand recognition and mental availability. That’s because rational messaging — based on things like price discounts and features — has smaller effects in the long-term than emotional messaging.
Researchers have found that dedicating 60% of advertising budgets to brand-building campaigns and 40% to sales activation maximizes effectiveness and efficiency.
Gauge and Control Non-Working Spend Levels
Once channels have been identified and you’ve determined a mix of brand-building and sales activation campaigns, the creation stage is next for bringing your brand to a new territory.
In a new region, potentially with new marketers or a newly hired local ad agency, it can be easy for production costs to skyrocket.
When you move into a new market, a lack of process, uncoordinated briefing, higher local employee and agency costs, and longer legal reviews could all drive non-working expenses — the dollars your team doesn’t spend on placing materials in front of audiences. It’s a measure of lost opportunity, because high non-working spend levels mean you could have made more impressions and increased broad-based awareness of your band.
The good news is, if you have a good global brand operating system in place, you’re able to cut down considerably already. The purpose of such a system, as stated above, is largely to reinforce visual and narrative consistency across markets. That necessarily means sharing resources — no one should have to reinvent the wheel when thinking about how to visually depict a brand, or how to tell its story. The system you use should allow global-to-local (and local-to-local) sharing of brand attributes and successful campaign descriptions. Each business unit shouldn’t have to involve HQ to ensure brand consistency and move quickly. The system should empower local marketers to tailor, rather than start from scratch.
In the case that you do need to make materials wholesale, use robust briefs and a streamlined approvals process to avoid costly campaign delays. Centralize them in the operating system so that global marketers can make sure that those materials are on-brand.
Navigating unfamiliar territories is a necessary challenge for fast growth brands. A focus on the above — global coordination, local brand building, and cost control — will help ensure that you and your team eventually come to see the new region as a core market.