A version of this article originally appeared in the Harvard Business Review.
When globalization gathered momentum among multinational businesses in the 1980s and 1990s, the mantra “think global, act local” was embraced by marketing executives looking for a system to align brand strategy with local market implementation. Supply chains, budget waterfalls, and agency relationships were modeled to follow this hierarchy: central (global) to regional, regional to country, state, and city.
But while this hub and spoke approach to global marketing still provides benefits like centralizing the brand’s narrative and offering economies of scale in some areas of media buying, it also comes with limitations and unanswered questions. Brazil and India are no longer just connected to a global hub; they’re also more connected to each other than ever before. Can they overcome their distance and differences to learn from one another? Share resources? Can one help the other unlock its full creative potential?
Moreover, as borderless technology networks like Facebook, Google, and Tencent increasingly connect billions of people around the world, everything about the pace, profile, and application of modern media is changing. The majority of consumers who will come online and join the global middle class over the next ten years will be demographically distinct from their predecessors. They will live in regions like Asia and Africa, access needs and services through distributed infrastructure, and, importantly, connect to the web mobile-first. The new mobile customer has arrived, and s/he is forcing companies to rethink the tools and systems that will sustain reach and drive purchasing in these new global and local contexts.
Mobile is an Ecosystem, Not a Device
Today, low-end Android smartphones retail for around $30 in many parts of the developing world, making them widely affordable to many consumer segments. However, “mobile” isn’t just the device. It’s also the operating system, applications, and access to data. Although 118 million new mobile phones are predicted to sell in India in 2015, roughly half of Indian smartphone owners don’t access the internet with them because of prohibitive data costs. In relation to income, a 500MB data plan costs more than two full days of minimum-wage work each month in India. In Nigeria and Mexico, it takes three to four full days’ wages to afford a similar plan.
For brands, advertising to the data-constrained presents both creative and distribution challenges. And in recent years a small group of established technology companies and new problem-solvers are delivering increasingly better platforms to enable data-efficient mobile marketing.
One of the most visible and active solution-providers in this space to date is Facebook, which sees mobile user growth—and advertising revenue —as its core engine for continued growth. Unlike most other tool providers, Facebook’s efforts extend across the mobile advertising supply chain, including programs like Internet.org to bring the two-thirds of the the world without connectivity online, a 451KB “Facebook Lite” Android app that uses less data when mobile bandwidth is scarce, and ad platform optimizations to deliver users more relevant offline shopping offers. Since many of Facebook’s users in this audience segment don’t own a credit card, the platform is also working with customers to give mobile shoppers the option of ordering or reserving a product online, then picking it up by paying cash in store.
Seeing that same opportunity to access a growing global middle class, other companies are starting to unbundle and solve different areas of the mobile marketing value chain. Jana—the brainchild of MIT Professor Nathan Eagle and now the second largest advertising platform behind Google in India—works with brands like Amazon and Twitter to deliver mobile app installs in exchange for providing downloaders mobile data. E-commerce leader Alibaba is also investing in the space through its UCWeb subsidiary, which offers a lightweight, mobile web browser designed to consume less data.
But getting new mobile consumers to a checkout page is only half the battle in e-commerce, where order fulfillment matters a great deal in many parts of the world. Geo-data startup 3words, which has assigned three-word addresses to every square meter on the planet in the local language, could revolutionize e-commerce by allowing people without traditional postal addresses to get products shipped to them. Coupled with the growing penetration of digital and SMS-based mobile payment platforms, 4 billion people around the world without addresses will soon be able to participate in global commerce.
With the device challenge solved and the solution for universal connectivity well underway, the next step is delivering digital speed (to customer) in terms of app and website load speed. In 2012, Amazon reported that one second of latency in page loading cost the company an average of $1.6B; three years later, much of the world is far from sub-one-second latency. This challenge directly impacts e-commerce effectiveness, and is increasingly becoming marketing’s problem to partner with IT to solve. Bandwidth optimization is no longer just an opportunity for technical optimization — it’s an obstacle for building brand.
The New Localization Imperative
As we move toward a world where devices are in every hand, data plans are paid for, and app and website latency are managed, the addressable audience for digital content and commerce is larger than ever before. But increasing connectivity doesn’t necessarily diminish local language, culture, or tastes. Rather, it increases demand for culturally fluent media, making content localization a new imperative for global marketing organizations.
Recognizing a new mandate for local content, companies like Transperfect are going beyond web translation services and consulting directly with advertisers on multicultural and local messaging. At the same time, global brands and centralized marketing teams are adopting new systems to better tap into distributed local market expertise. One global CPG client of my company, Percolate, explained how better reporting from and across markets helped them identify mobile consumer behavior similarities between India and Indonesia. Spotting this trend, the brand’s global digital team connected the local teams in both markets so each could share resources, creative assets, and best practices with one another.
Ultimately, centralized brand governance — and the hub-and-spoke global marketing structure employed by most organizations — isn’t going away, but it is clearly evolving. And to reach and engage the new mobile consumer, it must evolve further — and mobile is central to that transformation. As emerging local marketing efforts contribute more to the global bottom line, local brand managers are increasingly held to global standards of creativity, brand consistency, and operational efficiency. Today entire campaign workflows from briefing and planning to content creation to brand approvals are happening on mobile devices. With the help of brand approval smartphone apps (like the one Percolate built), companies like Unilever are capturing cost and time efficiencies by being able to collaborate with local agencies and remote teams to review and publish content without an Internet connection.
Increasingly, marketers — and a burgeoning technology ecosystem supporting them — have the tools to reach more people, faster, and with greater relevance than ever before. In other words, we’ve arrived in a world where we need to simultaneously “think global, act global” and “innovate local, share local.” And, more and more, those connections are happening on mobile devices with a new type of consumer whose digital history is as rich as it is short.
It’s a world made possible by mobile.