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Think globally, act locally. It’s a decades-old rallying cry that is not often executed effectively. Attempts to implement this overarching management idea as a brand strategy can either be too rigid or too flexible. Not striking the proper balance can lead to brand inconsistency and regional irrelevancy.
This is especially true of consumer-packaged goods (CPG) brands that need to succeed in a specific competitive set. Regions vary widely in common cultural codes for flavor, premium designation or even product usage. Overly strict guidelines can hamper a brand’s ability to flexibly address these differences. At the same time, too much flexibility can lead to ineffective brand communication.
Here are five key steps that CPG brands can take to effectively implement their global strategy on a local level.
Identify the needs of your global product range
Clarifying the breadth of your portfolio will allow you to prioritize your communication objectives. If you have a focused lead product with a simple-to-understand benefit, like Coca-Cola classic, then a strong “brand first” approach can work.
However, if you have a broad selection of products across categories, the brand is probably still first in your priority of communication, but your second priority will be to give flavor/style navigation strong prominence.
In a category like skincare that is complicated to shop due to a broad competitive set or specific benefit offerings, an overt and unified brand play is difficult, but clear brand unifiers will create segmentation cues and benefit communication within the product line. Elements such as color will allow greater system flexibility along with strong blocking at the shelf.
Align to universal global equities
Start with a clear understanding of your strongest equities. Is there a color, brand mark or icon that you can leverage? Are those colors and equities understood on a global level? A global semiotics audit can quickly tell you whether your brand name has an unintended connotation in Latin America or if your premium black feminine care product will resonate in China.
Be smart and selective when you define your equities. You most likely can’t be successful with more than three, so make sure they are the ones that will make the most impact. These typically include logos, icons, colors and overall look and feel (natural, premium, naive, etc.)
Understand regional flexibility
Understanding each culture’s viewpoint on product presentation and packaging is very important. What connotes feminine in your market: sophisticated or girly? Is gold an accepted premium cue or a stuffy traditional cop-out? If you are in a category with extreme cultural divergence, you may need to accept less overt brand unification.
Take the time to do a thorough market analysis. Make sure to get a clear perspective on emerging trends rather than just understanding what current large competitors are doing. Oftentimes, smaller market entrants are leading the way for emerging category cues. In some cases, those cues are the result of global trends that can be leveraged as unifying elements if they support the brand equity.
Share a unified vision and evolution plan
Once you’ve determined steps two and three, share them with key market leaders. Help them clearly understand the strategy and get their input on the potential volatility of change.
It may take several iterations to achieve the optimum brand look for all touchpoints while maintaining consumer affiliation. Engage your regional leads and work with them to build a long-term path to success.
Challenge your marketers and agencies
Global guidelines often cause two reactions within a region: disdain/dismissal or creative surrender. Neither will work well for your brand. If regional agencies completely ignore the guidelines, then our shelf will reflect regional appropriateness but not global brand cohesion, and it may do damage.
Creative surrender can be even worse because this can result in a cookie-cutter version of the brand that fails to address any regional cultural codes and results in precipitous sales drops. Good marketers, whose jobs are often tied to sales results, will flag concerns about this: Listen to them, and challenge yourself and the team to problem-solve.
Brief your regional teams and agencies appropriately on the end state and challenge them to push for breakthrough solutions to solve the tension between global branding and regional relevance. Remember, if you have the right agency, they will relish a creative and strategic challenge and having an opportunity to distinguish themselves for their thinking and talent.
In summary, as more and more acquisitions and expansions lead successful regional brands to go global and existing global brands look to get control of massive portfolios, these think globally, act locally questions will certainly re-emerge. Finding the right solution is not an easy task, but it is possible if you approach the challenge systematically and work through the five key steps discussed above. It will ultimately be a team effort, but with proper planning and well-considered decisions, the way forward can be made clear.