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The new global marketing: why smaller brands now have the potential to go global on their own terms

By Henry Clifford-Jones

February 19, 2013 | 6 min read

We know that digital media are changing the rules for those building and leveraging global brands. What’s less remarked upon is how active a role global brands themselves are taking in that rewriting process, writes LinkedIn director of marketing solutions, Henry Clifford-Jones.

Henry Clifford-Jones

The context for this is understood well enough. Rather than happily forming part of mass-reach broadcast audiences, increasing numbers of people want to engage only with content that matches their professional and personal interests. And they want to engage with that content in their own timeframe and on their own terms. Netflix recently made a big bet on the fact that viewers are longer happy to watch TV on somebody else’s schedule and with somebody else’s ads. And this is likely to be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to audiences time-shifting their content – and dancing off and around campaigns’ best-laid media plans.

The strange thing is, those big global brands that are supposed to be most put out by the fragmentation of media actually appear to be instigating a good deal of the fragmentation themselves.

We covered some great examples in our recent blog on Content Distribution as Kingmaker. The Red Bull Stratos project owed much of its success to the carefully crafted way in which it encouraged people worldwide to consume it through the channel that most suited them: YouTube and Twitter but also conventional, terrestrial TV coverage in relevant markets. When American Express wanted to align itself with live music, it didn’t rely on MTV or VH1 but built its Amex Unstaged brand around online distribution first. Big brands seem surprisingly comfortable leaping across digital and offline platforms and dealing with audiences in smaller and smaller numbers than those traditionally promised by old-school broadcast media.

Even when brands are presented with the opportunity to broadcast messages on a global scale, they seem far more inclined to work on delivering different content experiences for different audiences. Coca-Cola produced more than 100 separate items of branded content around the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, a ten-fold increase over the diversity of activity that it undertook at Beijing in 2008. Today, brands like Coke are acutely aware that reaching everybody requires a range of different channels and experiences, catering to a range of individual tastes. When it comes to social media, the challenge for a brand like this isn’t so much building a mass audience of followers, it’s finding a manageable way to cater to them as individuals in an environment when they have come to expect as much.

When brands deal in audience numbers that are smaller than those once delivered by TV, they need those audiences to be far more meaningful as a result. The potential weakness of some digital content strategies lies in the difficulty of pinning down the people they are speaking to, where and when the conversation is taking place – and what its impact is likely to be. Through the move to iGRPs, online advertising is attempting to establish standards of digital media evaluation that can help to deliver this kind of understanding – but there is still some way to go. And channels that can deliver active audience engagement and meaningfully detailed user data will always offer an advantage when it comes to targeting the right content at the right people. Part of the great strength of LinkedIn as a content platform is the way that it channels expertise directly to the most relevant global audience, enabling a brand such as Philips to manage parallel discussion groups around lighting and health, or a brand such as Citi to build a discussion specifically around the interests and priorities of professional women.

But platforms that enable precision targeting of content don’t just solve a problem for established global brands; they enable smaller business to generate awareness and engagement efficiently across markets as well. The potential for digital distribution of content enables specialist knowledge to travel further and with more impact than ever before (just witness the global success of a publication like Jane's Defence Weekly). And that can allow smaller brands and companies to earn consideration when it comes to purchase decisions outside of their established territories.

In his recent post on the role of social media in IT decision making, Will Koch revealed how three-quarters of purchase decisions in this sector are taken using social media as a guide – and a big part of the motivation for turning to social channels is the objective overview they provide and the access they give to a range of different expertise. Insights like this show that, for smaller brands, audiences’ demand for the most relevant and expert content can represent a great leveller – and a potential opportunity to go global on their own terms.


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