Global vs. Local – the pitfalls and possibilities for brands from Duracell International's CMO

Should your brand think global?

Multinational brands are an integral part of consumer culture across the globe – and because of their scale, they are also the key drivers of corporate profits. But for a marketer, with global brands comes great responsibility – particularly when establishing how ‘global’ you really want to be. It’s a fundamental question for any multi-market brand, yet something that can be fiendishly difficult to get right: to run your marketing globally, or locally?

The answer, of course, lies in the balance between local consumer relevance and global operating efficiencies. To paraphrase David Ogilvy, if it isn’t relevant, it doesn’t sell – but on the other hand, marketing as ‘the art of money making’ is as relevant today as it was in the 18th Century.

So here are five key considerations, based on more than 20 years’ experience in global and multi-region brand building. Technological and cultural shifts have seen marketing as an industry change significantly over that period, and the necessity to make every dollar count is now greater – if more difficult – than ever. Asking yourself these questions is a great place to start.

1. Establish how common (or uncommon) consumer needs in your category are

The categories with the commonest consumer needs are built on industrial standards: think airplanes, computers, disposable batteries or electronic equipment. In such categories, consumer expectation is based around about adherence to (or going beyond) respective industry standards and levels of innovation versus ‘this feels like a brand for me’.

Generally speaking, a simple rule applies: the further your category usage is from the consumer, the more global your marketing needs are going to be.

Second only to these industrial standards are ‘out of home’ categories, like automobiles and credit cards. Both being transportation vehicles, everyone would agree that a car is more personal than an airplane – but only to a degree. Something like fashion is an interesting category – as while every fashionista celebrates his or her unique style, fashion matters mostly out of the home, and is therefore in its nature very global. Consider, for instance, that every season we accept a Pantone guidance on the ‘in’ color, or the ‘it’ shoe of the season. Being an out of home category, fashion is on the whole governed by global trends, and therefore needs less local personalization.

Inside the home, the same rule applies: the closer your category to a consumer’s personal space, the more local the marketing need. Personal cleaning and grooming products, for example, benefit tremendously from local insight, and needs are often not just common but biological.

One example of a category which requires localized advertising is food – which goes not just close to, but into your consumer’s body – and is governed by extensive subliminal consumer preferences, traditions, history, taste palates and choices.

In order to establish how common or uncommon your brand category needs are, you can take different degrees of sophistication. Yes, you can commission extensive (and expensive) consumer research studies such as habit and practices or equity scans. However, I’d argue that you could just as successfully use common sense. Often, simple qualitative work or standard advertising tests will work just as well. All you’re looking for is where you sit on a scale of ‘common needs across markets’ to ‘very different local needs’. If you’re closer to the former, there is less need for extensive localized marketing than if you’re nearer to the latter – in which instance, it is crucial.

2. Consider your level of investment into brand building globally per year

Whatever your answer to the first question, there is a degree of making the numbers work. Total up how much you spend on brand building annually. This should include all consumer-facing brand investment – above the line, digital, e-commerce platforms, in-store, and so on. Include everything but trade-focused spend, as this is a commercial transaction and not directly equity building.

I’ll be candid here: if your total, global yearly spend is less than half a billion US dollars, you’re lacking scale and would benefit from running the brand globally. If, however, your annual brand investment figure is around half a billion or beyond, you can afford to make a local play. But remember: just because you can afford to, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

3. Next, establish your marketing model by correlating consumer needs and global investment

This is the part where marketing judgement (your conclusion to point #1) meets financial science (your conclusion to point #2). If your brand has common consumer needs and annual global investment of below one-third of a billion US dollars, you must run the brand globally. Anything else, and you’ll be wasting resources on duplication of work and – even worse – dealing with brand inconsistencies, which aside from being a waste of money, is actively damaging.

In contrast, if your category needs are very local and you have global scale of investment, the importance of local insight will always justify a local set up.

And what about those brands that fall in the middle – with either needs being local while investment being low, or needs being common but investment being high? There’s no one-size-fits-all solution, I’m afraid – you’ll need to make a call on how important an immediate profitability boost is to your long-term brand play.

4. Consider that brand building on a global vs. local scale delivers 94% to 79% savings

This is the difference in the end-to-end, ‘all in’ costs, covering design, qualification, production and local/legal adaptation from global to each of your markets vs. doing it all locally. This covers all brand design elements including advertising, websites, in-store, tool-box, media strategy and content creation. It’s a huge amount of work.

A global brand set-up delivers significant operating efficiencies, and for brands in categories with common consumer needs, it is irresponsible not to implement such a model. On the other hand, we’ve already established that if it is not relevant, it doesn’t sell.

5. Remember that universally, there are two brand pillars that must always remain global

Irrespective of the commonality of your category needs and the opportunities for operating efficiencies, you must keep your brand visual and identity assets global. This includes brand fonts, icons, logos, primary and secondary colors, brand patterns and, importantly, brand character.

This should be untouchable territory for local brand practitioners and part of global brand DNA that underpins all communication, whatever marketing model you decide to employ.

Tatiana-Vivienne Jouanneau is chief marketing officer at Duracell International

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