With internet communities sniffing for controversies and contradictions in everything that global companies do, it's never been more important to ensure that a company's brand values remain consistent across the world, writes Martin Moll, head of European marketing at Honda.
"I know that this idea doesn’t tie in with the global strategy, but it would work really well in this country. It won’t have any effect on the other regions, so why can’t we just go ahead?"
If your brand is active in multiple territories, at some point you will hear a variation of these words. Sometimes they’ll ask nicely, and other times – more worryingly – they’ll just do it. It’s a tempting proposition; every country or region is different, after all, and marketers in charge of one specific territory will always argue that theirs is unique in some way and needs a special twist on the global marketing strategy.
First things first – I’d never argue that marketing activity should be the same in every country. Different markets respond to different things, and you’d be daft to try the same approach in Sunderland as you would in Salvador. However, marketers need to take the utmost care to ensure that their brands’ values are represented consistently around the world – no easy task, and something which is easily lost when territories go rogue.
Almost monthly, a brand with a big western presence suffers the consequence of a rogue local agency which decides to show a bit of unwarranted initiative.
The biggest risk of letting one country do its own thing is offending people. Almost monthly, a brand with a big western presence suffers the consequence of a rogue local agency which decides to show a bit of unwarranted initiative. Step forward Burger King, which raised eyebrows as well as the attention of angry customers when it ran a particularly sordid advert for its "Super Seven Incher" (you can probably work out why it caused offence without clicking the link).
Their US response to justified criticism was almost worse than the original ad – along the lines of "we respect everyone, but anyway it wasn’t us, it was the Singapore franchisee and it will sell a lot of burgers over there" – and highlights what they’ve failed to recognise: an ad shown in Singapore will find its way to offended viewers around the world so quickly that you’ll often find (as Burger King did) that jaws will drop simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic.
Respecting the global strategy
So how do you make sure that markets toe the line and respect the global strategy and values? There’s no one answer, but in my experience, when marketers decide to do their own thing, it’s because they’ve lost faith in the overarching strategy. It’s never sufficient to simply send a plan to your territories and expect it to magically work – you’ll need to speak to the people whose job it is to put those plans into action and explain why this is the most effective way to do things, and tease out any concerns before they manifest themselves in this way.
Advertising is of course only one key component of the puzzle, although it’s often the most visible. When times are hard, you might find that territories are desperate to cut prices in order to drive sales, regardless of the long-term consequences. For a brand like Honda, which prides itself on consistent value and steers away from gimmicks and sales, this presents a problem – when countries have targets to meet and want to slash prices, what do you do? Again, it’s a case of making sure that everyone within your company understands the logic behind what you’re doing so that they can see why it’s important that all countries support the strategy.
While an idea might be clear to you and your team, it’s important for everyone outside of the marketing team to live and breathe the brand. They need to understand it, have the ability to express how the brand feels and know what its traits are. This is a huge undertaking but one that brings minds together so that when slogans and marketing strategies are devised, everyone knows what to do.
Every country is different, that’s for sure, and it’s important to recognise that your marketing strategy will manifest itself differently in various countries. However, it’s absolutely crucial that the basic principles of the brand are well-explained, justified and shared internally so that they remain constant throughout the world.