Why Marketers Need to Think Local to Sell Global

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By James Trowman

What lands well in one market, won’t necessarily work in another. Take The Office. Ricky Gervais’s mockumentary was a breakthrough hit with UK TV audiences and was soon sold stateside. But the American version’s initial episode, which replicated the British show exactly, fell flat. It was only when writers tailored the jokes and characters to the humour of the US audience that it became an Emmy-winning success in its own right.

Adapting how we communicate with different audiences is important to successful marketing, too. People may be more connected than ever, but marketers shouldn’t confuse increased digital connectivity for similarity. New tools mean we feel closer, but let’s not lose sight of the differences between us.

Culture remains localised. Messaging that appeals in America might not translate as well in France, China or even other English-speaking countries such as the UK. But too often the desire to work centrally – and with consistency – overshadows this fact. The problem that global organisations face is how do you build a content function that maintains quality and control, but also allows for flexibility to tailor to local markets?

Strong global marketing reflects this need for balance. At The Frameworks, we work with many international organisations including IBM, Siemens and UST, and we have experienced this from both angles, collaborating with teams centrally or in the local market. So we’re perfectly placed to understand the central-local dynamic – and how to avoid its pitfalls.

A question of nuance

It’s not surprising that global businesses like using a central marketing team. It gives a company greater visibility of what they are telling the world, ensures a consistent look and feel across materials and makes it easier to align marketing with overarching business targets. This united front makes sense for global accounts.

But there are huge challenges when developing messaging to work across all markets. Content that’s created centrally without acknowledging that local markets are nuanced often creates complications. If a message doesn’t speak to a local audience, it can affect a brand’s success in that region, and – if it really misses the mark – even damage a business’s reputation. 

That can be for several reasons. The creative may simply not resonate with the market, the tone-of-voice may not appeal to them, or it could be a matter of market maturity; people in one region may have a deep understanding of a concept, but elsewhere the target audience may have never heard of it. The creative concept will simply be lost on them.

But the answer isn’t handing over all the marketing budget to local teams. While that may lead to hyper-relevant content, it jeopardises quality control and simply isn’t as economical; messaging will be duplicated across markets and there will be too much varied creative out in the wild. That’s a recipe for a confused brand.

Meet in the middle

There isn’t a simple fix. It’s not about choosing one or the other but finding a happy medium. A global organisation needs to focus on creating an informed central framework for campaigns that can be tailored and delivered by local teams for specific locations.

It starts with strategy. As with the creative itself, people with knowledge of key markets ideally need to contribute to the central framework. This way, the chosen approach will have the whole range of end consumers in mind, and the marketing plan will be richer, more adaptable to those different markets and, ultimately, more likely to succeed.

Technology makes alignment between central and local teams easier. Workflow management tools enable people in different markets to work together, without having to be in the same room. Transparent workflows allow everyone involved to see the centralised campaign strategy and later monitor how creative is being adapted in each region. This unlocks the potential for nuanced messaging across markets, without sacrificing quality or control.

Don’t forget to listen

Technology is important for understanding markets, too. The experience of team members based in different geographies is crucial, but social listening tools help you to sense check what will really work there.

At The Frameworks, we recently worked on local audience research for a global client. The organisation wanted to talk about a specific business area in a hyper-relevant way. So, we took that central concept and explored how different markets were talking about it.

This involved unpicking LinkedIn research and using social listening tools to overlay the overarching conversation onto regional research. This process revealed the nuances of the topic for those markets – and the best strategy for talking to them.

Think local, sell global

Marketers are faced with many complexities when working on global accounts. And as the global economy grows more complex, companies that can cut through and unlock the secrets of consumer choice, both locally and globally, will gain a competitive advantage.

A consistent message is important for a global account, but to get there you need to think local and look for ways that marketing materials can be customised to your key markets. Only that way can global accounts be sure that their communications are working for them – and their audiences – to the full.

James Trowman is a partner at The Frameworks.

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