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It’s the dream of any brand manager: building a brand whose reach exceeds the local market, crosses country lines, and extends around the globe. To be a brand recognized worldwide, with customers on every continent, is no small feat, and can mean limitless opportunity for companies. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility — meaning that once you’ve reached this impressive milestone, there is a great deal of work to be done to manage a global brand successfully.
Are you working with a multi brand? See more on that here.
Thankfully, there are some clear best practices that can help guide brand managers in this enormous endeavor. Let’s look at the central pillars of successful global brand management:
No matter how good your product or service is, your brand will not resonate with consumers if there’s not a deeper mission or vision behind it. This becomes increasingly important when your brand has entered a worldwide market and becomes subject to cultural variations, translation challenges, and varied marketplaces. While the specific tactics used from nation to nation may differ (more on that below), they should all be driven by the same core strategy. By having one central message that remains constant worldwide, brands protect their integrity, reinforce their identity, and build trust with consumers.
What’s more, having a single global message allows a company to be much more efficient. Pursuing dozens of different strategies in various different markets around the world leads to disjointed and inefficient branding and marketing efforts, while also undermining the global identity of your brand. You can look to some of the biggest global brands for examples of what a consistent global strategy looks like: Coke, for instance, has one core global mission: “To Refresh the World,” while Visa promotes the unvarying message of “worldwide acceptance.”
We’ve written at length about the importance of brand consistency; it builds brand awareness, bolsters consumer trust, and helps build real relationships with customers. Consistency is why, for example, a German woman traveling in Japan might choose to stop into a Starbucks: she knows that despite the fact that she’s in a foreign country, she can expect the same round, dark wood tables, the same ordering process, the same quality of coffee. Successful global brands like Starbucks ensure that their core values, customer experience, and aesthetics are reflected in every single location around the world.
Consistency, however, doesn’t mean rigidity. Brands need to veer away from being too literal when it comes to enforcing brand consistency in a global market. Rather than following the original brand guidelines to a tee, a successful global brand manager will understand the essence of the brand’s identity and think critically about how that translates to different environments.
They will balance clear brand guidelines with a flexibility that allows for adjustments that suit different cultures and markets. Consistency here doesn’t mean using identical messaging worldwide: it means having the wisdom to adapt to local circumstances and opportunities while avoiding any contradictions to the brand identity.
When you’re first establishing brand identity and positioning, you spend a lot of thinking and learning about your target customer and what they want. The thing is, this is usually done on a more local scale, thinking about specific groups of people within a particular region or country. Once your brand has gone global, you need to revisit that customer discovery process to better understand what people in different markets want.
That means diving into the culture, aesthetics, and values of each market, as well as researching the competitive landscape. What do people want in this area? What do they need? Are there unique challenges posed by policy, lifestyle, infrastructure, etc? It’s also important to look at cultural sensitivities and norms, to ensure that your brand positioning doesn’t offend or clash with the customary way of doing things in a certain country.
You cannot be an effective global brand manager without first understanding the needs of customers in every country your brand touches. It’s essential for global brand managers to put in the upfront effort to do this research, and to always remember that it’s the brand’s job to fit into customers’ existing lifestyles, not vice versa.
As we mentioned above, it’s important to be driven by one single global strategy, but it’s also critical to adjust your specific tactics from market to market. While some brand managers might argue that this compromises brand integrity, this fails to understand the importance of cultural norms and country-specific market competition. Indeed, by being clear about their core brand values and global strategy, brands can easily implement different tactics in different places without compromising brand identity.
These changes could take a number of different forms, from tweaking logo colors to rewording taglines to different product features to new strategic positioning and beyond. To name one oft-cited example, McDonald’s has certain menu items that are only available in certain countries, a brand choice that not only helps them fit better into different cultures but also generates a buzz, with people in other countries curious about these foreign menu options. Honda, meanwhile, has positioned itself as reliable and high-quality in the United States, but in Japan, where reliability and quality are taken for granted, it positions itself as youthful and energetic.
Both of these examples show brands can be more successful by emphasizing their key differentiators and responding to the desires of the specific market, and both succeed in doing this without compromising their brand identity.
Communication is important for brand management at the local or national level, but it becomes even more crucial when you’re running a global brand. Team members in every market need to have an understanding of the brand promise, of new launches or campaigns, of best practices and insights. Each department in each country needs to understand what the brand is offering and how it is going to operate, or risk brand consistency and identity suffering.
To do this, processes and policies need to be put in place that encourage and incentivize sharing communication. This may mean creating a public forum where local brand managers can share their knowledge and takeaways from country to country, or having regular brand planning meetings where global brand managers from different countries connect and strategize with one another. For example, Frito-Lay sponsors a “market university” several times a year in which marketing directors from around the world meet in-person for one week.
Another way to encourage communication is to offer incentives. The consulting firm American Management Systems, for instance, kept track of employees who posted insights and best practices to the company network, and rewarded them accordingly in performance reviews.
All of these practices allow brand managers to learn what has worked and failed in different markets, and they can use these insights to better inform their campaigns going forward.
Managing a global brand can be very challenging, but by adopting a consistent-yet-flexible mindset, implementing a few key policies and processes, and keeping the lines of communication open, it is imminently doable. Indeed, the world is your brand’s oyster if you can put in the time and effort to crack the shell.
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