National values can be exported

Successful global companies have become adept at assimilating their positive national characteristics into a universal international brand identity. By John Shannon. John Shannon is president of Grey International

As the trend towards globalisation continues, one of the dilemmas facing the international marketing industry concerns the use of national identity in enhancing brand values.

On one hand, global brand builders aim to construct a unified image for their products and services to emphasise their global stature and universal qualities.

On the other, they cannot ignore the fact that the values associated with individual countries, of benefit in one market, may be less acceptable in another.

This dilemma is of particular significance in Germany. As German companies continue to take significant steps forward on the world market, the question of brand values and national heritage is being fiercely debated. Its current relevance is such that the issue was recently the subject of a major conference in Berlin.

One of the examples under discussion was that of the major German car manufacturers. Brands such as Audi or Mercedes have long been admired for qualities that are inextricably linked with their German origin — most notably, functional design and engineering reliability.

Companies such as these appear to have a fairly straightforward choice – either they can position their products and national brands with reference to their national heritage or they can become genuine global brands.

Success in developing their brands internationally lies in retaining the positive values that have historically been associated with their nationality, and transferring these into their uniform international corporate brand identity.

But in order to realise this they must develop a consistency in every aspect of their marketing mix.

Audi and Mercedes are among a select band of companies which have achieved this. Both have accompanied their international expansion with a shift away from referring to their national heritage towards building a corporate image.

In effect, they have overcome the national versus international dilemma by successfully incorporating those relevant German values into their own universal brand image so that both brands are un iversally synony mous with quality and function. The brands speak for themselves.

As Hermann Goldkamp of Audi AG, Ingolstadt, told the Berlin conference, these days “an Audi is an Audi”.

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