Brand value is matter of taste

Global consumers are far from the victims of ‘culture clash’, rather they actively pursue an exchange of beliefs so that brand values are woven into the fabric of society, says John Shannon

The trend towards globalisation, not only in marketing but across many facets of society, has received, and will continue to receive, a lot of attention.

The seemingly inexorable growth of the Internet is perhaps the most compelling example, but the trend is also evident in the expansion strategies of retail groups such as Carrefour and Wal-Mart, as well as the ongoing consolidation of the world’s leading media groups.

While many of these developments are welcomed by the public for the wealth of opportunities they generate, others are criticised for their insensitivity to – even destruction of – local customs and traditions.

Smart marketers have long realised that, while the desire to maximise their product distribution or service may be strong, a one-size-fits-all approach is usually inadequate.

Often, this realisation leads them to introduce product or service variants to cater for local tastes and customs – for example, Mc-Donald’s McAloo vegetarian tikka burgers in India, or the anticipated addition of pizza to its menus in Italy.

While many people applaud the flexibility of such initiatives, they are unable to overcome resistance if the overall proposition is rejected.

It is an issue that is dealt with at length in Tanz der Kulturen (Culture Dance), a book written by two anthropologists, Ina Zukrigl and Joana Breidenbach, which was released earlier this year in Germany. Zukrigl and Breidenbach challenge the view that globalisation amounts simply to homogenisation, imposition or the conquest of local audiences by concepts developed elsewhere – typically the US.

They argue that interpretation is a local issue and, rather than a culture clash, what we are seeing as a result – and cause – of globalisation is more akin to products or services being woven into a variety of local fabrics in a multi-directional exchange process.

Far from being the inevitable “victims” of such a process, modern societies actively seek and accept such exchanges. As the author Virginia Postrel pointed out recently in the Wall Street Journal: “In our media-savvy age, consumers are neither morons nor puritans. We are active participants in the exchange with producers and persuaders. We decide not only which products but which meanings to adopt – and which to reject. Consumers are informed, self-directed actors.”

For most marketers, this exchange incr easingly involves dealing with multinational, multicultural audiences to whom companies must tailor products and services, as well as the communications which accompany them. For this process to be successful, we must be prepared to continually interrogate and respect the true nature of their role.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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