The increasing number of mergers and acquisitions in the communications industry reflects the degree to which companies regard global brand building as their goal. Yet while they increasingly perceive the world as one market, many companies remain confused about how best to globalise their brands.
Analysing this issue for the Harvard Business Review, David Aacker and Erich Joachimsthaler conclude that it is often unrealistic for companies to make the creation of global brands their priority. Rather, they believe, marketers should “work on creating strong brands in all markets through global brand leadership”.
This shift in emphasis leads to a template for helping brand builders avoid the pitfalls of global brand communications programmes driven by a desire to achieve economies of scale through uniformity.
The template has four elements: sharing insights and best practice across countries, supporting a common global brand-planning process, assigning management responsibilities, and executing “brilliant brand-building strategies”.
The first three elements are management tasks concerned with developing a global corporate culture, without which global brand leadership cannot be achieved.
The fourth focuses on the commercial communications process. To get the most out of agencies, Aacker and Joachimsthaler suggest appointing country teams to find breakthrough strategies and to apply winning creative formulae to other markets. An example of this is the hair care brand Pantene, for which the “healthy hair” creative strategy originated in Taiwan and was exported to 70 countries.
There are a number of options when deciding whether to use more than one agency to handle global brands. One is to use a group of roster agencies which compete among themselves for individual campaigns. Those which don’t win are retained to pitch for other brands and to implement campaigns locally. Another option is to use a group of offices from within one agency network, an approach which encourages a degree of competition but is arguably better suited to inter-office collaboration.
But perhaps Aacker and Joachimsthaler’s most valuable advice is based on the importance they place on the initial and fundamental process of choosing the brand-building and communications path. Traditionally, that path would have begun with advertising. Now it must begin with an evaluation of all options to determine which is most relevant to the brand.
Agency mergers demonstrate that size is an essential factor in offering global coverage to clients. But size alone will not guarantee success. As clients focus increasingly on the basic question of which communications path to follow, agencies that put integration at the heart of their approach will be best placed to offer the most effective solutions for achieving global brand leadership.