International marketing should carry a health warning for the accident-prone. Some of the traps that corporations plunge into –
such as advertising in Spanish in Brazil, where the locals speak Portuguese – are hugely embarrassing. Other communications fall on deaf ears, not because they are offensive or inept, but because they sound the wrong note.
One of the toughest choices in international marketing is deciding whether to run the same campaign globally, or to tweak or reinvent communications for each audience. Veer too far towards localisation and you risk losing out on valuable marketing economies; cling doggedly to a one-size-fits-all global template and your brand may
fail to impact on locals.
It is a perennial dilemma in which projected return on investment should guide strategy. This is where market research has a role to play by helping brand owners make decisions that are grounded in local knowledge. However, though this may work in theory, Alex Maule, associate director of research company Synovate UK, says it does not always work in practice: “What often happens is companies develop their marketing in one country and then treat research as a filter for disaster checking, instead of trying to discover what would work best in each market.”
One campaign fits all
One company that has done some thinking around developing better global strategies is Research International. In 2002, RI ran a worldwide qualitative study of how consumers view the world’s biggest brands. On the back of this, it developed a typology to help
companies work out when it is useful to adapt to local culture and when it is not.
At one end of the spectrum, RI places “prestige” brands. Generally found in high-ticket categories and strongly associated with their country of origin, prestige brands have a cachet that people the world over want to share in. RI Qualitatif global director Greet
Sterenberg says: “For a brand such as BMW, being seen to be German is very important because the association with Germany carries with it expectations of engineering excellence.”
At the other extreme are brands that RI calls “GloCal”. These include everyday goods marketed by companies such as Nestle which have a talent for fitting into local markets so that consumers often think of their brands as home-grown.
Think big, act bigger
Somewhere between these poles sit two intermediate categories. “Master brands”, such as Coca-Cola and Nike, are the big hitters of the consumer landscape. Similar to prestige brands, they enjoy an iconic status. However, it is a status that stems not from provenance, but simply from being the best known and most successful names in their category. RO says that like prestige brands, these star performers should be wary of making local modifications that could leave consumers feeling less certain about what the product stands for.
On the next rung down are brands such as American Express, Pepsi and Shell. Universally recognised, but not iconic, Sterenberg suggests these brands could try fine-tuning their offers as a way of making themselves more “relevant” to consumers.
Knowing when to localise isn’t simply a matter of spotting where your brands sits in relation to your competitors, however. To market themselves effectively, global brands must also understand the cultures into which they are selling. Here, RI distinguishes between marketing to countries that pride themselves on being open to global influences and those, such as France, that define themselves through a deeply held sense of national identity and pride in &#169; their culture. “In some consumer markets, particularly in developing countries, having access to global brands is seen as hugely important,” says Sterenberg. “It’s a way of feeling connected to the wider world, part of the global ‘tribe’.”Oversimplification?
Typologies paint a simplified picture of the world that does not always match the messy reality of day-to-day brand management.
Firstly, there are the shared lifestyles that cut acrossborders, linking wealthy elites in different continents, and the economic and cultural chasms that exist within nations; between urban centres and rural hinterlands or upwardly mobile youth and traditionally minded older consumers. Then there are the constraints imposed upon strategy by corporate culture and straightforward accidents of history.”What businesses decide to do with their brands is often a response to a legacy that they’ve inherited from the past,” says Chris Forest, partner at research agency The Nursery. A business like Unilever, which for many years has sold core products under various names, starts from a base of needing to rationalise its marketing, he argues. The flip-side of this, however, is that a highly standardised global business might benefit by tempering its monolithic image with a touch of local colour. McDonald’s is a classic example of a corporation that blends local and global influences in its marketing, leavening its ubiquitous “I’m Lovin’ It” strapline with local sponsorship, link-ups with national sporting &#169; heroes and a nod in the direction of local menu choices -such as a Croque McDo in France or a Veg McCurry in Japan.
Mind the cultural gap
Analytical frameworks, such as those produced by RI, provide a platform for thinking creatively about strategy, but the generalised
hypotheses they offer are no more than starting points; rules of thumb that businesses need to test through primary research. This raises the question of how to bridge the cultural gap that divides researchers from their subjects.To begin with, there is the problem of how to overcome issues of translation. HPI Research senior partner Juliet Strachan says: “A phrase such as ‘classic car’ may translate literally into another language, but actually carry a very different meaning between markets. It’s not enough to translate a questionnaire. You really need a re-translation, back into the original language, to check that the sense has been preserved.”However, making sense of other cultures isn’t just about accurate reporting. To pick up on the commercial significance of what people say, it is important to grasp the unspoken assumptions that attach to people’s thoughts, as well as listening to their words. New approaches to insight that immerse researchers mentally, and sometimes physically, in other lifestyles could point the way forward.Flamingo International founder and director Kirsty Fuller sees a big role for semiotics, an analytical technique that opens up the cultural baggage associated with language and imagery. “If you are a cosmetics manufacturer seeking to enter a market, it’s very important to look at the local signifiers for beauty. Who are the celebrities, are they local or global? What are other brands communicating about beauty through their packaging and advertising?” For another take on the world, Fuller recommends talking to academics and cultural analysts, such as psychologists and sociologists, as well as
employing ethnographic techniques that mix talking to consumers with close observation of what people get up to in their everyday lives.
An authority for authorities
Once a niche market, international research is now powering the growth of the research industry. Part of this expansion is down to
the spread of global brands and the opening of new markets. However, multinational corporations are not the only clients using
international research. With governments and &#169; local authorities embracing branding, agencies are discovering a new outlet for their services, helping clients turn regions and sometimes whole countries into marketable brands.
Richard Buchanan, head of corporate branding at consultant Corporate Edge, says researching “place” brands poses the same challenge as commercial brands – it is just more complex. “With a product brand, a marketer has the luxury of being single-minded, but with a place there are multiple audiences to whom the brand must appeal – sources of inward investment, tourists and export markets. The trick is to use research to tease out the common themes and find something that can supply a simple, meaningful idea that works for all of the audiences.”
Ideas with the imaginative force to cross cultures are the life-blood of international marketing, nowhere more so than when the aim is to inspire travellers to visit your country. But will an image that whets the curiosity of a first-time visitor to the UK from Korea tempt a would-be tourist from somewhere culturally closer to home, such as Canada or New Zealand? Again, market research is needed to guide the creative strategy.
Sometimes the subtlest of adjustments to a campaign can pay dividends. Nunwood Consulting recently looked at how Scotland was viewed as a holiday destination in continental Europe. Client consultant Anna Lilleengen says: “Many of the perceptions of Scotland cut across national boundaries, but there were some differences.” In particular, the research found that while German tourists were drawn to images of pristine natural beauty, French and Spanish travellers
wanted to know more about local culture.Armed with this insight, Nunwood’s client, VisitScotland, developed a
successful pan-European advertising campaign, combining images of breathtaking Scottish scenery with cameo portraits of local life and the people a tourist would expect to meet on their journey through Scotland.
Managing global brands is all about trade-offs and choices, discovering where the biggest and most lucrative opportunities exist
and devising strategies that pull in as many profitable customers as possible. Good intelligence won’t guarantee success in negotiating this hazard-strewn landscape, but armed with local knowledge, brands have a better chance of emerging as the victors, rather than the casualties, of cross border campaigns
The Insight 2005 event for users and buyers of market research is running at Earls Court on October 25 and 26. Supported by
<I>Marketing Week</I>, the event includes more than 120 exhibitors and is co-located with the DM Show. At the conference, leading figures from the world of insight and brand marketing will share their thoughts on the latest online, international and brand research techniques and talk about their experiences of developing brands and markets with the aid of research insight. For further information and a full programme visit www.insightshow.co.uk.Case
StudyInternational Market Research by Melanie Jugdeev
For the past five years I have managed international research projects for a range of clients, the most recent being a global
employee survey involving more 110,000 staff in 53 countries, conducted in 23 languages. This is my advice on running international research projects.
Taking on my first international project was an exciting prospect as it provided opportunities to travel and share new ideas with people. It proved to be a tough assignment, but having survived such a rigorous baptism, I now make sure I pack four essential items into my suitcase to ensure a project goes smoothly.
The first is an understanding of the client’s business. Specifically, you need to know where the power base is (a global head office, regional offices or local companies) and, more importantly, who is going to own or pay for the campaign. Knowing this helps determine how the project will be organised and how much local content should be included.The second essential item is the team that are going to manage the project. It takes a certain kind of person to manage international projects. They have to be flexible (for instance, be willing to work late or get up early to speak to clients in different time zones) as well as being enthusiastic and action-oriented. Above all, they must be great relationship people, as they are invariably called upon to persuade and encourage others to get things done.The third essential is a reliable local agency that can deliver. There is nothing worse than having to tell your client the local agency you recommended hasn’t delivered. After being badly burnt by a French agency, we put in place an approved suppliers list that asked agencies to provide evidence thatthey were familiar with the type of research we did and could deliver to our high standards.The fourth is an understanding that everything takes longer when doing an international project. Typically, I add 30 per cent to all project schedules to allow for differences in time zones and other things such as national holidays. Religious observances can also impact on timing. For instance, it’s going to be difficult to conduct a taste test during Ramadan so it may need to be bought forward or delayed.
As you build confidence and cement relationships, remembering to pack these items becomes easier. They are now an essential part of my suitcase and I refuse to board if any are missing.
<I>Melanie Jugdeev is an associate director at the British Market
Research Bureau </I>