Diageo’s playbook for global marketers

While the old rules still apply, there are seven characteristics successful brands display – from making time for strategy to simple KPIs and strong leadership.

If you speak to brand consultants or listen to commentators, you might be forgiven for thinking the global brand is dead. The perceived threat of small, local brands is palpable in those conversations. The promise of a borderless world seems to have failed, with seemingly irreconcilable differences flaring up in divided societies from east to west. It now seems an impossible conundrum for marketers of global brands to know how to connect to such disparate audiences.

And yet if you look at evidence such as Kantar’s recent BrandZ study, we see the top 100 global brands grew 7% last year, which is twice as fast as the world’s overall growth, as measured by the IMF. Given their scale, this will no doubt reflect a higher overall contribution than the eye-catching high-percentage growth of emergent brands.

Our own portfolio of global brands is performing well, with some great growth coming from some of our largest, like Johnnie Walker at 7% and Tanqueray at 19%. Organic volume and net sales growth are broad-based across regions and categories. In part, these strong results have come from our marketers leaning into some of the big questions that people managing global brands need to answer.

The much-quoted rules no doubt still apply – from acting ‘glocal’ to global marketers seeing themselves as ‘servant leaders’ to their in-market colleagues, who do the hard work. For many multi-market brands, it’s still OK to adopt a more unified global approach – in personal care, for example, and especially in luxury categories.

Working in often decentralised businesses, it’s crucial to work out what is universal while maximising deep local connections, in full knowledge that the more you adapt the less money you have to spend in brand building.

Luxury brands seem to think of their image, product and experience as inherently borderless, but not always intended for everyone. Think about Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Moët & Chandon, and Apple. Beyond luxury and FMCG, think of Lululemon, Zara, and Under Armour. Ikea’s offering of quality, affordable furniture wrapped in Swedish minimalism captures the imagination from Shanghai to San Francisco, with the same retail experience and 90% of product consistent the world over.

The challenge for marketers of global brands is how much to adapt. Working in often decentralised businesses, it’s crucial to work out what is universal while maximising deep local connections, in full knowledge that the more you adapt the less money you have to spend in brand building. When I see our brands getting it right, I think there are a few common characteristics:

1. Make significant time for brand strategy

Too often, global marketers get swept away with creating advertising and other growth drivers, duplicating effort with their markets. Focus instead on aggregating deep consumer, cultural and market knowledge to understand the common opportunities and challenges, and what to do about them. Understanding these enables you to use your global scale more effectively. Be expert in knowing what’s really different market-by-market and what’s similar enough not to matter.

2. Think about trends they can harness

Local brands may create trends, but they can only do so in their own back yard. Being future-focused, externally attentive, and sharing learning across markets can give you first-mover advantage, being more agile in preparing your brand for what’s around the corner, and more effective in shaping your category.

3. Ensure brand positioning and creative are visual

Images communicate more than words and are often more effective across borders.

4. Choose their agency partners wisely

This is not necessarily about using a global network, but working with people who are curious about other cultures, connect strongly to your brand, and know how to create and execute work in different marketing and category contexts.

5. Have common language and approaches internally

A strong internal culture, from strategy through to execution, helps communicate and have a common frame of reference. At Diageo, we call this the ‘Diageo way of brand building’ and we’ve evolved it continuously in the 22 years Diageo has existed.

6. Have simple, common KPIs

Transparent measurement helps us all know what’s really going on and drives conversations, which help us understand when we are winning and when we need to face the brutal facts.

7. Develop your leadership

A global marketer needs to play lots of roles – visionary, agony aunt, coach, peacekeeper, cheerleader. Always remember that growth happens in markets and be humble. Capture hearts as well as minds for a common cause; inspire belief, bravery, and pride so that we share ownership of successes and failures.