Five strategies for a successful global brand

With brands increasingly crossing international borders via the internet, marketers may need to fine-tune their strategies to ensure their brands are making the most of the global market.

Check out Santander’s director of brand and communications Keith Moor’s expert viewpoint click here

Read our in-depth case study on the upmarket social network ASmallWorld click here

A new generation of global brands is emerging. Globalisation used to mean identikit high streets, May Day protests and a Starbucks on every corner. But with an international business suggesting strength and stability in the fragile economic markets, global brands are no longer being seen as dominating bogeymen.

In April, Forrester Research’s Steve Noble called for companies to “create an adaptive global organisation” to deal with post-recession pressures. It seems that being global is back on the boardroom agenda.

Coca-Cola seems to be taking note, scrapping its local UK marketing director position in May, in favour of a more regional strategy. Kraft has been quick to follow suit. While it will leave a UK marketer position, it has also said it will lead its strategy more centrally from Europe.

For brands seeking to join the new set of global brands, there are five global marketing strategies that companies need to take into account. These involve creating a strong and consistent brand culture, borderless marketing, internal hubs, a new “glocal” structure and co-creating with consumers.

Marketing Week sets out these five strategies that can help companies embrace the new business of globalisation.

1. Build a strong, consistent brand culture

In the past, a rigid corporate structure was an important element of the global brand. Local markets were in charge of developing their own brand strategies.

However, in recent years building a consistent and strong brand culture that remains familiar to consumers wherever it is in the world has become a priority. Tony Effik, chief strategy officer at Publicis Modem, explains: “A brand needs a single view of the world, a single philosophy.”

The rise of digital channels has shifted the brand emphasis from structure to culture, believes Neil Taylor, creative director at language consultancy The Writer. He notes: “Social media and viral marketing stop brands doing what they used to do, which was to manage brands in a command-and-control sort of way.

“It becomes more important that your brand reflects your culture, rather than your guidelines. The brands that have done it well are those that have a strong culture of their own,” says Taylor. ASmallWorld is an example of a business that has created a brand which is consistent around the globe (see case study below).

Language is an important element in ensuring a consistent brand culture, he adds, citing Innocent Drinks as a good example of a company that has successfully retained a distinctive tone of voice across markets. “You read Innocent Drinks in French and it feels just as playful and cute as Innocent in English. It’s the same personality.”

Now anyone can see the company’s Facebook page, or videos on YouTube… It’s forcing brands to question: how do we get a single content story that works across all of those markets

Tony Effik, Publicis Modem

Compromising your brand culture in a world which is becoming increasingly borderless can have damaging consequences – a fact that Google discovered when it launched a self-censored search engine in China in 2006. Its previous search engine in China was subject to government blocks because of the country’s new media policy restricting internet access. Google’s mission is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful. But how does a brand with values like Google set up something in China that sticks to those values?

Taylor says: “If you’re operating in China, the Chinese government doesn’t want you to make information universally accessible and useful and it [Google] has naturally ended up compromising.”

The consumer backlash against Google in other markets was significant. “Not surprisingly, customers around the world went: ‘well hold on, we thought you were about this, how can you possibly run that business over there?’ News will travel and start to damage your brand even in your home market.” Since late March 2010, Google has resorted to redirecting search requests from mainland China to Hong Kong, which doesn’t have the same restrictions.

He suggests that if your culture really is about making information universally accessible then maybe this is something Google shouldn’t compromise on.

2. Be borderless in your marketing

With the abundance of digital platforms, it is no longer possible for brands to follow different brand strategies in different countries. Companies are being forced to adopt a more unified marketing approach.

Marketers need to rethink the term “glocal”, explains Publicis Modem’s Tony Effik. Theodore Levitt’s “think global, act local” slogan doesn’t work in a digital age in the same way, he argues. “The way we do global campaigns had to change because digital doesn’t respect borders, particularly now with social media. What we’re finding is that as content moves across borders, brand stories are crossing over internationally.”

Before the recession, it had a very low profile. It wasn’t exposed to the kind of debt that some of the other big banks were involved in. It managed to maintain the ability to buy businesses. The UK has been a significant growth opportunity for Santander but it has taken opportunities elsewhere too – it bought Sovereign in the US, for example.

In our case, brand consistency has been key. The temptation to change Abbey, Alliance & Leicester and Bradford & Bingley more quickly was there, but we needed to take our customers on a journey. Santander was gradually introduced to them. It was successful because people weren’t surprised at what we were doing – it made sense to them. They’ve got access to more branches so it works for them.

Although we have a global brand policy, we also reflect local attitudes, behaviours and nuances. We allow our businesses to have local strategies, which are reflective of the customer, rather than having a monolithic policy.

New global brands are unencumbered by rigidity and process and formality and structure. They’re not overly trapped by it, but at the same time we have our own growing pains. We’re aggressive, full of ideas, we want to get things done now, we’re impatient and that brings with it a level of enthusiasm and energy. With that comes the need to take stock sometimes and think about how we grow as a business globally. Growth all the time is fantastic but you have to ensure you’re not leaving your customers behind.

We have a very clear global brand strategy that’s executed at a local level. To maximise more value, we capitalise on global things like brand consistency, brand identity and global sponsorship. If a product or a proposition works in one market, we’ll work out if it’s right for consumers in another market.

The attitude towards us being a global brand has been a massive benefit. When consumers saw the company in the UK was backed by this big business, that made people feel safe and secure.

Global strategy case study: ASmallWorld

ASmallWorld (ASW) is an upmarket social network that hosts an international community of 550,000 people in more than 200 countries.

The platform offers tools and user-generated content to help members manage their private, social and business lives. Members share similar backgrounds, interests and perspectives and can find jobs, investors, collaborators, discuss ideas, get advice (especially travel related) and buy, sell, rent or swap things, from vacation homes to vintage cars. Membership is by invitation only and existing ASW members can invite a limited number of friends to the network.

“ASW was initially created to bring together on one platform a group of people who were already very connected to each other, meaning they had a lot of the same friends and generally frequented the same places,” says Patrick Liotard-Vogt, chairman of ASW.

The reason for its success as a global brand is that it’s pitched at a very specific demographic, argues Liotard-Vogt: “Ensuring your brand remains relevant across the planet is a real challenge. As they say, ‘You can only please some of the people, some of the time.’ In the case of ASW, that’s all we need to do because we’re going after a niche audience. Our members, whether they come from Germany or Pakistan, share a common point of view.”

The rise of digital platforms and social media has revolutionised the way brands reach a more global audience, offering the ability to target the audience (age, gender, profession and so on) and to measure results more efficiently.

Liotard-Vogt explains: “In the old days a brand had to work hard and spend a lot of money to be global. Now a small brand can be global very cheaply and easily.”