Over the years we've worked on many international brand strategy projects, either at a European or Global level, including some of the very early work on the "Dirt is Good" positioning for Omo/Persil/Skip.
Experience on global recent projects, coupled with a post I did on Johnnie Walker, inspired some new thinking on global brand management. Its called "The Marketing Shop".
In this post I'll re-cap the issues with current global brand management, and then go on to show how the new approach could work
Current problems: the global vs. local power struggle
Global brand management is tough. Really, really tough. There is a huge tension of course between the desire for a consistent positioning and mix on the one hand, and the need to reflect local differences on the other. Two common problems that occur are:
- Dictatorship: where a central command is sent out to make everything the same, in terms of strategy but also design and communication
- Anarchy: where regions or countries do their own thing, with global brand managers reduced to the role of gathering and sharing best practice (which markets tend to ignore)
Simon Clift, former CMO of Unilever, summed these two extremes up as "Mindlessly global" and "Hoplessly local". We've seen many companies go through cycles with these two approaches taking turns:
Dictatorship => Rebellion => Anarchy => Centralisation => Dictatorship
A new approach: The Marketing Shop
This new approach build on the work we have been doing on the importance of brand properties in creating "memory structure": associations that are "hard-wired" into our brains. Here is how The Marketing Shop works.
1. Focus on properties, not pyramids
Too much work on international brand strategy still, scarily, focuses on what we call "polishing the pyramid". This involves hours, days or even months of over-intellectual debate about the wording of a brand positioning tool. It works like this:
The Marketing Shop focused on the creation of brand properties and associated marketing materials or "brand assets" as some people call them. These could include the classic TV advertising, but could also be activation concepts and point-of-sale material.
Of course, these assets are based on a brand positioning. But the focus is on the practical execution of this positioning. My view on the success of the global "Keep Walking" campaign for Johnie Walker is that this is more to do with the brilliant brand assets created (strapline, visual identity, communication materials) than the brand strategy of "personal progress". The latter was important, but countless other spirits and beer brands have had the same strategy, they just haven't executed it anywhere near as well.
With The Marketing Shop approach, deep local insight is done to understand cultural nuances in order to execute the brand's positioning territory. For example, on one long alcoholic drink brand the idea of high energy nightlife was relevant in both the UK and South America, yet in the former this happened inside in clubs and in the latter it could be at a beach party. Its the same brand territory, but with important differences in execution.
However, the starting point of this work is to assume the global brand idea works and learn how to adapt it and not to ask "does the global brand idea work or not".
3. Local amplification of the mix
Many organisations have split teams into "brand development" and "brand activation". This can create polarisation between on the one hand people creating communication and innovation, and others there to do trade marketing and voice-overs for the ads.
With the Marketing Shop approach, local teams are encouraged to go beyond adaptation of the brand mix and to create ways to amplify it. My favourite example of this is the Dove Evolution viral video, which is still one the best known bits of Dove's global "Campaign for Real Beauty" marketing. It was created not by the global team, but rather by the Canadian team. I posted on it back in 2006 when it had 1.5 million views on YouTube; now it has over 13 million.
On Johnnie Walker, the global team often use the poster ads created by the team in war-torn Beiruit to bring as some of the best work in the "Keep Walking" campaign.
A Coke manager talked at a conference about an extension of the Marketing Shop idea I'd love to see used more. The idea is to literally to create a marketplace where local teams can buy and sell marketing assets. The guy from Coke told the story of how the UK had shot a TV ad for, say £1million. This was then used by 15 countries as it was a great ad, each paying £100,000. Each country got a brilliant ad, much better than they could have afforded to make. And the UK turned their ad into a profit generator!
This approach allows good idea to bubble up and then be bought and sold, rather than the nightmare of trying to get 15 countries to all agree a single brief and shoot a single ad. I call this "the success virus". Start in one place, see what works, then help it spread.
5. "Economies of ideas" not just scale
The Marketing Shop approach is less about economies of scale and cost savings, and more about "economies of ideas". Time, talent and money is spent on fewer, bigger, better ideas and then getting them in as many places as possible.
In conclusion, we think The Marketing Shop is a much better model for global brand management than many of the set-ups in place today. The key is a practical focus on creating tangible marketing assets that help countries do better business at the same time as ensuring brand consistency and coherence.