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Centralized Global Marketing: Generating Ideas for Optimal Brand Health in Local Markets

There comes a time in the life of brands when the move to break into new markets is necessary. It is much easier to make this break when it’s in other local markets. When moving into international markets, a lot more things need to be considered.

The biggest brands – from Coca Cola to Pepsi and Honda – have lost several millions of dollars in trying to repair their images in foreign markets in the past. These issues would have been avoided with proper localization from the onset.

The focus needs to be turned to one of the departments that could make this foray into new markets as smooth as possible: marketing!

Centralization vs Decentralization

The first issue that the marketing team is faced with is how best to handle the marketing of the brands in different markets.

Over time, brands have resolved to choose between a centralized or decentralized approach.

Like we have always maintained, there is no one-size-fits-all method for marketing. Thus, we cannot categorically say that one of these methods is better than the other. It boils down to the kind of business in question, its workforce, strength, budget, offerings, and much more.

Centralized Marketing

As the name implies, all of the marketing efforts come from the top management and trickles to other parts of the organization.

In a centralized marketing approach, there is a heavy marketing team on base at the headquarter branch of the brand. They take all the major decisions, brainstorm, and layout plans for execution.

This kind of approach makes sense for a business that:

  • Has a highly-competent, heavily-funded marketing team at the heart of its marketing and brand positioning
  • Can easily get experts in the countries and locales they are breaking into. These local experts will be best equipped to understand the decisions from the headquarters and relay them to the local market
  • Doesn’t need much localization for the marketing materials that they put out.
  • Has a positive image for the country of origin. For example, there is a certain promise of quality and satisfaction associated with products manufactured in the USA.

On the downside, there is less room for innovation and creativity. Marketing professionals and talent employed in the other target market only have to follow a template. This stifles their innate marketing talent borne out of a deeper understanding of their market. The brand might be making wins, but not be at the level at which they should be converting otherwise.

There is also the headache of not being able to tailor the product and brand message locally.

Honda got caught up in one of such messes when their “Fitta” compact car generated the wrong kind of buzz in Sweden.

The word turned out to be a vulgar word in the local language with referred to female genitalia in a derogatory way. This explains why most manufacturers launch the same product under different labels in different markets today.

Decentralized Marketing

Unlike the above, decentralized marketing allows for a more hands-on approach in any of the local markets.

Marketing talent is hired locally wherever the business sets up shop to better engage with the market. For this to be successful without being a strain on the company is to have a lean marketing team back home. That helps to conserve the marketing budget to be properly distributed in the right areas.

There is also less bureaucracy involved in decentralized marketing. The talent in local markets does not have to run every idea by the main office first before they can implement it. Overall, we have found that the businesses who excel the most with this form of marketing to be those that:

  • Have a diverse range of business units, products, services, and solution that they provide
  • Churn out products that are heavily regulated in their industries
  • Have a strong negative country of origin image or
  • Don’t have a highly trained marketing team (especially specializing in localization) back at home

The common downfall of decentralized marketing is the lack of an effective communications pipeline.

Communication breakdown creates a brand image in disarray. Where the values of the brand mean one thing in one market, it tells another story in the other market. This could be very confusing for international clients who also need the services of the brand in a different location where they are set up.

The Growth of Distributed Campaigns

Succeeding in any market means standing out, and doing so rightly too.

Embracing only a centralized or decentralized model of marketing might get you far, but not as far.

From the above, it is evident that both kinds of marketing have where they excel and where they fall behind also. You can only get so much from one while bleeding the brand in other ways. That is why we went in search of another method that allows you to combine the best of both worlds.

Enters distributed campaigns.

It is never advisable to do both centralized and decentralized marketing at the same time. You would essentially be paying for a system that you are not getting the dividends from. There will also be some disparity as to where the handoff between centralization and decentralization should be.

All of that confusion translates to the foot soldiers you have on the ground in the different markets being targeted. Since there is no clear-cut path, everyone does what they believe is best. Too many hands do ruin the broth.

The distributed approach uniquely solves this problem.

There remains a centralized marketing team that creates all the major assets needed for marketing. They are in charge of doing deep research on the templates, resources, and files that could be used for different markets.

Those materials are then shared with marketers in the different local markets. These marketers take the templates, tune them to be highly specific to the local market, and run with the campaign.

The biggest benefit to this is that the headquarters can still maintain sizeable control over the marketing while giving local teams the right level of authority they need to execute efficiently. Furthermore, there is little to no bureaucratic headache since everyone gets to be on the same page.

On this overall stage, this highly scalable method is applaudable for the uniformity in systems management. Leads can be tracked centrally and effectively since every running campaign was borne of the same central idea. KPIs are not too diverse for comfort, helping the brand with effective analytics for local and overall growth.

Bringing it all Together

Coca-Cola trusts the Atlanta arm of its business to make all of the important decisions for the entire global market share that they command. This is where the introduction of new products, branding, and messaging gets hashed out before they are shipped out to other countries.

However, the brand trusts the local bottlers to handle product sales and distribution, as well as the customization of its messaging.

Nestle is yet another interesting example.

To protect its supply lines and distribution networks from the wars that were ravaging the Europe of old, the company decided to create a lot of small cogs that kept the company running. This move saw the relinquishing of power to local managers who were able to make decisions on behalf of the central company.

This method has worked wonders, but Europe is now a more stable place. To create better uniformity, Nestle is bringing back considerable power to the central Vevey office.

A strategic approach to this is recalling local managers that have done exceptionally back to the big office. Through those managers, it is easy to reach the local markets with central ideas.

In none of these cases is one form of marketing noticed. These companies understand that they need to be fluid, taking advantage of the centralized and decentralized approach at the same time. They are also doing that in a way that eliminates confusion, reinforcing the trust of the local market in the parent brand.

Steps to Effective Global Marketing

We have studied the brands that have excelled at taking their businesses beyond the shores of the maiden country. Here is what we have learned from them:

1. Get Human

One thing is sure: you won’t meet the same kind of audience everywhere.

Even within your local market, different demographics won’t resonate with the same kind of content. Thus, do not expect to have your international audience enjoy the same messaging as the local brand.

There is a common ground that you can explore: your audience is all human.

Appealing to the global market starts with finding a universal message that shows the brand’s humanity.

For Nike, this has always been the ‘Just Do It’ mantra that pushes people to be the best of themselves. This overarching message is then broken down locally – leveraging local stars and champions – to better connect with the market.

The same is true for Johnny Walker’s “Keep Walking” which has given birth to a series of localizations around more than a hundred countries.

2. Bridge the Local-Global Pipeline

Communication was highlighted above as a highly crucial factor in any globalization attempt. Otherwise, the brand image and values somewhere will be totally out of sync with the factors elsewhere.

The companies with a faster feedback loop also enjoy better success in the long run. This is because the success recorded in one market can be quickly replicated for the other markets. It doesn’t even matter if where the first hint of success was picked up was the main market or not.

Coca-Cola is a fine example of this.

Their globally relevant Share A Coke campaign was sparked off as a local effort in Australia. If it had failed, they would have simply shut it down there and it would be business as usual elsewhere. But the campaign picked up – and Coke responded by implementing the same campaign globally.

The numbers are there to show how many products that campaign alone helped the brand to sell. All because they were closely in touch with all of their markets from all around the world to know what the consumers want.

3.Improve Content Access

Marketing teams that do not have access to the right content will struggle.

The marketing resources, files, and assets should be stored centrally but made accessible locally. Everyone who needs access should have access to that body of content. It is recommended that such resources should be made available in real-time.

Local marketers will always know that they enjoy the support of the central office. They will also be able to consistently craft strong messaging that is in line with the rest of the brand’s content output.

Every time, every marketer will be an integral part of the unified brand image that you are trying to create. Otherwise, you either leave room for the marketer to slack or deviate from the central messaging.

4. Unify Processes

If your UK office is more concerned about new customers but your Australian division is clamoring for client retention, a serious breakdown is looming.

Every arm of the marketing team needs to be on the same page. It is far easier to drive a global company forward when everyone involved speaks the same language. As far as marketing speak is concerned, at least.

Global and local processes can be unified by:

  • Providing the same level and quality of training to the different departments
  • Tracking the same metrics as agreed by all departments
  • Learning from internal successes and failures
  • Movement of human personnel from local to global branches and vice versa. This fosters a better understanding of all marketing assets by everyone involved
  • Centralizing core technologies and
  • Leaving the door open for suggestions, ideas, and recommendations.

Thinking Globally

The saying ‘think global; act local’ is still very much true today.

Even when seeking to enter new markets, brands should understand that their local presence is what informs the larger global perspective. Thus, there should be a global-local alignment that is structured to represent the brand in the best light possible.

That will only be possible by distributing the marketing effectively in an agile system where everyone knows where they need to be.

Now, more than ever, brands need to keep a unified front across all of the markets that they find themselves in. A blow to the brand image in one place has the potential for a ripple effect on the brand image elsewhere. It is a game of all or nothing – and we will rather be on the side that wins all.

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