11 August 2007

Six deadly traps for global branding: Coffee and Donuts/July 06/Excerpts from Atticus award winning paper by Hamsini Shivkumar, JWT Planning, Mumbai

Six deadly traps for global branding and advertising
The challenge for global brands is to be internationally consistent while at the same time being locally responsive. The globalisation phenomenon of the last two decades has changed the landscape for brands, especially multi-country brands.

We may think of global branding as going through three phases.

The first phase
This lasted till the 1980's. Operating companies in countries had complete freedom in choosing positioning and brand names for globally sold products so that they would succeed in their markets.

The second phase
This phase started in the early 1990s, saw the creation of global brands as an idea, a vision of a global brand as one that would deliver a uniformly consistent experience to customers. Standardisation was the holy grail of global executives in this phase.

The current phase

Now most global corporations have abandoned the goal of standardisation. Instead, most of them have embarked on a search for the middle path, the right balance of global consistency and local adaptation.

The middle path is the new best practice in global branding.

However, this vision of the middle path is proving to be a mirage for many companies. The real challenge lies internally. Experience suggests that the internal challenges of culture, tools and processes are a bigger barrier to achieving success in practice.

There are six deadly traps that global, regional and local brand teams get caught in that keep them lost in the middle. For each trap, there are ways out that can help teams realise the vision instead of seeing a mirage.

1. The objectives trap
The objectives trap makes teams work at cross-purposes. Most global and regional brand teams are unclear about what their middle-path agenda is supposed to deliver growth or cost reduction or a bit of both? Global teams believe that local teams are suffering from not invented hereí syndrome, while local teams are convinced that global teams do not care about delivering business growth in their market.
Way out? Focus on growth, the only worthwhile business goal.
_ Global teams work with local teams in all key markets to understand the growth drivers in that market.
_ Together they understand how the new or modified brand concept will actually deliver growth.
_ Both teams work out an action plan to address the major issues that arise, including the extent and nature of adaptation required for that market.

2. The alignment trap
The alignment trap results in a culture of power politics rather than teamwork.
Success with the middle path, where brands get the benefits of both global consistency (scale, best practice transfer) and local connection (bonding, responsiveness), needs cross-cultural team work of the highest order. But, too often, alignment meetings turn into turf wars between country business leaders and global/regional brand leaders.
Way out? Create a culture of teamwork and trust, with a mindset that searches for and focuses on commonalities, not differences.
_ Senior management to lead by example.
_ Encourage countries to identify commonalities and up-sides to collaboration versus concentrating on differences and the down-side to collaboration
_ Global, regional and local teams need regular training and facilitation in the skills of effective team building and team working.

3. The rewards trap
The rewards trap results in teams chasing different goals. Quite often global and local teams are rewarded on different criteria. As long as this is the case, the teams will not work hard enough to get genuine alignment of goals.
Way out? Set up a shared rewards system.
_ Both sides stand to gain from delivering results in the market, in terms of bonuses or performance pay

4. The feedback trap
The feedback trap results in an elaborate charade of pretence. The world is a complex place, while most managers and workers have a strong desire for simplicity. But, consumers and competition around the world have a way of not fitting so conveniently into the boxes and charts that global brand teams have devised. This leads to a dilemma for global teams, should they listen to the onground feedback from countries and take it seriously? Or should they ignore it and hope it will go away? The country teams have their own dilemma;should they agree and align, and fail in the market, or disagree and be seen as a troublemaker?
Way out? Create an open culture with team custodianship of the brand and results.
Local teams need to feel free to air genuine concerns and issues and propose alternative solutions. Global teams need to feel confident that the global agenda is on course, even as they adapt to local conditions.

5. The trial-and-error trap
Global teams automatically start with the assumption that people are the same unless proven otherwise. Local teams start with the reverse assumption. Depending on who has more power at a point in time, that assumption prevails. Only when marketplace results show otherwise is there space for negotiation. Until then, both sides fiercely resist accepting contrary evidence. This approach has two big weaknesses; it is a slow and frustrating approach for the teams involved and it slows down the global competitor against nimble local competitors.
All team members understand that people and cultures are different, yet human needs are similar. While they are exhorted to search for similarities, there seems to be no systematic tool to identify the genuine differences that need to be addressed for success.

Way out? Develop tools for identifying similarities and differences between markets that are germane to the global brand concept, such as category, need and cultural conventions.
_ Global, regional and local teams to work together to identify the significant similarities and significant differences using these tools, and agree the extent of adaptation required.

6. The inconsistency trap
The inconsistency trap results in confusion and cynicism. This tends to happen due to the frequent churn in marketing executives in large global corporations. Each new team wants to reinvent or change the global brand concept. This creates confusion down the line because country teams are unable to understand the reasons for these changes as well as how they are now supposed to modify their in-market approach.

Way out? Ensure that global brand concepts are consistently maintained for a minimum of three years, without change, and up to five years with minor modifications.

Realising the vision of the middle path as the best practice in global branding is a complex leadership and managerial challenge. It is not easy, nor is it a task for the faint-hearted. Unless teams find ways to address all six deadly traps, they are likely to stay lost in the middle, facing the mirage of global branding.

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