Just because you've gone global doesn't mean you've got a global strategy

I feel like a heretic writing this. I’m supposed to be the 'global-one-size fits-all' strategy advocate. 

Let’s start at the beginning. The current marketing hegemony is that success lies, indeed the whole rationale for global brands and their agencies lies in finding a single consistent strategy, which will inevitably lead to success and savings, milk and honey.

I’m not talking about what the ads look like or even the style of social media campaign. I happen to believe one creative solution can work for all markets. In fact I’ve got the evidence to prove it. What I’m talking about here is big strategic decisions – the brand line up, the brand architecture and the like.

You talk to as many B2B marketing people as me, and you’ll know that the way we deal with international market differences is to deploy a single strategic mission and adapt the creative. That’s the wrong way round. 

I’m not saying that a single strategic approach can’t work, it can. It just shouldn’t be regarded as the norm, some sort of marketing golden fleece and that any deviation from it suggests a flawed plan and extra unnecessary expenditure.

And I’m not even talking here about how different the Asia pacific is, or even the middle east. The right strategy for France can be the wrong one for the UK. 

Let me give you a simple example:
In 2009 a very able global marketing director of one of our clients, based in Zurich, was determined to pursue a single brand strategy across the world.  It made a lot of sense in many ways: it was already working in most of Europe and would be the strategy in several other markets. However back in the UK, sitting with our day-to-day client, it felt like we were committing commercial suicide. There were a whole host of great, yet small, specialist brands with real customer equity that we were being asked to ditch while still facing some eye-wateringly tough sales targets.

Why does this happen? Two reasons: Firstly where B2B brands go consumer brand have already been and we just can’t help thinking "if it works for those boys then it must be right". Consumer brands are happy to follow global strategies that may not be perfect for every local market sometimes simply because of the economies of scale their huge communication budgets can enjoy. And changing ‘Marathon’ to ‘Snickers’? I mean really, who cares?

In B2B though it is not acceptable to plan globally and not take into account local historical relationships with your brands and the opinion of the local management team, who after all, are the ones that have to deliver the numbers. 

The second reason is that it is sort of counter-intuitive for global marketing directors. They occupy a lofty perch and while some may say it also clad in only the finest ivory, up there you’ve got the benefit of the helicopter view of the battleground. You can see the bigger picture. 

Trouble is, it’s all too easy to lose sight of what it’s like at ground level. So don’t confuse your need for globally consistent success with a desire for a globally consistent brand strategy. 

Just because you’ve gone global doesn’t mean the marketing plan has to or that it is no longer the servant to the business plan. If we take marketing seriously it is because we believe it can deliver our business goals. When it becomes the ego-toy of a global brand director, you’re in trouble.

By all means have a global model for your brand architecture, have consistent agreed messages for the brand and its products and services, but be prepared to break from it by exception based on local market analysis and an understanding of each brand’s ability to compete locally.

Sad footnote:  That marketing director I mentioned is no longer in post. She is really capable and much smarter than me and if I’m honest I don’t really know why she got moved on but I can guess.

What I do know is that she once worked for a competitor brand and deployed the same strategy there and on that occasion met with much more success because that brand had a completely different profile and history and in that instance it was the right approach. If it looks like a horse and smells like a horse, it’s probably a horse. Don’t mean the course ain’t changed though.