Not unlike February's World Economic Forum, the theme of the recent Arthur Page Society spring seminar for corporate communications leaders was Globalization: Stop or Go? A more apt title might have been Glocalization: Full Steam Ahead.Understandably you may wince at such a notion: glocalization falls into that category - dominated in recent years by ghastly monikers like "mindshare,
- of made-up buzzwords that somehow weasel into business and media parlance. But the point, as the seminar speakers illustrated, is that having a global presence might be important, but acting on a local basis is the key to most businesses' successes.
For example, you might expect BMW - The Wall Street Journal's "ultimate brand
in 2000 - to use a single marketing toolkit all over the world.
After all, the brand promise - "the ultimate driving machine
- is certainly universally applicable. But as James McDowell, BMW's vaunted marketing VP, explained to the seminar, much of the company's marketing is experiential, and the "joy of driving
is different in different countries.
BMW's research showed that for Germans the joy of driving includes those fast, long, and steady drives down the autobahn. Most Germans also think about environmental credentials when they are purchasing a car. The most basic BMW 3 Series was, therefore, launched in Germany with a 1.6-liter engine, with a diesel option also available.
In the US, however, with its cities full of traffic lights, drivers want to be able to stop on the spot and then zoom off, while environmental concerns take a backseat. So BMW launched the basic 3 Series with a 2.5-liter engine. A diesel was not made available, because, as McDowell noted, many Americans hear diesel and think of big trucks idling loudly in gas stations. Such focus on the idiosyncrasies of local markets is thought to have been key to the success of the new 3-Series in BMW's major markets.
When Steve Harris, GM's PR boss, took the seminar podium, he too found himself talking about his company's sensitivity to local markets. Asked to explain why GM has taken little flak from anti-globalization forces, Harris initially wondered what he had to offer. But as he talked, it became clear that the localized nature of GM's brands - like Opel in Germany, Saab in Sweden - is a major strength for GM, and has protected it, to some extent, from the wrath of NGOs and cynicism of local consumers.
Although Harris is now working to build some global brand equity for GM, the knowledge and understanding of the natives at each of its local units is one of the corporation's biggest global strengths.
What the thoughts of speakers such as Harris and McDowell emphasized is that, although a corporation or its brands may be globally recognized and distributed, sensitivity to cultural differences is essential in marketing and selling those brands - and preserving the reputation of a company in the eyes of those who see its globalizing tendencies as destructive for local economies and local cultures.
In this week's feature (p. 16), Andy Lark, Sun Microsystems' VP of global communications and marketing, says, "There is no such thing as global PR.
Perhaps this is true. As one global agency chief commented, "You can cover the bases with offices in every different country and hand down global edicts, but each office will still execute based on local practices.
What's more glocal than that?