Building a global or local brand...which should PR aim for?

I recently read an article, "The Lure of the Global Brand" by consultants Erich Joachimsthaler and David Aaker.

I recently read an article, "The Lure of the Global Brand" by consultants Erich Joachimsthaler and David Aaker. Published in the Harvard Business Review well over a decade ago, the primary message is that companies should not strive to create global brands. The expectations are rarely achieved, economies are not realized, and the traditional top-down path of the standardized approach doesn't take unilaterally. Instead, the end game should be the creation of strong brands locally and a true global brand will emerge over time.

"The Lure,” and the questions posed by its authors, remain relevant today. What marketer with global responsibilities doesn't want his or her product to become the next Coke? 

For PR, the distinction between building a global brand and establishing a brand leader market-by-market is an important one. It throws the light directly on the effectiveness of global brand communications strategies developed for in-market execution. Given the demands of today's marketing environments, PR departments – already lean – always pressed for time and with ever-dwindling budgets, the appeal of one-size fits all (or most) communications is significant. And, while verbal homage is always paid to local considerations, the anticipated efficiencies of a “global” brand communications plan can blur the best intentions.

A shift to a market-by-market strategy – especially if the focus is on the priority, say, three to five countries – suits PR. It allows global PR teams and their agencies to sharpen their research and tactical programs as well as target resources and execution to specific geographies and stakeholder universes. An additional benefit of this strategy, which cannot be under emphasized, is the more frequent and richer dialogue with market affiliates.  Finally, measurement on a market-to-market basis is easier and more robust; learning and successes can be collected and transferred to other markets.  

When it is possible to do the deep dive a few important countries at a time, it is clear the benefits deem it worthwhile. When it's not possible, for whatever reason, PR has a fantastic opportunity to create a hybrid strategy that captures the benefits of the market-by-market plan as well as the cost and time efficiencies of a “core” approach. 

To achieve success using this middle ground approach requires more than taking a few of the standard ideas from column A and column B. Instead, it asks us to draw on our communications capabilities to research and identify a common ground or platform that makes sense for our brand's emotional and functional attributes but is also resonant with stakeholders around the world. This platform becomes the cost and resource-efficient framework for a broad array of tactics (now, you can draw from Column A and Column B) that can be developed both on a global basis as well as locally. Think “happiness” for Coca-Cola, “self-esteem” for Dove or “endurance” for Timex – all current and successful platforms for some of the most recognizable global brands. Under an umbrella platform that is universally embraced, tried and true PR tactics as well as new ideas, developed either by the HQ team or locally, become part of a greater whole and contribute to a truly global brand identity. 

Taking aim at the middle can sometimes open a whole new world of possibilities that end up superior to those on either end of the spectrum.

Sandra Stahl is a partner in jacobstahl inc.

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