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Born in the USA

Global strategy often originates within the US and may not be effective across Europe

US-Copyright Most US-based organisations have local country affiliate marketing departments or European partners with local marketers who clearly know their own markets. However the global strategy and associated campaign is often based in the US and made up of US marketers – perhaps with one or two non-US colleagues and, if you are really lucky, one person who has worked in a European market. Given this context, is it any wonder that battles rage when it comes to implementing global campaigns in Europe. Unless you have detailed knowledge of the vastly different cultures, structures and regulations across European markets how can you hope to be effective?

It would be easy to point the finger at the make up of the global teams as being the main reason why these campaigns are seen as less suitable for European markets. However, most global teams do work hard at trying to understand the individual markets that they are responsible for. So why does it go wrong? Quite often, one of the key causes of difficulty is the point at which European input is sought in the asset commercialisation process. For US-based companies the domestic market is often the largest, so phase 3 studies are commonly designed to provide data against comparators that are most relevant there with other regions not necessarily taken into consideration. This can have huge implications for the desired value proposition and therefore for local access and on the claims that can be made in promotion once the licence is granted.

European responsibility is often divided among global team members for practical reasons such as managing contact, communication and travel and this leads to a fragmented view of the issues. Coupled with this, individual marketing teams in Europe do tend to focus on why and how their market is different, so their focus tends to be more on the communication cascade to customers rather than the overall strategic challenge for the brand. This can lead to conflicting needs, requiring compromise, which is resolved by the global team making decisions on the basis of individual market potential. Consequently the net result is the decision will favour the US view. If we as European marketers consider the commonality and consistency that exists between markets, we could work to present a more consolidated European view rather than an assortment of individual situations.

Mental gymnastics
Another source of difficulty is how communication is handled. Contact and communication between European affiliates and global teams can be confined to organising meetings around the larger events such as congresses or specific global team meetings, where all markets are present rather than on an 'as required' basis. This makes it very hard to ensure that what has been heard matches what has been said and leaves the door open to misunderstanding and confusion. Native English speakers often forget about the mental gymnastics that some European affiliates have to go through in thinking about what has been said and then formulating some questions – by which time the conversation has often moved on.

This is not just restricted to conversations; a good example from past experience of working in a European team was when a diagram to support the segmentation approach was introduced without sufficient explanation. In the ensuing workshop, rather than considering the application of the segmentation approach German and Polish colleagues' attention was focused on the diagram, which they felt represented an approach that would never work in their markets because they thought:
•  it represented a new visual campaign that would not be understood by customers
•  it implied that they should ignore the main segment where our existing business was being generated and switch all activity to focus on the newer segments where the brand proposition was less well established.

Fortunately, we were able to resolve this, after much eye-bulging, discussion once we realised the source of the confusion.

A common approach?
All too often the global team delivers finished campaign materials, such as sales aids and advertising, and does not place enough focus on the core elements such as the brand vision, brand essence, core values and brand proposition. Visuals in particular can be inappropriate for different markets and are most open to subjective opinion, leading to the inevitable response of "this will never work in my market".

Given these issues it should be easier to let countries develop their own strategies and campaigns to suit their unique markets as this would result in a much more effective approach and therefore maximise a brand's potential. Yet, if this were true, consumer companies would not dedicate so much resource to establishing and defending their brands. Given the choice, would you rather buy the rights to the Coca-Cola brand or all their offices, production, bottling and distribution facilities? There are tangible benefits to global branding, from both a company and a customer point of view.

Benefits of branding
Companies gain from economies of scale in production and distribution and more efficient marketing. The creation of a strong marketing platform allows different brands or variants for different market segments to retain an association with the parent brand and consistent brand imagery at international congresses and symposia. In essence, they help build barriers to local and global competitors and enhance price and margin. The data we have to support our brands are consistent in all markets. The core product, with its supporting evidence, is the same.

Early dialogue
We may need support from senior management to ensure the European voice is listened to and that the dialogue starts earlier. Asset commercialisation teams need to be put in place around phase 2 to allow input and guidance to the phase 3 programme, ideally with representatives from the major regions. If you do not have a European brand team structure then you need to have a European spokesperson to act as a regional representative for the brand.

However, regional representation needs to be just that. It should not have individual market bias and members of the commercialisation team need to adopt a common sense approach to resolving points of difference.

As European marketers we need to focus more on what is the same rather than what is different. More often than not, the key strategic challenge for any one brand is consistent across Europe. Do we really need more than 27 different interpretations of the same data?

Although there should be frequent communication between the global team and European reps or individual market reps but practical issues dictate that you cannot meet with every market in Europe. Common sense needs to be applied but global teams need to go beyond just the top five European markets.

Global goals
Rather than providing finished materials, global teams need to provide guidance, data blocks, formats and a framework. More importantly the vision, positioning and the core proposition must be well thought through and robust. Local tailoring within set limits is needed to ensure that appropriate visuals, appropriate tonality and translation issues can be accommodated.

No matter where the head office is based there are benefits to a common approach. We've picked on the US, but the principles apply to any global team that focuses mainly on their domestic region. European marketers need to be more assertive about their needs and they need to communicate this at a point where it can make a difference. In turn, global teams need to stop thinking of global campaigns as the finished article and communicate more around the brand architecture (brand vision, brand value equation, core values, brand positioning and brand proposition) and have the flexibility to accommodate local needs and customs. If we can achieve true brands then we can start to reap the benefits that those in consumer marketing enjoy.

The Author
Gavin Gandy is a senior consultant at the MSI Consultancy
To comment on this article email

22nd June 2009


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