There are many contradictions and paradoxes that we contend with in marketing, but I had not realized the one inherent in the concept of global branding until I started preparing a course on it for students at the Ervin K. Haub School of Business at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Because marketing is about focus, right? “Try to be everything to everyone and you’ll be nothing to no one” is a mantra that was beaten into my head as a young creative, and which I correspondingly beat in to the heads of my students.
But global branding, by definition, is about expanding. It’s about saying “Hey, people in this country accept how our product fulfills a need for them. I’ll bet there are other people in other countries who have a similar need that could be met in a similar way by our product.” Never mind that they have different cultures, economies, languages, experiences or even prioritization of needs.
The more I thought about it, the more I thought that global branding flew in the face of everything that made marketing successful. For example, global branding starts with a solution, instead of starting with a problem that your product solves. That’s like saying “I want to punt” regardless of whether you’re on your goal line or your opponent’s.
And yet, there are global brands. Brands that transcend timezones and traditions. I know that I can order a pint of Guinness in New York City and Nairobi and Nagasaki and be reasonably assured of having a consistent experience each time.
In The Global Brand, Nigel Hollis not only addresses that paradox, but goes deeper to more fully explain the ramifications of going global by identifying the pitfalls and obstacles and by providing suggestions to help you bring your brand to the planet. It is well-written, thorough, insightful, and invaluable to anyone in the business. And its required reading in my course.
And Mr. Hollis should know. He is Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown, where, over the course of nearly three decades there, he’s helped companies from Unilever to Microsoft to Pepsi-Cola maintain their brand with consumers. (You can follow his blog here: http://www.millwardbrown.com/Global/Blog/StraightTalk.aspx)
The first of The Global Brand’s three sections discusses the very premise of a global brand – why its important at all. Then, once he’s gotten you drooling about the possibilities, he spends the second part of the book explaining why it’s such a bloody nightmare. What can go wrong. How hard it is to make things go right. What can happen if you screw up. How likely it is that you will, in fact, screw up. All with helpful examples and charts.
And then once you’ve decided to forget the whole thing, he tells you how to make your brand a global brand. The things you have to balance, the things you have to watch out for. The distribution issues, the personnel issues, the cultural issues. That’s the third part.
And all along the way, there are those charts and tables I mentioned to back up his assertions – all of which illuminate key aspects about the differences between just exactly the countries you’d probably want to expand into in the first place. Differences in median age, differences in purchasing power, differences in the importance of brand vs. price. All the things you need to make the right decision. As I said, helpful, if not a little daunting.
Curiously, The Global Brand ends with an addendum about how Millward Brown itself became a global brand. At first this felt, at best, pasted on, and at worst like a bit of egregious self-promotion. Do I really care that they started out in a small town in the British Midlands in the early 1970s? Do I care how they expanded to the United States in the 1980s, and how now they have offices in 44 countries? That’s not my company, that’s not the story of my clients’ companies. So what?
But that is ultimately the point. That in spite of all the good advice Mr. Hollis dispenses, every brand will face different challenges, because every brand is different. And that doesn’t mean the advice is ultimately useless. In fact, it means it’s even more useful.
Because it means you’re gonna need all the help you can get.
And The Global Brand is the perfect place to start.