Travel to any major city and one of the first things that strikes you is just how similar the brandscape looks: the ubiquitous golden arches of McDonald’s, the red swirls of Coca-Cola or Nike’s swoosh seem to be at home anywhere in the world.
However, it is interesting to see how these brands have started to manifest in local markets. McDonald’s doesn’t serve beefburgers in India and sells seaweed-flavoured fries in China. To survive, global brands need to accommodate for local tastes as they enter new markets with differing consumption patterns embedded in the culture.
Brands succeed because they offer superior functional and symbolic value propositions to their customers. Such value propositions reflect their essence and are what customers aspire to identify with. “One of the main reasons brands attain global success is because customers aspire to associate with the image and values of brands that are perceived cool or trendy or prestigious,” says global brand strategy expert Martin Roll.
It is imperative that global brands going into local markets resonate with native consumers. “There is a balance between avoiding being blindly global or mindlessly local,” argues Emanuel Gavert, Innovation Manager at Kraft Foods. “The answer is somewhere in between: your tailoring needs to add value from a brand, consumer, business and customer perspective.”
Following this principle, global business Henkel introduced the detergent Persil Abaya Shampoo into the Gulf region in 2010. “Given that most of the female population here tends to be clad in black, it’s a wonder that companies took so long to work on a product meant exclusively for black clothes,” comments Ambrish Chaudhry, Strategy Director at The Brand Union. “While ‘whitest white’ may work in most territories, there is a strong market for the ‘blackest black’ here, and Persil were smart to plug this gap.”
Hand in hand with convincing consumers to engage with your brand across time and territories comes the marketing principle of innovation. This approach ranges from complex luxury offerings in Asia to products to fit the unique taste profiles for the emerging middle class in Africa.
Some years ago, big companies chasing global consistency tended to see the world in a homogenous fashion. Today, the mood is less arrogant and acknowledges the challenges of negotiating a complex business and cultural landscape. “Now, as the global economy shifts, those markets have greater importance than they used to and the price of entry is adapting,” says Graham Hales, CEO of Interbrand in London. “Within local markets, brands will have different dynamics, target markets, history and competitors, and be in a different economic cycle.”
Present in around 100 countries worldwide, phone giant Nokia has an unprecedented level of scale within the technology sector. A huge focus on research into its customer base results in interesting hardware and software variants designed to cater for specific markets and cultures. Nokia X1-00 and X1-01 models include a large battery with more than 60 days of standby and a torch specifically for markets with low electricity coverage.
The company has been successful in markets such as China and India by renaming products and tailoring them to local style preferences. Nokia phones now come in exciting new colours – not just black, but cyan, magenta and white. “We have started launching our new products with high energy and emotion in a way that appeals to a new, younger generation of Nokia consumers,” says Greg Lewthwaite. Finding opportunities to differentiate itself from competitors, Nokia carefully delivers customers the dual benefits of global brand and local features.
Aiming to make the Nokia Store more valuable and locally relevant in the Middle East, its developers continue to add new apps every day, especially during the holy month of Ramadan. It offers hundreds of Ramadan and Islamic apps, most of which are free. Last year, the Qur’an app alone was downloaded more than 1.5 million times. Some of the new apps include Qur’an Stories for Kids, which provides children’s stories designed to communicate Islamic values, and Islamica, a widget that allows users to view their daily prayers. Islamic Quotes presents users with an inspiring quote each day.
The global brand and the emerging market have grown up together over recent decades. As local brands catch up in terms of quality and sophistication in their marketing mix, the branding battle will move from differentiation to relevance, predicts Ambrish Chaudhry. “International brands will need to find ways to be more relevant to the local lifestyle of the markets they are in,” he says. “In this scenario, this global-local approach will be key to brand success as younger generations in emerging markets see global brands as a regular feature of their lives, as opposed to novel entrants in the market.”