Be Global – Act Local

What will happen to local brands in a world that becomes increasingly global each day? Can they survive in this new global environment?

Major feminine protection product Libra launched its Internet presence out of Australia. The concept was very successful in that market, so Libra tested in Europe, as well. Swedish-based Molnlycke identified a clear opportunity to save a lot of resources by using the same site in several markets.

The result surprised everyone. What women loved in Australia was deemed boring and old-fashioned in Europe. The site background culture changed the target group’s perception of the brand, which is almost identical from market to market — except in the consumer’s mind.

Even though the web makes every site global, the need for localization is becoming stronger and more important than ever. A brand may be well-known worldwide, representing the same product and graphical image, but trends point in one direction: Localization is the key to local recognition, on the Internet as in other media.

Coca-Cola’s recent crisis in Belgium is a good example. There, several hundred kids took ill from drinking Coke. Besides a local ban by the government, the product was completely removed from all supermarket shelves within a matter of weeks.

A local accident shouldn’t require global communication, but it should indeed be reflected in local communication, including the web site. Thousands of people in the accident area are visiting the local Coca-Cola web site daily, trying (and expecting) to get updated information on this situation. Information that’s almost 100 percent irrelevant for people in Australia, but essential for people in mid-Europe.

Treating the Internet as a completely global media might create more harm than good for Coca-Cola at this stage, as people expect local handling of this type problem on a local site. And attempting to handle it globally might be viewed as arrogant.

Over time, many local markets may be affected by local events and trends, which no matter what, must be handled locally. That’s why Libra had to change its entire content communication for an identical target group located on the other side of the world. The women in Europe simply felt the content was irrelevant, even though their counterparts in Australia had totally opposite views. This is just the beginning. A range of new Internet-based concepts will soon totally change the way today’s companies communicate with consumers.

Third Voice

Thirdvoice.com is a new, incredibly successful concept that allows consumers to communicate directly with any web site. The technique is simple and very similar to tacking a yellow Post-It note to a web site with your opinion. By downloading a small file software program, you get a free browser companion service that allows you to post your message to any site on the Internet.

However, only people with the software can view your Post-It notes. Thirdvoice estimates that over two million people will sign up for this service within the next three months.

Can you imagine Coca-Cola in Belgium becoming a victim of Thirdvoices’ new technology?

The Internet is forcing companies to change strategies. A web site has to be global yet act local, lest consumers demand changes via their opinions on yellow Post-It notes!

More and more companies have started to recognize the global/local trend, which takes more than merely adapting a site to the local language. It also requires adapting the site to the local environment, reflected by a local tone-of-voice, local content and some graphic adjustments.

Ironically, the world’s first global medium will have to be more local than any other media. When Gillette did its worldwide television spots for “The best a man can get,” it only had to change the writing on the man’s shirt, saying “U.S. Army” to the local markets. A similar situation on the Internet today would be reflected with local content, a local tone-of-voice, and probably local products as well.

Act Local While Being Global

No market is generic. All are exposed to individual situations that consumers expect to be reflected via a company’s local web site. More and more, consumers hate to feel they are communicated to via an international cookie form.

Open The Dialogue

Don’t expect just to “talk.” In the future, your brand will have to walk, talk, learn, listen and react! If you’re not prepared to interact with consumers, they’ll drop your brand forever.

For example, the LEGO group decided not to give children or adults the opportunity for email dialog when the company launched its site in 1996. To emphasize that people should not expect to receive any replies from LEGO, all emails were sent with the return address blindalley@lego.com.

The result was thousands of desperate LEGO fans sending letters and trying to make contact with their favorite brand, without any luck. The situation back in 1996 was controllable, and this decision was reversed very fast. Today it would mean disaster.

Don’t Forget Your Brand Identity

It might be conflicting to say that on one hand you have to be local, whereas on the other hand you have to be global and loyal to your brand – but that’s what it takes. Leveraging on the millions of dollars spent yearly on worldwide brand marketing is essential for local brands to survive.

Yet, being local doesn’t mean that you should change the logo, the graphic style and the brand platform. This can mean brand suicide. However, in a few cases local graphics might be needed such as when Carlsberg launched its Elephant beer in China. The graphics (illustrating two elephants) sent negative signals in the local market, based on the local religion.

Fortunately, this situation seldom happens. A brand is created via the communication and not necessarily via the logo and graphics.

It all has to do with getting close to the customer. If you act global without being local in a world where everyone prefers local communication, there’s always the risk of losing the consumer.

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