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Why marketers need to think local to sell global

James Trowman

What lands well in one market won’t necessarily work in another. Take The Office. Ricky Gervais’s mockumentary was a hit with UK TV audiences that he soon sold it stateside. But the American version’s initial episode, which replicated the British show exactly, fell flat. It was only when writers tailored the jokes and characters to the humour of the US audience that it became an Emmy-winning success in its own right.

Adapting how we communicate with different audiences is vital to successful marketing, too. People may be more connected than ever, but marketers shouldn’t confuse increased digital connectivity for similarity. New tools mean we feel closer, but let’s not lose sight of our differences.

Culture remains localised. Messaging that appeals in America might not translate well in France, China or even other English-speaking countries such as the UK. But too often, the desire to work centrally – and with consistency – overshadows this fact. The problem that global organisations face is how do you build a content function that maintains quality and control and allows for flexibility to tailor to local markets?

Strong global marketing reflects this need for balance. At The Frameworks, we work with many international organisations, including IBM, Siemens, and UST. We have experienced this from both angles, collaborating with teams centrally or in the local market. So we’re perfectly placed to understand the central-local dynamic – and how to avoid its pitfalls.

A question of nuance

It’s not surprising that global businesses like using a central marketing team. It gives a company greater visibility of what they are telling the world, ensures a consistent look and feel across materials and makes it easier to align marketing with overarching business targets. This united front makes sense for global accounts.

But there are enormous challenges when developing messaging to work across all markets. Content created centrally without acknowledging that local markets are nuanced often creates complications. If a message doesn’t speak to a local audience, it can affect a brand’s success in that region and – if it misses the mark – even damage a business’s reputation. 

That can be for several reasons. The creative may not resonate with the market, the tone of voice may not appeal to them, or it could be a matter of market maturity. People in one region may have a deep understanding of a concept, but the target audience may have never heard of it elsewhere. The creative concept will be lost on them.

But the answer isn’t handing over all the marketing budget to local teams. While that may lead to hyper-relevant content, it jeopardises quality control and isn’t as economical; messaging will be duplicated across markets, and there will be too much varied creative out in the wild. That’s a recipe for a confused brand.

Meet in the middle

There isn’t a simple fix. It’s not about choosing one or the other but finding a happy medium. A global organisation needs to create an informed central framework for campaigns that can be tailored and delivered by local teams for specific locations.

It starts with strategy. As with the creative itself, people with knowledge of key markets need to contribute to the central framework. This way, the chosen approach will have the whole range of end consumers in mind, and the marketing plan will be richer, more adaptable to those different markets and, ultimately, more likely to succeed.

Technology makes alignment between central and local teams easier. Workflow management tools enable people in different markets to work together without being in the same room. Transparent workflows allow everyone to see the centralised campaign strategy and monitor how the creative is adapted for each region. Without sacrificing quality or control, this unlocks the potential for nuanced messaging across markets.

Don’t forget to listen

Technology is vital for understanding markets, too. The experience of team members based in different geographies is crucial, but social listening tools help you sense check what will work there.

We recently worked on local audience research for a global client at The Frameworks. The organisation wanted to talk about a specific business area in a hyper-relevant way. So, we took that central concept and explored how different markets spoke about it.

It involved unpicking LinkedIn research and using social listening tools to overlay the overarching conversation onto the regional analysis. This process revealed the nuances of the topic for those markets – and the best strategy for talking to them.

Think locally, sell globally

Marketers are faced with many complexities when working on global accounts. And as the global economy grows increasingly complex, companies that can cut through and unlock the secrets of consumer choice, both locally and globally, will gain a competitive advantage.

A consistent message is essential for a global account, but to get there, you need to think local and look for ways that your team can customise marketing materials to your key markets. Only that way can global accounts be sure that their communications are working for them – and their audiences – to the full.

A version of this article first appeared on B2B News Network in February, 2022