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Global Vs. Local

December 01, 2021


Hey Global – Listen Up. Local Needs You to Hear Them

If you’ve worked in marketing, then you know about global vs. local. There's a tension between what “global” wants to do and what the satellite offices think they should do.

If you’ve worked both, then you’ve seen both sides of the coin. You hear all the complaints in global, about this country ignoring the strategy, producing their own campaign, and interpreting the global strategy into their own.

And if you’ve worked at the country offices, you’ve seen the flip, and you can start to understand why. Global advises “the big picture,” rooted in the lead or home country office’s backyard…and where the life cycle of the category and brand may be at. At the local level, global may just seem out of touch for a hundred reasons and it can be frustrating.

There is a solution here, one that lets global and local country regional offices play to their strengths. We can look to the popular environmentalist slogan “think global, act local” to help us figure it out.

Think Global: The Big Picture

The global head office is usually responsible for what we’ll call the “big picture” strategy. The problem is the global team is then asked/required to take that strategy and create campaigns with it that may work for the home country’s category, competitor or brand life cycle, or culture. They hire the ad agency; they hire the partners to create the marketing materials. And they do it because often, they have big budgets and some accountability for home or head office sales.

Regional Marketers are often playing with much smaller budgets. And we are trying to make the big global strategy work at a different stage of the life cycle. As Marketers, we get the big picture, but we may be a long way away from delivering that message without building trust and reasons to believe. So global has a big budget (relatively speaking), bringing the global brand strategy to life and believing that with their panoramic view, all countries simply need to follow.

Act Local: The Devil Is in the Details

The thing is, the local marketers often aren’t wrong. We are on the front lines of any specific area, and that means we are looking at things with the zoom turned way, way up. We may not see the “whole picture” like they are at global. But we are pointing to a very specific part of the picture and saying, “This. This right here.”

This is where the “act local” comes in. So many local regions can’t use the global campaign because it doesn’t account for local differences. And we see that where cultural expectations are vastly different. The Japan team has unique needs while London maybe is making strategic decisions for them.

Why Not Ditch Global?

Not following a strategy coming out of global is only a problem for global. Global must justify its existence, more so than any other office. So, if the regional offices are doing their own thing, why do we even have a global marketing team?

That’s why global gets frustrated with the local counterparts. They want us to follow their strategy and support their global insights.

This leads to tension between the centralized “global” team and the local teams. Global wants one centralized message, one campaign. The local teams want to make sure they’re addressing their market.

However, letting the regional offices do whatever they want is a recipe for disaster too. You’ll end up with multiple positions, messages, and escalating costs as things are duplicated over-and-over again across the marketing mix.

Without a unified strategy, Coca-Cola Australia might start peddling caffeine-fueled adventure. Kinda like if Coke were Redbull or something. Can you imagine how confused customers from the US would be when they landed in Oz? Here's a Coke ad with someone skydiving and a tagline about how much energy cola can give you.

So: global still has a role to play in marketing, even if the local offices reject the slick campaign materials global sends over.

Creating a Centralized Vision and Message

This is where we get into “think global, act locally.” Global’s role in all this is to create that centralized vision and a central message. Their job is to identify the brand’s essence and outline its core values.

Let’s look at Coke again. Coke’s core proposition is that it is a fun, refreshing drink. It has a lot of tradition behind it (take a look at their Christmas advertising)—it’s also a very social drink.

But images of Santa Claus aren’t going to resonate with an audience in China. And polar bears might be cute, but they’re not going to get Brazilians excited to drink Coca-Cola.

Instead, what we need to do is outline the global strategy, getting down to the essence of our brands. Then we let our local counterparts “act” on it. If we say Coke's brand is social relationships—it’s a drink you share—then our local offices can run with that. Australia isn't out there creating campaigns that tout Coke’s energy-boosting abilities. But the Australian office is still going to create a campaign that speaks to Australians.

So, what does this look like? It looks like an Australian campaign where adventure-seeking friends share a Coke before they ride a big wave. In Brazil, it might look like a kid bringing a Coke to their hard-working parent on a hot day. In Canada or the US, it looks like two new acquaintances forming a bond over a Coke. In China, a young couple on their first date shares a Coke and a magical moment. In Japan, the new hire orders a Coke at a meeting with their seniors, breaking the ice.

All these campaigns have the same core message: Coke brings people together! Coke isn’t just a drink; it’s about making magical moments happen between people.

But each one of these campaigns is tailored to its specific audience. The Japanese ad won’t make much sense to Canadian or American audiences. There’s an underlying familiarity there—of course, the new employee wants to impress the bosses. But we don’t put as fine a point on it as the Japanese do. So, this ad is more meaningful to the Japanese audience than a North American one. But it’s still delivering the same core message.

It’s the core messaging that global handles. That’s the “think global” part of this—and it makes sense for global to oversee this. They can gather upmarket research from all the local offices and understand the brand essence and share learnings of how to build a brand to deliver the essence effectively depending on life cycle, competitive influences. Global has a panoramic view of global research and brand development to be able to teach, share and help marketers navigate the brand lifecycle journey in a way that ensures both success and common brand essence.  The value is the “global big picture,” and the ability to share/inspire local offices.

Locally, the marketers are responsible for translating it—for “acting local.” Santa Claus and polar bears may work in North America, but other audiences are going to scratch their heads. As much as the message is “global”—about sharing and caring—the execution is not!

Global and Local Work Together

Thinking this way doesn’t just relieve tension but it ensures that local marketers with their finger on the pulse can deliver to the global strategy in the most effective way that their brand, market, culture can be. It ensures that local doesn’t have to run campaigns that they know are wrong and try to justify missed sales deliverables. Global and regional if set up right, can guide and share their panoramic view of all markets and lessons learned to champion more global wins locally.

The “why” should be the same but the “what” and even the “who” might be different depending on where a brand is in its life cycle, competitive set…. cultural differences. Global should be responsible to guide the “why” and helping champion the brand story so that all consumers globally feel that brand’s difference.

No matter if we’re working globally or locally, we must remember to start with the why!


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