Global Vs Local: Ensuring A Consistent Brand Identity In The Digital Age

A nuanced brand message is the key to unlocking new markets


When Ford were advertising a model in Belgium, they applied a global branding strategy to a local market. ‘Every car has a high-quality body’ is a perfectly fine tagline, one that clearly denotes quality and consistency of product, before it is catastrophically translated to ‘Every car has a high-quality corpse’.

Misuse of language is far more common when translating into a language with a different alphabet, but Ford’s oversight - and, to be clear, they are by no means alone in making this kind of mistake - is a tidy metaphor for the difficulties of bringing a localizing a global brand identity. In the digital age, the potential customer is exposed to both a brand’s local and global identity simultaneously. In this sense, they should be the same, but different; consistent, but aware enough of cultural nuances to exploit each market to its potential.

Localized, personal marketing is on the up, and the concept has moved on from simply employing an experienced and culturally aware translator; new tools and techniques have become available to marketers as technology has developed. ‘Hyperlocal geo-targeting’, for example, can be a key tool for a company deploying effective local marketing on mobile. Open an app, and many will ask to enable location services, enabling the app to detect when the user passes through ‘geo-fences’ and deliver locally relevant content accordingly.

Region-specific digital manifestations can be a great way of building a connection with your brand across the globe, too. Only one percent of US-based online retailers offer Chinese language sites, according to Gala, while 95% of Chinese online consumers unsurprisingly claim greater comfort levels with websites in their own language. It would take 83 different languages to reach 80% of the world’s population, but taking time to adapt your message sensitively and garner maximum global comfort with your brand is fundamental.

Director of HBT Agency, David Hayes, said: 'The brands most successful at taking a product or brand internationally are those who have identified a positioning which translates across different cultures. They have a unique point of difference, either emotional or rational, that resonates universally.’ McDonald’s branding is, in a way, representative of good global strategy; their regional menu options give cultural relevance to an otherwise homogenous selection of typically ‘American’ food, subtle local tweaks on an otherwise global offering.

The mantra ‘think global, act local’ has pervaded top-level marketing for some time. The best of these strategies are those than stem from universal human motivation. Brands should avoid messages that could be politically or culturally misfitting and, often, slight vagueness isn’t damaging; Coca Cola’s strategy, for example, is ‘To inspire moments of optimism’. Ballantine’s Scotch whisky went with ‘Stay True, Leave an Impression’ - when defining your company’ marketing strategy, figure out what your brand means to people, and keep the overarching message wide enough to be adaptable. Global and local strategies are difficult to align, but wholesale regional changes leave a confusing message, and the digital age gives the consumer both sides of the coin, make sure they fit.

Another central tenet of marketing in the digital age is social media. In terms of depth of engagement, social is one of a brand’s most powerful tools, offering genuine opportunities for one-to-one interaction with customers. Many industry leaders are moving their customer service onto social, and brands will employ a team to provide immediate, often witty repartees with customers whether approached with complaints or enquiries. News stories detailing comical interactions between customers and brands are common, and many reach the holy grail of ‘going viral’. Of course, not every brand has the luxury of employing a 24-hour social team, but find a tone that works for your business, ensure that this tone is consistent and then endeavour to be as engaging and as willing as possible.

Dr Martens’ Instagram activity is an interesting case study of a unified yet local strategy. The British footwear manufacturers have very well-followed regional Instagram accounts in both Malaysia and Indonesia, markets more difficult to reach with a global strategy. The accounts will often post photos submitted by customers wearing the product - doing this on a global scale would be difficult but their regional divisions serve to spread the volume. They allow the company to publicize regional offers in a way that brands with one global account cannot and, of course, the aesthetic is consistent across the accounts.

Your brand message should be unified but nuanced, universal but regionally aware - the same, but different. To find out more from industry leaders and those working in global marketing, buy your tickets for the Chief Marketing Officer Summit in Seattle on May 25-26. 

Looking out small

Read next:

The Trends CMOs Cannot Ignore In 2016