Globalization is under pressure in multiple ways and areas. It is under necessary transformation strategically and tactically speaking, which is unscripted for the most part. So is digital globalization, as the data-driven accelerator and preferred vehicle to expand and grow internationally. It shakes up conventional thinking and resets “Silk Roads” that have been prevailing for decades in global business. Capturing the best from the West is no longer enough, and digital innovation in Asia and Africa impresses more than ever before.

Among all fast-paced changes that you should address to delight customers around the world, calibrating and branding globalization efforts is a must-do, and no organization can pretend to use the silver bullet.

The world of customers remains a world of languages, cultures and ecosystems. As it calls for cross-cultural maturity and cross-functional leadership, established multinationals and enterprise environments may seem to have an immediate advantage to thrive, compared to daring entrepreneurs and booming startup scenes that are geographically dispersed and focused.

You may wonder if existing or aspiring globalization Goliaths are really in the best position to lead and be the default worldwide. Or you might assume challenging Davids are doomed to follow globalization and localization trends rather than moving ahead on their own.

These good questions deserve a broader perspective and a deeper exploration. It is worth scratching the marketing surface and leaving so-called comfort zones. First of all, the size of globalization Goliaths and challenging Davids has to be put in perspective with the market(s) that they cover and the clients that they serve. Therefore their difference may lie in the way they embrace digital globalization and profit from it.

Be that as it may, a relentless focus on agility, velocity, and centricity is most important to execute globalization plans effectively and consistently regardless of industry, background, or objective. Success stories and halls of shame show that leading and accelerating digital globalization takes much more than significant budgets and abundant resources. It is rooted in how these assets are leveraged. Digital globalization success starts with a thorough understanding of local customers and is constantly nurtured by the ability to deliver experiences to the right customers at the right time and in the right place. In other words doing the right thing implies engaging audiences linguistically, culturally and functionally.

Rather than standing and moving all alone some globalizing organizations opt to consider what others – challengers or competitors – do and how they perform to excel locally and globally. They sometimes turn them into partners, influencers or catalyzers to enter international markets and to distill their local presence into increased effectiveness, value and revenues.

Here are a few examples of recent cases and places where globalization Goliaths have met, teamed, or struggled with challenging Davids, helping raise the bar and move the needle.

Expanding And Growing Through Win-Win Partnerships Beyond Industries And Across Channels

The deal that the US-based Starbucks and the Sweden-based startup Spotify reached in 2016 is a great example of a mutually beneficial globalizer. Both global players demonstrated once more that the alliance between bricks and clicks works.

By making the line between online and offline thinner it enabled both companies to create more value for their associates and their customers. On the one hand, Starbucks was able to enrich customer experiences in the US, UK and other countries with a next generation music ecosystem. On the other hand, Spotify could know local customers better and gain more ground in these target markets.

This partnership also combined a brick and mortar foundation around the world with the power of a digital platform and online channels available to people whenever and wherever they wanted. As a result, Spotify content could be localized in a more granular and profitable way with Starbucks data, while Starbucks accelerated its pace to enhanced digital experiences thanks to Spotify assets.

Expanding And Growing Through Localization At The Scale Of There And At The Speed Of Now

Speed is critical in the digital age. Yet it has to be set according to local requirements , drivers and competition to be truly effective. Uber could testify to this when it faced the challenge of becoming as successful in China as it was in other international markets.  It showed that localizing a product or a service takes more than a normal adaptation because there is no such thing as a normal (or, even worse, normalized) customer experience. It requires a detailed conversion to collective and individual aspirations. The price to pay for making customers feel unique is never too high for a globalization Goliath.

Didi played the role of local challenging David decisively by immerging itself in the Chinese market to create fluid, natural experiences. It turned localization and hyperlocalization costs into customer experience investments. A globalization Goliath lost a battle against a challenging David here because it did not fully embrace the whole local reality, including all layers of legal and commercial complexity. Ultimately it was the victim of a syndrome affecting some fierce Western multinationals, pushing them to consider internationalization and localization as linear processes.

Expanding And Growing Through Operational Synergies Between Global Brands And Local Gateways

While global brands bet much on motions and emotions to attract and retain customers, this approach does not cut it in a number of markets. They need to go further and deeper to translate these emotions into fluid journeys, delivering immersive experiences locally. Therefore some globalizing organizations strive to identify the best allies that can tie their robust functional foundation to the highest value of products. If you owned a shoe brand, you would define this sort of meeting place as where global shoe makers meet local shoe shiners.

Ebay in India and top beauty brands in China are two good examples of globalization Goliaths joining iconic challengers on very competitive and fast-growing digital market places, respectively Flipkart and Tmall. Ebay’s move in India appeared as an intriguing case of a global company selling its local subsidiary and investing in the local acquirer at the same time. In fact, it marked the

converging interest from both companies to offer local customers a wide array of products giving global customers access to local goods. It was more than just another global trade agreement and financial deal though. Ebay provided technology expertise whereas Flipkart brought its invaluable experience on how to best satisfy local customer needs.

In the same vein, the cooperation between cosmetics companies such as L’Oréal and Tmall was more than about driving sales in the Chinese market. Like for other top Western and Eastern brands, Tmall elevated their local presence by converting local shopper interactions into journeys and experiences that local digital consumers expected within their ecosystem. Tmall made it happen thanks to a holistic integration of localized brands assets, local content, exclusive products or services, and even offline business opportunities.


Mistakes are made and lessons are learned when going beyond borders and boundaries. At all times you should be open, curious, and bold, whether you are at the forefront or in the backstage of digital globalization. As we all know, Goliaths don’t always win. Bill Gates rightly stated: “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose.” Glittering pitfalls in digital globalization can definitely be avoided when Goliaths get inspired by Davids, or when Davids keep challenging Goliaths. Either way, local customers should always win.