A look at any newspaper, magazine or television programming gives the impression that the world has become a village with a population of like individuals. Differences have disappeared and the ones that still exist, won’t for much longer. The world as a village?
The impression of assimilation only increases when we consider Chinese youths who dress in western fashions, eat western foods and listen to western music. Here in the western world, we eat pot stickers, consult feng shui experts and attend the Beijing Opera.
Yet who would contend about themselves that they had oriented their values, their thoughts, their feelings and their behavior on an Asian culture? A deeper study shows rather quickly how locally rooted culture around the world is. Why are there national editions of the Financial Times, National Geographic and CNN? Of MTV and even Sesame Street?
In a Nike spot, U.S. basketball star LeBron James out-dribbles a Kung Fu master and several dragons. The Chinese departments for radio, film and television banned the commercial because of their perceived offense to national dignity. Indignation too, that a black beat a white.
Car manufacturer BMW wanted to import its European “Driving Force” campaign to China. The campaign flopped. Reason: the ads depicted people sweating. Not something you can sell cars to the Chinese upper classes with. Chinese are among a group with the least active sweat glands. They are unfamiliar with arm pit odor and proud of it.
Even with an apparently global product as the hamburger, burger chains orient themselves according to local food habits: burgers don’t have cheese in Israel because kosher restaurants keep meat and milk apart. Burgers in India are prepared with vegetables or mutton since Hindus are forbidden beef. In Muslim countries, restaurants aren’t allowed to serve pork – there, McDonald’s was forced to apologize for the taste of beef and pork in its french fries. The Japanese eat their burgers with a knife and fork. Whereas they must eat other foods with their hands for religious reasons, for example rice balls and raw fish.
Isolated instances? Or are cultural differences critical to the design of global brand management? If they are, what are the tasks put before brand managers?
The Example Of Culture Codes
Culture codes have to do with values, norms and the basic givens of a country. They influence the thought, feeling and behavior of people. Example – Chocolate: chocolate consumption can be segmented around the world according to taste preferences and when it is given as a gift. In software for the Islamic market, crosses are prohibited. In Russia, red flags. Ivana Modena in her 2005 book Global Markets and Local Structures: “Software companies with ambitions which cross borders put in up to 20 times as much work into internationalizing and localizing their programs as they do into the actual software development.”
Because of such differences, companies have markedly changed their approach to global brand management in recent years: following years of hoped-for success via standardization, strategies are becoming increasingly differentiated. Particularities in local markets led Coca-Cola, since 2001 and despite high costs, to include 100 local variations of its commercials. The spots were created in 14 countries and were shown in 200. The VW Golf used to be called the Rabbit in the U.S. and was later renamed Golf. While the car was still called Rabbit, VW sold 250,000 units a year. As the Golf, sales sank to 30,000 units. The Golf went back to being the Rabbit and sales doubled within a year.
The French adore their cheese. They keep it under a special dome for covering cheese in order that it can breathe at room temperature and ripen properly. The code for cheese in France is life. In the U.S. cheese is pasteurized, wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator like a mummy. The code for cheese in the U.S. is death. Such codes can differ from one another within a country as the example of India illustrates.
Example – Food: people develop preferences for certain tastes and aversions to others within a cultural context. The culture around food is a decisive factor as well as the flavor patterns of regional or national cuisines. So it makes sense that, while one food might be valued highly in one culture, it is disliked in another. The palette that is shaped in an individual’s childhood strongly affects later preferences; it can be tied to familiar and societal security and a connection to a certain group. In the end, everything harkens back to the world in which we grew up.
There are of course certain codes that can be applied globally because everyone understands their meanings: BMW compared a new model with the body parts of animals. O2 uses oxygen as a symbol in various countries. A pharmaceutical company depicted the elapsed fiscal year with hands, strategy manuals utilize ‘the earth’ worldwide as a metaphor for commerce. Codes which are cross-cultural include the following:
- Basic elements: earth, wind and fire
- People: hands, basic emotions, etc.
- Caricatures, sketches, comic figures
Core to effective global brand management is uncovering such codes and developing an internal way of working with them.
The Management Of Feedback
What does that mean?
Every country could basically shape its own discrete brand management as called for in the particular country. But what happens when a country plans something that affects another country or the central strategy, or that ‘could’ possibly affect it? In such an event, the brand management should be marshaled; content, timing and format should be set up free of contradictions in order to leverage commonalities and avoid cross talk and unintended messaging.
An example: in these internet times, users check worldwide where they can get the best price on a product; search engines and service provider that compare prices. If a company offers its products at different prices in different countries, it should be coordinated. Global brand management is the management of feedback.
Expert, global brand management is tied to organizational prerequisites: they affect the participating personnel, roles and responsibilities, processes, the applied information technology as well as the communication structure. Because the discussion among relevant groups in different countries directly affects corporate politics, global brand management must be championed by corporate leadership, funded by a discreet budget and supported with clear directives.
|This article is featured in the ‘Global Marketing’ special edition of Brand Quarterly produced in association with the Brand2Global conference 2014. View the full magazine with further insights from thought leaders, marketers and globalization/localization experts.|