Brexit versus global thinking: the new internationalism in marketing

As the UK creative community continues to come to terms with the implications of Brexit, Nicola Kemp asks whether it is time to reappraise the effectiveness of global marketing.

Spare a thought for the British-born chief executive of a Seattle ad agency whose colleagues have taken to shouting "Brexit!" when he leaves a room. 

The political earthquake in Europe may not have elicited the same depth of emotional response from the US creative communities as it has in the UK, but it has certainly provided a stark inflection point for the global creative industry. Not least because of the abysmal failure of the Remain campaign to communicate the benefits of internationalism to consumers, rooted in a fundamental lack of understanding of their deep-seated hopes and fears.

For global marketing directors, accusations of being out of touch with the reality of their consumers’ lives is certainly nothing new. 

The experts’ view 


The new rules of global branding


Simon Massey

Global chief executive,
The Gild 

This is the time for consistency in the way global leaders run their businesses, and marketers manage their brands. Consumers are unsettled; the last thing they need is their brands jumping all over the place. What’s needed is the setting of a visionary path that [looks] ten years [ahead], yet consistent with that much-cited quality of agility. It’s about resisting the urge to meddle, and to hold one’s nerve when the world is falling apart around you.

That visionary path needs to be rooted in solid cultural insight, but with agility baked in so that a brand or leader knows what they stand for but can adapt according to what’s relevant. Yet the core of who you are and your approach must stay firm.


Kevin Chesters

Chief strategy officer,

Ogilvy & Mather London 

Be socially relevant. Find the conversation that is going on in the world that’s bigger than the advertising one and work out how best to join it. Dove understood a decade ago that there was a growing conversation about self-esteem and the way women were portrayed in marketing.

It then worked out its point of view – the "campaign for real beauty" – and developed a platform that has flexed across ages and continents. This is the key to great global work – a universal truth that can flex with cultural nuances.

Nonetheless, the rise of national insularity in the UK and the US raises several questions for the industry. While we are all accustomed to the cultural nuances that get lost in translation, and continued confusion of global media channels with a coherent global consumer segmentation, the business environment is new.

Success in the past is no guarantee of achievement in the future, and the nature of marketing has fundamentally altered.

"You need innovation, not just for growth, but for survival," Euan Jarvie, executive director at media agency Carat Global, explains. "There is no question that the companies populating the top 100 brands today will radically change in the next three to five years."

According to Jarvie, firms no longer require the same depth of investment to connect with consumers and launch a product. Local brands are taking on the global heavyweights on an unprecedented scale, a shift that places significant pressures on the global marketing community.

The new insularity

While consumers and communities left behind by globalism feel cut off and misunderstood, marketers and trend-watchers continue to attempt to shoe-horn them into global tribes. It appears that while social media has got the world talking and more digitally connected, individuals may be more physically isolated than ever.

But what does this mean for the marketing industry? Has the business discipline designed to bridge the gap between consumer and company fundamentally failed to understand the hopes and fears of its audience? Kevin Chesters, chief strategy office at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather London, says that in the UK, Brexit should act as a wake-up call.

"I’d wager that we all feared it, and not one of us predicted it – mostly because we rarely step outside our screens or our desks to properly look at the world," he quips.

He adds that the advertising industry has always been in danger of failing to understand the hopes and fears of its consumers, because, "apart from fashion and politics, we are possibly the most self-obsessed industry that exists".

Global blanding

Patrick Garvey, founding partner at "ideas company" We Are Pi, says that there is a very real risk that global brands behave in a way that is divorced from their consumers.

"Having to manage multiple markets, objectives and differing audience insights is never going to be an easy task," he adds. "The recent news about Coca-Cola’s ‘one brand’ strategy struggling to gain traction is proof of that."

Global brand strategies can often be so focused on the internal workings of a brand that they become too blunt to meaningfully connect with the consumer.

As Garvey points out, Coca-Cola’s recent "One brand" strategy suggests this disconnection still exists.

The brand’s use of the same red and white branding on all variants of Coke is a prime example. The packaging, which launched in May, will be rolled out globally by 2017. Critics argue it simply makes it harder for time-pressed consumers to identify which variation of Coca-Cola they are choosing,

From internationalism to influence

The evolution of digital marketing has enabled marketers to achieve a blend of global andlocal marketing at scale. The historic tussle between local and global fiefdoms continues, but there is a new-found ability to blend global strategy with local execution. "The world of mass advertising is over; scale is delivering different things to different people," says Jarvie.

The growing power of global influencers offers the promise of delivering peer-to-peer marketing on a global scale. Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Douglas Holt coined the term "cultural branding" to describe the rise of collaborative and crowd-sourced marketing.

"A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is, it is what consumers tell each other it is," says Anneke Schogt, managing director of digital influencer marketing agency IMA. "Old-fashioned global marketing consisted of pushing the same message to a large audience on a global scale. This method disregards what the consumer really wants, which is often to listen to another person’s opinion. For this reason, working with influencers is the new roadmap to branding on an international scale."

Alistair Beattie, co-chief executive of DDB and Tribal Worldwide Amsterdam, argues that global brands are more important in a world where a sense of community has also expanded. "The internet has never respected geography," he says. "From its first principles it promised a new world order where communications and friendships evolved more freely. It opens horizons and inspires a sense of potential and possibility. Global brands aren’t only part of popular culture, but symbolic of the larger sense of identity that so many people want to be a part of."

Global individualism

However, the traditional global footprint of many of the world’s biggest brands increasingly appears at odds with an economic and social climate in which the benefits of globalisation are being challenged.

It is notable that a key pillar of Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic Party’s US presidential nomination was that "global trade has failed to live up to its promise".

According to data from the Pew Research Center, the public now views the US’ role in the world with apprehension and concern. In fact, most Americans say it would be better if the US dealt only with its own problems and let other countries deal with theirs the best they can.

In Europe, Pew claims that prolonged economic stagnation, the influx of refugees, terrorist attacks and the strategic challenge posed by Russia is making many Europeans weary – and perhaps wary – of foreign entanglements.

Yet the findings suggest Europeans have not completely turned their backs on the world. Involvement in the inter­national economy is widely supported, and Europeans generally feel an obligation to help developing nations.

Pew’s research shows not all Europeans are isolationist in the traditional sense. Germans and Swedes are outward-looking and committed to multilateralism to a degree not found in France, Greece, Hungary, Italy or Poland. In seven out of ten European countries, at least half of the public supports increasing foreign aid.

The new neutrality

The values of globalism are unquestionably changing, with climate change, diversity, LGBT and income-inequality issues among those rising up the public agenda on both sides of the Atlantic.


Trevor Hardy

Chief executive,

The Future Laboratory

The foundations of brand-building and effective marketing remain largely the same. But the need for speed has made us throw out the fundamentals and react in ways that seem right for today, but are harmful for tomorrow. Too little value is placed on taking time to think, space to weigh options and possible futures. The culture of minimum viable products and rapid innovation has a lot to answer for: everything is almost immediately obsolete – including strategy. In this ready-fire-aim world, the new rules should surely be the old ones, putting an emphasis on the long game while still being agile enough to capitalise on a near-term opportunity.


Felicia Rosenzweig

Partner,

Prophet

The "old" rules are still right, marketers just aren’t following them. Global brands need to be insight-driven in every aspect of strategy and execution; relevant and authentic; distinctive and value-creating. They need to engage employees and make it easy for consumers and intermediaries (such as retailers and influencers) to understand them. They need to create experiences that drive consumer engagement, to embrace digital as a comprehensive enabler, not as a channel, and to empower dialogue, not fight for control. 

In line with this, global businesses need to reappraise both their internal and external-facing brand values.

Trevor Hardy, chief executive of trend- forecasting consultancy The Future Labora­tory, argues that brands have always been at their most powerful when they reflect what is happening in culture and society.

So, while inter­nationalism may not be the right thing to strive for, neutrality is where things are heading.

"There is an emerging sense that people have more in common with others across the globe than people down their street," Hardy says. "We’re also seeing brands that relied on a seasonal approach to product launches [move to being] seasonless this year. Gender neutrality has been very visible in the media and reality TV, but it is likely to be more widely accepted in society and workplaces in years to come."

Meanwhile, our tendency towards ageism will also be challenged as society develops a more accepting view of the value and values of older generations.

According to Hardy, all this points to the evolution of a more neutral culture – one not grounded in countries, but rather driven by shared values and interests.

Despite the foundations of brand-building and effective marketing having remained largely unchanged for decades, a significant shift is afoot. If the history of global branding was built upon recognition – wherever in the world you are, consumers can identify the Coca-Cola bottle, for example – its future is built upon shared values.

Claire Holmes, head of strategy at branding agency Lambie-Nairn, points out that today’s savvy consumers are looking for companies to have a transparent agenda for everything they do and say; a conscience that drives their behaviour.

"Brands with no social agenda have no place in global branding," she says. "To expand globally and intrude in other countries, they must give something back." It must be an equal relationship in which exploitation and corruption are quickly highlighted, Holmes argues, with any companies involved being named and shamed.

In this way, today’s successful global brands understand the importance of being part of a community in a positive way.

Bursting the filter bubble

The UK’s decision to leave the European Union is a telling reminder not just of the need to embrace a new spectrum of diverse and meaningful global brand values, but also of the implicit danger of immersing yourself in the reassuring comfort-blanket of the filter bubble, rather than the reality of your consumers’ lives.

From airport lounge to open-plan ad agency office, and Twitter dashboards to award ceremonies, the same problem abounds – the fundamental lack of understanding of consumers’ true motivations.

As Al Moseley, president and chief creative officer of ad agency 180 Amsterdam, so aptly declares, it is time to challenge the filter bubble, which is so prevalent in the advertising industry.

He explains: "The work that is getting talked about and awarded in Cannes is rarely work that has actually got the world talking. It’s got people in the industry talking and probably 90% of the time it was a local marketing initiative. Our industry has to start getting the world talking again – not in the echo chamber of its own self-regard." IQ

View from the ground:

Rodney Collins, regional director EMEA, McCann Truth Central

Global brands have great potential to play a powerful role in a precarious world. In fact, our data shows that 81% of consumers worldwide believe global brands have more ability to effect positive change than governments. This makes sense: they are truly global actors, with networks, savvy, and transnational presence. 

Of course, not all consumers, everywhere, view global brands and "globality" in the same way. In our study "The Truth about Global Brands", we found five distinct attitudinal and behavioural segments. Two where potential conflict and contrast are highest are "Staunch Localists" and "Armchair Globalists".

The former group comprises roughly a fifth of the global population – a proportion that is slightly higher in the UK. Localists tend to be older, and less inclined to consider themselves global citizens. Russia, Turkey, Japan and China have some of the highest distributions.

Almost their diametrical opposites are the Armchair Globalists. This group covers about 35% of the global population – 19% in the UK. This group tends to be younger and consider themselves global citizens, with the highest proportion in the Southern Hemisphere.

These contrasting mindsets are an index of the political conflict in many parts of the world today. In turn, you see that while many are increasingly confident in holding insular views, just as many (or more, in some markets) are embracing the promises of this era of globality. 

Global brands should ensure that these promises are met, and that the vision, imagi-n-ation and dreams associated with them are fulfilled.

The experts’ view 


The new rules of global branding


Simon Massey

Global chief executive,
The Gild 

This is the time for consistency in the way global leaders run their businesses, and marketers manage their brands. Consumers are unsettled; the last thing they need is their brands jumping all over the place. What’s needed is the setting of a visionary path that [looks] ten years [ahead], yet consistent with that much-cited quality of agility. It’s about resisting the urge to meddle, and to hold one’s nerve when the world is falling apart around you.

That visionary path needs to be rooted in solid cultural insight, but with agility baked in so that a brand or leader knows what they stand for but can adapt according to what’s relevant. Yet the core of who you are and your approach must stay firm.


Kevin Chesters

Chief strategy officer,

Ogilvy & Mather London 

Be socially relevant. Find the conversation that is going on in the world that’s bigger than the advertising one and work out how best to join it. Dove understood a decade ago that there was a growing conversation about self-esteem and the way women were portrayed in marketing.

It then worked out its point of view – the "campaign for real beauty" – and developed a platform that has flexed across ages and continents. This is the key to great global work – a universal truth that can flex with cultural nuances.


Trevor Hardy

Chief executive,

The Future Laboratory

The foundations of brand-building and effective marketing remain largely the same. But the need for speed has made us throw out the fundamentals and react in ways that seem right for today, but are harmful for tomorrow. Too little value is placed on taking time to think, space to weigh options and possible futures. The culture of minimum viable products and rapid innovation has a lot to answer for: everything is almost immediately obsolete – including strategy. In this ready-fire-aim world, the new rules should surely be the old ones, putting an emphasis on the long game while still being agile enough to capitalise on a near-term opportunity.


Felicia Rosenzweig

Partner,

Prophet

The "old" rules are still right, marketers just aren’t following them. Global brands need to be insight-driven in every aspect of strategy and execution; relevant and authentic; distinctive and value-creating. They need to engage employees and make it easy for consumers and intermediaries (such as retailers and influencers) to understand them. They need to create experiences that drive consumer engagement, to embrace digital as a comprehensive enabler, not as a channel, and to empower dialogue, not fight for control. 

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