As technology bridges the gaps between cultures and nations, the world is increasingly connected — this wave of globalization presents challenges for marketing product innovation.
At this year’s Cannes Lions, Campaign and Product of the Year brought together some of the greatest marketing minds from brands and agencies to debate the changing landscape of global product launches — whether communication is becoming homogenized, how boundaries and territories are shifting, and what that means for marketers.
Throughout the discussion, the delegates came back to one key point: that human insights should shape products on a global level — and that those universal themes should be interpreted for local markets using cultural nuances. Or, as Silvia Davila, VP and global food CMO at Mars Inc. put it: "Flavors might be local, but insights travel."
Davila explained how Mars has rethought its approach to product development based on this observation, switching from locally driven product innovation to an outlook based on platforms created using global insights. "It’s about how you define a product," she said. "Are you defining a product or are you defining a platform? When you go very narrow, you’re actually getting in the way of creating scale."
Mike Nolan, CEO of Product of the Year, agreed saying that consumers in far-flung markets share the same concerns. "Working closely with FMCG and CPG manufacturers, we know the issues for parents in Mumbai, New York or Sydney are the same," he said. "Ultimately when you’re targeting mums, they all want their children to eat healthier, have a clean white shirt and live in a safe and clean home. But increasingly, the way in which you launch new products and communicate about them is more nuanced locally than ever before."
The delegates agreed consumer concerns are universal — but how they appear locally leads to sweeping differences in attitudes. Guy Hayward, global CEO at KBS, explained: "A mother’s interpretation of of what healthy eating is could be very different in the suburbs of Moscow compared with the slums of São Paulo. Health might be the platform — but there are different ways of delivering it."
"You can build a global idea based on human insights, but you need local execution to capture the cultural insights," said Tarun Rai, CEO at J Walter Thompson South Asia. The balance between the two varies depending on a brand’s product category, he added: "A global strategy in technology is easier — when it comes to fashion or foods, the cultural insights become very important."
These local nuances don’t just affect the marketing of products — they need to be considered at every level of production, from the business model to the product delivery. Silvia Davila explained that Mars is currently researching the same brand in the US and India; in the former it’s targeting a $2 price point, while in India it will retail for 20 rupees. "It’s exactly the same insight that we’re going after, but the product delivery will be very different, and the advertising will be different. Clearly the business model needs to be incredibly different to have financial return on both approaches."
The "improved here" mindset
The idea of applying global insights to local product development also works the other way around; you can tailor a product developed for a local market to other cultures through understanding the universal need it fulfils.
Michael Inpong, chief marketing officer at Muller Group, explained how the company has adopted an "improved here" mindset. "Often when we see something from another country, another idea, the brain goes, ‘no, it’s not for me’," he says. "Retrain your brain to say: ‘What could I do with it? How could I make it work? How could I improve it here?’"
This is how Muller has had success in multiple territories, he explained — by taking a successful strategy and tailoring it to a local audience. "[You] find a different story that creates another success, that continues from Germany to the UK, UK to the Czech Republic, everybody improving it in their own country. … When it works, it works really beautifully."
Nick Lawson, CEO EMEA at MediaCom, said that in the future cultural distinctions will come to matter more than geographical boundaries. "We’ll be planning in the future on culture, and we’ll be planning along those lines globally, as opposed to countries. The cultures will be very different, around collectivism, individualism, short term versus long term."
He cited Coke sales in the Islamic world, where a culture of sharing has driven sales of bottled Coke, rather than cans. "It’s simple things which you’ve got to have in mind when you’re advertising a product," he said. "Which product do you put in front of the consumer?"
Better living through technology
New technologies, increased communication and social media have fundamentally changed the way brands deliver global products using local insights.
Technological advances have changed the way people are acting and sharing — and tech companies bring their own point of view to the process of communicating with consumers. "Facebook says it wants people to share and like stuff," said Michael Islip, UK CEO at DigitasLBi. "As we are using those channels, we have to keep this in mind."
The boom in technology and communication has led to a much more exposed world, said Tarun Rai. "Even without physically travelling you’re travelling; media is everywhere." But this doesn’t mean we’re heading to a more uniform, globalised world; cultural issues are becoming more important. "I don’t think we are in a hurry to get to a homogenized world."
Global communications platforms like YouTube have opened up new opportunities to target consumers on a precise, local level, said Grant Hunter, regional creative director Asia at iris worldwide, describing how Diageo has used local influencers to market Guinness in Korea. "It’s a relatively new product to that market, and there’s lots of scepticism about the actual drink itself; it’s black, it’s dark, it’s heavy." The solution was to use local YouTube celebrities, giving them the freedom to use the product in their own channels as they saw fit.
The more things change …
While technology may have changed the game plan for companies, the playing field is still the same. "The fundamentals are still there; quality sells, everyone loves humor," said Peter Drakoulias, board member at Product of the Year USA. "While technology continues to evolve the way we communicate, everyone still wants a yogurt that’s healthy and tastes great."
Tarun Rai said that with increased communication, brands must be more conscious of maintaining a consistent message across territories. "Increasingly brands have a global presence — so a brand can’t mean the diametric opposite of what it means in one country to another. You travel and you see brands." Brands can overcome this challenge by basing their messaging on global insights, he said.
"It’s a reboot for everybody," said Michael Inpong, chief marketing officer at Muller Group. "You can anticipate that the younger generation is more connected, so they have more empathy with other countries and cultures — though the reality is not proven yet."
As the discussion wrapped up, the delegates agreed that new technologies and an increasingly globalized world require brands to rethink their product marketing strategies — and that, as Mike Nolan said: "Human insight remains global — and marrying that to local cultural insight is the sweet spot for great product innovation."