The tensions of global branding

You can make a lot of analogies between a company and a family.  I’ve had clients say to me, “We are like a disfunctional family”.  Or, “This company is like a traditional family.  When the father speaks everyone falls into line.” [Note: It was an Asian company.  Not many American families follow that credo!].  

The analogy is useful to understand the tensions between local countries, product divisions, regional operations and corporate headquarters.  This is important because successful global branding requires alignment between these different groups.  

Sometimes the family runs smoothly with everyone recognizing and playing their assigned role.  

But more often the local companies are like rebellious teenagers.  They know they are part of the family but at the same time need some freedom for street cred.  As anyone who has been in the local level knows, there are local competitors who are not playing by the same rules as your company and it puts you at a disadvantage. You need all of the tools possible to win, including branding.

Corporate is like the family matriarch/patriarch (I believe in gender neutrality on who heads up the family).  They have the perspective that is unique, looking out over all of the areas.  And they have the wisdom of seeing what has worked and what has failed in different parts of the company.  They also want everyone in the family to be well-behaved and respectful.  At the same time corporate is several steps away from the day-to-day realities.  While this gives them perspective, it can also create blind spots.

If Corporate has strong control over the purse-strings, then they have a lot of authority.  If the local countries have local budgets, then they have the freedom to do what they see as necessary.

In truth, both are right.  There will always be a seesaw between the centralized control and the local control.  It is instructive to see how the subjective truth changes quickly when then the head of local marketing is promoted into corporate marketing.  

A little tension is inevitable and perhaps even a healthy competition within the company.  When there is too much tension, then the company needs to make some changes.  The tension is a symptom, not a cause.  It signals that something is not working well.

The first step is to openly acknowledge that these tensions exist.  By examining them honestly the company may actually uncover new opportunities.  For instance, the tension might be the result of an external change in the marketplace which corporate has not fully recognized but the local marketers see very clearly.  There are many things this tension might signal — too many for a single posting.  

To sum up, a little tension in the family is normal.  When the tension grows too great, it’s time to get some help!

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