The following are just some of the smart points made by Nigel Hollis, Joseph Plummer and Trena Davis at the NYAMA panel discussion on global branding.
Nigel brought home the point that there are very few true global brands. As measured in the BrandZ study, there are only handful of global brands, really, out of the thousands and thousands of brands around the world.
The importance of cultural context cannot be underestimated. The local brands often have advantages because they are rooted in the local lore and local customs and local tastes. The global brands had advantages in financial scale and the ability to adapt ideas from one country to another. At one time “global” brands were more trusted, more likely to be seen as leaders and innovators. Those advantages seem to be eroding today and the playing field appears tilted toward local brands — at least in most categories.
He brought to life many of the superb points from his book The Global Brand. I highly recommend the book for anyone who is working with a multinational brand. While it is heavy on research and less so on the creative side of global branding, the book makes very sharp points that challenge the conventional wisdom about branding.
Implicit in Nigel’s analysis is a rejection of the traditional brand positioning model — a single positioning for a brand everywhere. A truly global brand is a fine balancing act between values that transcend cultures and the flexibility and adaptation necessary to work effectively within a local country. McDonald’s was held up as an exemplar of a global brand which manages that balance extraordinarily well.
Trena Blair provided an excellent example of the connection between a strong brand and a strong internal culture. Too often branding is seen as synonymous with advertising. At American Express the brand is not something seen as a device for external marketing. It is the lynchpin in their corporate culture. And it comes directly from the top, from the CEO. This strong hierarchical and centralized approach to branding reflects the organizational structure of American Express. It would be nearly impossible for them to have such a coherent internal culture and external marketing without a strong, centralized, brand management organization.
She also provided a wonderful example of how the American Express metaphor and story has evolved over time. Did you know that their original logo was a bulldog? I didn’t.
While they have moved on from the bulldog logo — the essential meaning of the watchdog is still expressed in the current centurion.
At American Express there is a great deal of attention being given to the changing consumer mindset and preparing for the time when the economy comes out of the recession. To me, the American Express actions and activity looks like a case study unfolding before our own eyes. In five years we may all be looking back at this time and consider American Express as a benchmark for the importance of adapting branding to the changing market.
Professor Plummer of Columbia started with observation that business strategy needs to drive brand strategy. They are not separate. In practice most companies treat the brand as if it were separate from the business strategy, the company organization and other realities. It may seem obvious but it gets lost in the day to day workings of companies.
Going beyond that he pointed out that companies are often mesmerized by the 15% of the world that is wealthy and ignore the great businesses to be created by focusing on the other 85%. Drawing on the work of C.K. Prahalad, Dr. Plummer made it clear that the focus on that top 15% of global consumers means that many companies are missing out on the bigger markets. There will be far more people in the world driving a Tata Nano or a Hyundai than a Lexus or BMW.
He also drew on the importance of storytelling and metaphors as ways of making brands more universal than a collection of product attributes. Within that framework, the importance of local adaptation and local innovation should never be underestimated.
One last fun fact of the evening. There are more global brands from The Netherlands than any other country.
A long post today. It is a complex topic. As our panelists made clear, global branding is not as simple as using the same name, positioning, design, product and advertising around the world. Economies of global scale collide with local desires in most categories.