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Dear local market managers, don't break my brand

Managing verbal brand identity in centralised, decentralised and semi-centralised localisation models

Dear local market managers, don't break my brand

Localising content, often hundreds of assets for as many as thirty or forty markets, is one of the most challenging things a marketing team is asked to do. Add the need to hit tight deadlines, to involve local approvers and to keep messaging on-brand in many languages, and you’re faced with a task perfectly calibrated to cause stress, consume resources and bust budgets.

It doesn’t have to be this way. With the right localisation model, it is possible to efficiently process large numbers of assets, even with tight turnaround times, and maintain the highest standards of consistency and quality. 

"Localisation is as important as personalisation." says Elke Woessner, Head of PR & Marketing at the fintech PPRO, which provides its clients with access to local digital payment methods in over 140 markets. "Without it, you can expect to see lower consumer trust, lower engagement rates and lower conversion rates."

The trick is to choose the right localisation model for your company’s needs. 

Centralised, de-centralised or semi-centralised 
There are many ways of doing localisation. But most — though they often mix and match elements based on project needs — draw on one of three models that often align closely with the company’s overall marketing model: centralised, decentralised or semi-centralised. 

In a centralised model, one global team creates all the content that the brand needs worldwide and then localises it for distribution to the markets. This model is popular with, among others, tech companies and with organisations that prefer not to incur the cost and overheads of setting up in-house localisation teams. 

Often, this may be leaner organisations that don’t have the people on the ground in-market. But even some big companies, Coca Cola and Apple, use the centralised model. Large corporations have thousands of digital content assets that need localising on a very fast turnaround, making the centralised model highly attractive. 

Working centrally gives marketers lots of control, simplifying quality assurance and making it easier to hit deadlines. The downside is that local markets feel disenfranchised and may not even like or use the content they’re given. It can also impede the flow of knowledge between markets.  

The decentralised localisation model, as you’d expect, flips this approach on its head. Each market has control over either creating its own content or localising the content given to it by the global team. In its favour, this model draws on local knowledge to ensure that content is relevant and less likely to be culturally insensitive or appear to misappropriate culture. But giving up control also makes it difficult to keep a lid on costs or to ensure that markets stick to brand identity.

This model suits, among others, FMCG brands which operate in fast-moving markets and require a high level of local adaptation and agility. Nestle’s former CEO and current chairman Paul Bulcke is on record as an enthusiastic proponent of the decentralised marketing model, of which decentralised localisation is usually one component. "We are decentralized, so we give them power," Bulcke told Nikkei Asian Review. "You cannot organise Japan from here, in Lake Geneva. You have to be there. You have to live the culture from day to day."

The final model, at least in theory, combines the best features of the previous two. This "semi-centralised" approach to localisation sees the global team create content for the brand but allows local markets to have significant input into how that content is localised. 

The semi-centralised localisation model combines relatively easy cost control with high levels of engagement from local markets and the ability to draw on local knowledge to avoid errors. But it can slow down the time to market. A brand which enthusiastically practices the semi-centralised model is Ikea. The global team provides support to the local markets and shares best practice but it’s the local teams themselves who actually drive the localisation process and make the final decisions.

How to choose the right model for your business
Deciding which is the right localisation model for your business depends on a range of factors from anticipated turnaround times, through the nature of cost constraints to the company culture and the relationship of global and local market teams. 

Often the best way to determine which model will fit your company best, is to work with an outside specialist that can help you work with the relevant data and with key global and local stakeholders to build a model and a process which is bespoke to your needs and business goals. 

Doing this not only helps you access the localisation skills you need quickly, with no capital costs or heavy upfront overhead. It also gives you access to specialist services — for instance the localisation of your SEO strategy, your pay-per-click advertising and other social-media localisation — which it would be more difficult to develop inhouse. 


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