Is the marketing mantra ’Think global: act local’ old hat? Should
it be replaced by ’Think local: act global’? Of course, there are no
black-and-white answers to these questions. But there is evidence to
suggest the pendulum is swinging from ’Think global’ to ’Think local’.
’Think global’ has too often been an excuse for companies to
As a result, local market management, paid to manage local difference,
can feel redundant - a disastrous consequence when companies are trying
to harness the skills and creativity of their people. Central management
worries about lack of consistency and, as a consequence, imposes
insensitive measures of commonality. In the process, many companies, in
their pursuit of global domination, have discovered that what works at
home doesn’t always work abroad.
Companies are now thinking locally, because globalisation is matched by
an strong trend towards fragmentation. The growth of the English
language is unstoppable, yet at the same time there is a resurgence of
local languages and dialects taking place. Equally, we hear much about
economic convergence across trading blocks such as the EC and the ASEAN,
yet the gap between rich and poor within regions is growing. In Asia
alone, the richest country, Japan, has a GDP per head of US dollars
28,217, while in Nepal, the poorest, it is US dollars 165. So much for
the homogenous Asian consumer.
Of course, consumers don’t really break down into those affected by
global or local trends. They are a complex mixture of both. In this
environment, the mode of centralised brand management which valued
consistency and rigidity cannot hope to work. Nowadays, the centre tends
to provide direction, guidance and support and encourages creativity
within an agreed framework.
The trick is to determine what must be managed rigidly, ensuring that
the brand is visible and recognised worldwide, and what can be adapted
locally to suit particular markets, geographic regions or customer
Companies are opting for one of four familiar strategies to cope with
this increasingly complex international arena.
Global - single, monolithic, umbrella brands.
Brands such as IBM and Sony have a vision and confidence that transcend
local and national cultures. They draw on global concepts of customer
service and innovation and have implemented them worldwide without
This approach is not for the faint-hearted, or those without deep
For the successful, their brand names will become their most valuable
asset. The growth of global media and the Internet should, in theory,
make it easier to establish a brand as having a ’global’ identity.
National exporters - brands which operate globally, but whose identity
revolves around their local or national origins and heritage.
McDonald’s, Levi Strauss and Disney merchandise the American dream;
Chanel and Luis Vuitton represent the best in French chic; Armani,
Italian style; Burberry, classic English luxury, and Wedgwood, the
cosiness of the English tea tradition. If you can trade successfully on
your national characteristics, you have a head start. As differentiation
on a global scale becomes increasingly difficult, expect to see more
brand owners develop and manage brands based on their national, regional
and local characteristics.
Global adaptors - global brands which adjust aspects of their identity
to suit local markets.
This has traditionally been the strategy for companies establishing a
foothold in a new geographic market. It is still very effective.
Wal-Mart, a US retailer with 25 per cent of its earnings coming from
Asia, is opening stores across Asia, under the Wal-Mart name, but with
an emphasis on merchandise of local origin. Sony Entertainment in India
is the fastest growing channel because it opted to broadcast in
Hindustani, while CNN, MTV, the BBC and others broadcast mainly in
English. Increasingly, some of the most successful global brands are
’adapting’. Coca-Cola now wants to reflect the diversity of different
local markets in its advertising, to make it as much a local friend as
an icon of a remote civilisation.
National brands - a mix of brands that lack the resources to globalise,
those that have been launched locally before going global, through to
those that have been developed especially for a local market.
In the highly competitive Asian car market, both Honda and Toyota have
recently launched their first ’Asia-specific’ cars, designed and
marketed solely for Asian consumers. As greater fragmentation occurs and
more micro belief systems emerge, marketers will capitalise by launching
more ’national’ brands. An interesting development has arisen in the
test marketing of new products. For instance, Unilever first launched
its Organics shampoo in Thailand, and then rolled out elsewhere
So, while there are no stock answers, if you are thinking global and
acting locally, you might want to think again. Those who have tried it
recently will tell you it’s not that easy. Try thinking locally and
acting globally. It’s not any easier, but in today’s complex world, it
is more likely to work.
- Charles Trevail is managing director of Sampson Tyrrell Enterprise.The
Enterprise Identity Group is WPP’s identity consultancy and has offices
in London, New York, San Francisco, Taipei and HongKong.