How to Balance Global Scale with Local Differentiation in Marketing

David Krajicek
Marketing News
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Key Takeaways

​What? Fine-tuning your balance between global scale and local customization can pay dividends.

So what? The tools to reach a global audience are accessible, but not every product and campaign is translatable across cutlures.

Now what? Marketers must continuously experiment to get this mix right.

​Oct. 1, 2016

Fine-tuning your balance between global scale and local customization can pay dividends.

In today’s world, how can you make the most of your multichannel, global marketing? Should you emphasize a global perspective or a local one?

From what I am seeing, the correct answer is an emphatic, “Yes!”

Thanks to technology advances and lower-cost mobile devices, even developing markets are leaping headlong into the digital world. Along the way, they are becoming increasingly attractive targets for marketers’ digital campaigns. As these consumers are exposed to many of the same apps and services that we find in the U.S., Europe and Japan, we see the worldwide market flattening in crucial ways. Many of the same key market segments can be found readily on different continents. The “ambitious striver” segment—which GfK Consumer Life calls “achievers”—has come to define modern China and India but is also on the rise in both developed countries (U.K., France and U.S.) and emerging ones (Mexico and Brazil).

Enabled by programmatic buying, mobile technology continues to level the advertising and marketing playing fields. In Indonesia, for example, 95% of all internet use is via smartphones; the digital world now embraces millions of consumers who were left behind in a desktop-centric environment. This is particularly true of younger consumers who have never known a nondigital world.

And ways of interacting with devices are also truly global. These basic ingredients of the user experience, including the Netflix on-screen interface and Snapchat’s filter swipe, provide templates for exchange and engagement that work for almost any marketer.

This all suggests that a primarily global approach, emphasizing digital efforts to reach the largest possible audiences, makes the most sense. Marketers can leverage powerful commonalities if they are willing to accept some over- or under-spend on selected platforms in single markets.

Tapping the Global Heavyweights

When we think of true mass media, relevant across many continents, Facebook and Google come immediately to mind. Targeting consumers in India and Poland in the same campaign is turnkey via these and other publishers with global scale. Marketers can supplement these digital efforts with more traditional media buys—TV, for one—that reach large audiences across a range of countries.

For marketers at major CPG, pharma and technology companies, the challenge of a global approach is clear: keep your messages and executions relevant and punchy across a host of platforms while leveraging the efficiencies of worldwide scale.

Marketers must also remain aware that digital’s ability to cross geographic boundaries may work against their best-laid plans. Consider, for example, the challenge of “containing” a product launch within one country, or even one continent, in the digital ecosystem. When Amazon debuted Audible earlier this year, demand began to surge in Europe, Asia and developing markets—even though the product was only available in the U.S.

Global Reach, Locally Infused

The truth is that, while global efficiencies may be alluring for budget-conscious marketers, there is a lot about the digital world that is profoundly local, unique to specific countries and even cities. And if our ultimate goal is effectiveness, then we run the risk of truly missing the boat by not integrating these differences into our campaigns.

Consider the many incredibly popular apps that are completely indigenous to one region. In Indonesia, you can use GoJek to book a ride on the back of someone else’s motorcycle—often the quickest way from point A to B on that country’s crowded streets. GoJek, which also provides many types of innovative delivery services, is one of the 10 most popular apps in Indonesia and was recently valued at a stunning $1.3 billion. GoJek has some similarities to Uber and other social networks doubling as transportation and delivery hubs, but it is also a distinctly local iteration.

Or think about the Singapore WhatsApp group called Homework Gods, which bails out parents or students stumped by an assignment. Just take a picture of the problem, share it on the app, and an on-site “homework god” will give you the answer for a nominal fee. This is an innovative way of providing a service using an already established medium.

In the same way, we must also be mindful of market segments that have distinctly local flavors. While one contingent may have a preference for certain types of mobile apps or ways of communicating in one region, they may use their cellphones or smartphones very differently elsewhere.

Research Globally, Reward Locally

Consumer insights experts face the same challenges when working at a global scale: how to leverage the growing oneness and similarities across platforms and segments while not losing sight of make-or-break local differences.

For its GXL media panel, GfK is using standardized meters, a unified taxonomy and centralized data processing systems to develop truly comparable data across 10 countries. And in our global point of sale (POS) panels, we use a single system to code hundreds of attributes of consumer electronics products and various other products in dozens of countries, allowing global manufacturers or retailers to see at a glance which sales trends are truly worldwide.

On the other hand, researchers also need to be mindful of crucial local differences. For example, the research firm Netquest (a GfK subsidiary) has a consistent survey engagement app installed on cellphones and smartphones in a number of Latin American countries (think about the consistent user experience environment that can be created to boost consumer involvement). However, when it comes to providing incentives for engagement, Netquest customizes the reward options for individual countries, focusing on what is more likely to be valued in a particular country or region.

So, returning to the question we started with, whether to focus on global or local for marketing and research success, the answer is truly, “Yes.” Affirm the best that each has to offer; do not lean too heavily on global sameness, but also be wise about the time you spend tailoring to local markets. Getting the balance right may be a years-long experiment, but knowing that this fine-tuning can pay huge dividends makes it the essence of due diligence for global marketers.

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Author Bio:
David Krajicek
David Krajicek is chief commercial officer of GfK Consumer Experiences and a member of the company’s management board.
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