Staff Reporters
Sep 22, 2016

Roundtable: Balancing global consistency and local relevance

As consumers in Asia-Pacific keep demanding personalised, authentic content even from the largest multinationals, a group of expert marketers, hosted by Williams Lea Tag, tackled the conundrum that is working efficiently and effectively at the global, regional and local levels within a brand.


For a brand to say it is all things to all its consumers is one thing—putting this sentiment into practice is quite another. But with the pace of globalisation, digitisation and connectivity being experienced worldwide, consumers are increasingly savvy, and brands must work harder than ever to keep them engaged.

Localisation is very much the mantra of the digital consumer generation, and as such brands must be able to work seamlessly across different markets to ensure the right messages are being delivered to the right consumers.

This requires effective co-ordination at the global, regional and local levels, which is easier said than done, as several delegates at a roundtable hosted by Campaign Asia-Pacific and Williams Lea Tag discussed. 

Global knowledge of the local perspective

Of the many ways to ensure the various teams within a brand work effectively, one of the best places to start is to make sure the global team has a thorough understanding of the regional or local markets in which the business is growing.

This is crucial in Asia-Pacific due to its enormous diversity, said Mark Liversidge, APAC chief marketer and vice-president at Hilton Worldwide. “One of the biggest challenges for APAC marketers is still explaining to our global colleagues exactly how different each APAC country is,” he said. “Wherever headquarters is based, really it’s about moving people based at headquarters into the regions on a high-frequency basis.”

This was echoed by several delegates, including Vincent Ong, senior director of brand marketing at Starwood Hotels & Resorts. 

“Each of our brand leads and their counterparts come to this part of the world at least three times a year,” he explained. “We immerse them; it’s not just about going to China and visiting Shanghai and Beijing, we bring them to third- or fourth-tier cities. So there’s a greater appreciation of the fact that what’s local is truly unique.”

There is nothing quite like experiencing first-hand how a local APAC market operates to ensure it is factored into global thinking when it comes to strategy planning, said Paul Webster, brand development lead at Instagram APAC, for Facebook, particularly given the explosion in digital consumption and sophistication in several markets. “The biggest challenge is the complexity of the [APAC] market and the pace that things are changing at, particularly towards mobile which is where our strength is,” he said. “I work a lot with headquarters, which is west coast US. So having our senior teams in the region is critical. The user platform in Japan is quite different from, say, Indonesia. And APAC really is the growth area, driven by mobile, so we have to be here to understand it.”

Going digital has greatly helped collaboration between different teams, said Jean Madrid, Unilever regional brand manager, beverages, because it has accelerated the creative process and allowed for easy, cheaper testing of ideas.

“In the past, you would have asked for some large-format advertising assets, whereas now it’s very easy to experiment digitally,” she said. “Instead of spending too much time arguing about one big advertising asset that will land in all markets, we can create five and see what works.”

Co-ordinating effectively

Representing the agency side, Dennis McComb, APAC business development director at Williams Lea Tag, said Singapore makes sense as an APAC base because it is home to 65 percent of regional headquarters for multinationals, but that Is only half the story as more local market offices take ownership of their activations.

“The more that we get acceptance at the regional level, the more we learn that what we’ve gotten is permission to go and talk to the countries because they write the cheque,” he said. “Whoever has the bank account has the decision-making power.”

Indeed, Anna Bory, general marketing manager at Audi Singapore, explained how her team is entirely independent from headquarters. “Our products are so different across the region,” she said. “Cars distributed in Europe are equipped completely differently to those distributed in America or Asia—and even within Asia, the specs are completely different. So it’s very difficult to do a common theme.

“Having said that, [headquarters] ask all the markets for their requirements and they produce materials. It’s then up to local market discretion to adapt or even 100-percent localise the campaigns.”

Similarly, Simon Fiquet, Expedia general manager, Southeast Asia and India, said while the company’s opportunities are mostly global, local offices take ownership of their own profit and loss. “The goal is to have people really focused on understanding their markets,” he said. “We strive to grow fast and rapidly across markets, but at the same time at some point you realise there are things you cannot do like you are in other parts of the world.”

The combination of global oversight and local or regional execution is an increasingly common and effective strategy for brands across all sectors, delegates said.

Sirinate Meenakul, global brand director, Sofitel, AccorHotels Group, explained how moving the firm’s global team from Paris to Singapore has enhanced the strategic co-ordination across the divisions.

“In the past we’ve talked about the issue of being Paris-centric, of global initiating something that’s not relevant or applicable to particular regions,” she said. Since the move, Accor has seen greater co-ordination on projects between all teams worldwide.

“It’s quite rough time-zone wise, but it’s interesting and challenging and everyone is committed. Then we pilot [the project] and roll out. So it’s been a very good journey for us.”

The key is having a proper co-ordination model in place that can be applied to all a company’s brands, said Judah Ruiz, senior director, brand development, Southeast Asia and Australasia at Unilever.

“We sat down and identified which brands would be best grown at scale, and which we could localise but maintain consistency across the brand,” he said. “It’s important for each brand, depending on who you’re targeting, to provide that flexibility in the model.”

Core brand identity

That said, localisation or regional tweaking is not the be all and end all, and may not be the best decision for some brands. Melissa Chan, Williams Lea Tag managing director, Southeast Asia and Greater China, said luxury brands are among those who actively strive to maintain consistency globally. “Take Tiffany & Co. No matter which country you’re in, when you walk into a Tiffany shop it’s the same experience,” she said. “With luxury or hospitality brands, people expect a consistent experience, whereas other brands probably require more local personalisation.”

Samantha Kwan, Unilever regional assistant brand manager, agreed, saying how global, local or regional a company is comes down to the nature of its brand. “Lots of things that luxury and hospitality brands do very well are universally branded from the start, such as using sound or a scent,” she said.

Having a clear understanding of your brand can help identify the areas in which improvements must be made, at all levels. Geraldine Yip, Asia head of marketing, risk and financial at Thomson Reuters, said for her brand, measurement was the key issue. “A lot of the global, regional and local complexities that organisations have today actually lies in tracking and data,” she said. “The nirvana is to have a consistent marketing dashboard across everything, where you’re really measuring value of your investment. Today, we’re far away from that.”

Ultimately, it’s clear that the issue of global, regional and local co-ordination will remain complex, said Toby Codrington, Williams Lea Tag APAC client officer, and the challenges around solving it are multifaceted.

“It’s not a one size fits all,” Codrington said. “It’s all about understanding the individual customer, and working with that customer to be able to deliver, whether it’s global to local, regional to local or local only."

The Williams Lea Tag view

There are a number of ways we see brands achieving consistency across the globe. The majority of brands that we work with will have style guides, brand guardians and guidelines that can then be used by employees and partners to follow when creating marketing collateral for both online and offline activities.

To be relevant in local markets we see clients using cultural consultation to adapt their campaigns locally. It is not efficient to have this type of skillset in-house in every country for most companies, so we see many brands working with experienced partners to support them locally. We work with many brands to provide in-market experts who not only help translate but ‘transcreate’ campaigns, so every element of the campaign is relevant to the local market.

A real-time digital asset management platform can also help in achieving brand consistency and control globally. An asset management tool ensures collaboration between all stakeholders including internal and external agencies, designers, photographers, writers and artists. Once global master files from a campaign are uploaded on an asset management tool, local marketers and SMEs can work together to have those adapted, converted, and ‘transcreated’ across different formats and channels. By using a digital asset management tool brands can achieve greater consistency, increased cost efficiency, and a faster speed to market.

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