Brand Cohesion

17 Jul 2015|Nina Rahmatallah

Is Brand Cohesion our future marketing currency?

 

We are in the middle of a global brand marketing crisis

The global/local tug of war is one of the most common we come across. The decision whether the marketing strategy and budget should sit centrally with the global teams or independently with the local teams is a tough call to make. It has the potential to create enormous conflict, can cause sudden changes of direction and significant inefficiency, slowing down decision making. It is a problem that is relevant across every category and every market. And few brands have managed to crack it.

The not so perfect storm

The new marketing landscape is one of fragmentation, with more and more channels, devices and platforms through which to reach our audience, the touchpoints available to us as brand builders and marketeers are proliferating. We’ve stopped delivering just mass broadcast communications, instead focusing on developing content, and lots of it, which we push out through all these different touchpoints. It’s reported 82% of consumers feel more positive about a company after reading customised content. As the amount of content and channels increase, our brand worlds which surround them are multiplying in size and complexity all the time. Managing this
effectively is getting harder and harder.

Meanwhile, the consumer landscape is one of increasing transparency and control. Today people have more visibility across the world, across channels and across platforms than ever before. Just as people’s expectations of receiving an excellent brand experience has also hit an all-time high. Any poor quality or unsatisfactory brand experience is likely to be announced through the world of social media– written in seconds, viral in minutes, but damaging for far longer. Last year US apparel brand Hawke & Co’s sarcastic comments to a customer complaint on Twitter went viral, and while the brand claimed the attention was good regardless of the negativity, customers felt differently. If ever there was a time for effective brand management across touchpoints and across the world it has to be now.

But what does effective brand management in today’s world look like?

Consistency has been a key word in effective marketing guidebooks for at least the last decade. Consistency has featured in the successful building of many global brands including Coca-Cola, McDonalds and Apple, all of whom have committed fully to delivering the same brand experience the world over.

Yet consistency has also been at the heart of some spectacular failures. Google and Amazon have all been trounced by local competition in China in the last five years. Similarly, car brands Renault, Ford and Fiat are all struggling to make a connection with Indian consumers. But sadly there’s many more companies to choose from – both Revlon and Garnier pulled out of China having not tapped into Chinese consumer preferences. All of these examples share a lack of cultural understanding, in-market distinctiveness and true relevance when it comes to either their product or communications.

In a world where consumers are demanding more from brands, it increasingly feels that consistent brand management is a thing of the past.
Instead cohesive brand management is the future.

Rather than us all wrestling with the choice of either global (i.e. consistent) or local (i.e. flexible) brand management, cohesive brand management is about finding a way to do both.

Brand cohesion – the best of both worlds

At its simplest, cohesive brands are those which have a clear and single-minded thread running consistently through what they do. Yet at the same time, they flex how they do things to suit the local environment, to connect more effectively with the world around them and emphasise their cultural relevance.

To be clear, this flex does not mean every market does their own thing. It means every market sits within a group or cluster of markets where consumers’ attitudes and behaviours have common themes – common enough to be grouped together. By creating clusters a business can define four or five different ways the brand can flex across the world, rather than hundreds… or worse still, none!

HSBC successfully harnessed global/local cohesion by putting it at the core of their proposition – the world’s local bank. With a consistent physical experience all over the world and communications to promote the value of understanding cultural and consumer differences, strategically placing much of this communication in travel hubs – 50 airports across 28 countries – diversity is at the heart of what they do internally and externally. While Bupa has a strong global proposition of ‘helping you find healthy’ that they cohesively deliver to both consumers and businesses with the support of different sponsorship and activation channels. And featured in Top 5 (p. 8), Guinness’ work in Africa in particular demonstrates how with a strong and consistent brand idea you can massively flex activation and still feel cohesive.

What are the key steps to take to building a cohesive brand?

At the simplest level it is defining 3 key factors:
1. Define what cannot flex – your must-have’s and nonnegotiables across the world.
2. Define how your markets cluster – the localities that share common cultural relevance, attitudes and behaviours.
3. Define the parameters within which each cluster can play – what can flex and how it can flex.

Simple perhaps. But the reality is that for these three things to happen effectively the business needs to have an aligned leadership team, a set of decision makers armed with the right insight and influence and, perhaps the hardest part of all, a wider organisation that can see and believe the greater benefit of working together. This is the heart of the challenge. Effective global brand management isn’t really just about managing the brand at all; it’s about managing the people behind the brand. Building a cohesive brand is about collaboration, co-creation and teamwork just as much, if not more than it is about cultural insight, parameters and guidelines.

What’s certainly clear is that brand consistency alone no longer cuts it in today’s hectic brand world. Instead our greatest brand building currency in the future will be cohesion.

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