Local Alliances: The Key To Successfully Competing In The Global Marketplace

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Choosing whether to compete in the global marketplace is no longer a question for companies that wish to remain on top. Over my 40+ years in the branding and design industry, marketers (and retailers) had the luxury of competing locally and nationally with the ability to closely monitor competitors’ strategies and the industry landscape. They had the advantage of targeting and communicating with consumers who shared their customs, language and norms. This limited playing field is no longer an option for marketers, or for us at CBX, a strategic branding consultancy that services them.  

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Global economies and cultures have changed so that operating in the global marketplace is now requisite. E-commerce and digital communication advancements allow marketers to sell and communicate with consumers across the world within seconds. Despite these advances, an insider’s perspective of foreign cultural and business practices is a critical piece of the puzzle. Establishing local alliances is the biggest key to a marketer’s international success. 

“Think Global, Act Local” is still prevalent with most multinationals and local actions can have a large global impact.  A case in point is a recent interview with Groupe Danon’s CEO talking about how his brands have such roots in local consumers’ minds that Danon is French in France, Spanish in Spain, and Mexican in Mexico.  Reputation is a precious asset and only a locally focused communication can solidify the bond between a brand and a consumer.

To do it right in the global sphere, marketers must have worldwide partners they know and trust with the same level of integrity, professional ethics and passion for branding that they have at their company. I know with certainty that selecting the best people to work with and forming effective local alliances has been the key to our own CBX success in the global marketplace. 

In our case, we have been fortunate in rapidly building a global branding practice from the partnerships that I had formed when a part of an advertising conglomerate 10 years ago.  By maintaining our connections, we were facile in renewing the experience of working together on important global branding projects. 

Today, a brand builds its meaning through many consumer touch points. This makes it imperative that marketers select local partners who maintain their brand’s image to the highest of standards. It’s no surprise that many large corporations establish highly specific guidelines for all interaction with the brand to help their local retail partners/entrepreneurs with the process. 

If those proper partnerships are not in place, a marketer’s “being global and acting local” may actually harm their brands. Marketers must be cautious about whom they entrust their brands to locally, especially when they’ve made the investments to establish a worldwide brand and the guidelines to bring their brands to market globally. 

If a marketer’s brand is the main element on a shop’s store signage, walls and branded goods, there could be nothing worse than that shop not being kept up to the basic standards of cleanliness. This has an immediate negative effect on the brand and will reduce sales.  A major global coffee marketer that our CBX Retail Group counseled found just such a situation. The marketer’s local retail partners in foreign markets were damaging the equity this coffee brand had built for over fifty years among consumers. By changing the methods of consumer marketing, including elements within a coffee shop or kiosk, the marketer was ultimately able to change the direction of the brand. 

In the consumer marketplace, customer service touchpoints are synonymous with the brand and its image. The brand is no longer only derived from the visceral level of identity and packaging anymore … but rather from an entire ecosystem of culture and a tribe that creates the brand experience.  Today, a brand is ultimately what consumers consider it to be when they walk away—a memorable design helps, quality is important, but there are broader aspects.  What interactions has the consumer had with the brand? How often do these occur? Does the brand have a community? What values or causes does it champion? 

Community

Guinnessbeer

 Think of the brand experience Diageo creates to market Guinness—they talk about the perfect foam, draw a shamrock in it and portray beer consumption as a treasured community experience.  

Customer Service & Ecosystem of Culture 

Illy

 The Italian coffee marketer, Illy, is activating its brand in out-of-home channels such as hotels, restaurants and cafes. As an Italian company, they naturally have a distinctive design, and their retail partners are anxious to earn the desirable Illy paraphernalia for their cafés; retaining these materials requires continuous compliance with Illy customer service and brand experience standards.  Illy provides onsite training on preparing and serving coffee for its partner café’s staff; and Illy secret shopper check-ins ensure that the brand experience is being upheld.   

Cause/Value Marketing (Transcending Cultural Differences)

Many global marketers are taking a value-based marketing approach; by aligning their brand(s) with global health and human rights issues. This links a brand with the innate human desire to champion the good fight. Project Red contributes to the global AIDs fight, Charity Water to providing fresh water to third world countries, and Lance Armstrong to the fight against cancer. In fact, data supports the tremendous marketing value of this trend: a recent Edelman Good Purpose survey (6,000+ consumers, in ten countries, ages 18 to 64) found that 67 percent of consumers would switch brands if another of a similar quality supported a good cause.

Unlike the product-specific marketing of a company like Illy, value/cause-based marketing gives the marketer a group of consumers to whom anything can be sold, because consumers believe that they are “doing good” with each purchase. It’s the ability of the brand to transcend potentially different global values that changes the paradigm. It’s impossible not to get behind these types of non-controversial causes… corporate arch villain stereotypes are replaced with images of marketers and brands as the standard bearers for positive change. 

The global marketing approaches described above reflect heightened consumer expectations for the brand experience. These developments certainly have impacted the way our company, CBX, does business, particularly in our brand design division.  However, particularly in our Retail Design division, it’s the shift in power from marketer/manufacturer to retailer that has more dramatically impacted our day-to-day business and is the insight behind the partner investments we’ve made globally to address this shift. 

Marketing at the store level is becoming harder due to increased retailer control. Given the retailer’s power over their space, marketers (especially Consumer Packaged Goods marketers) must now think about how they can make products that are a little bit different for each class of retailer worldwide (for instance: dollar stores, drug stores, organic stores, etc). The largest growing channel right now in the U.S. is the dollar store and their biggest push is private label. Ten years ago, grocery stores ruled; now mass merchants rule.  The retail business is now spread across a lot of different channels and that’s impacting the marketer’s game plan. Retail consolidations, the trend toward smaller format & neighborhood stores, plus a suffering economy all point to private label brands’ ascending significance … not just nationally in the US, but globally, as well.  This brings Retail Design capabilities, integrated with that retailer’s private label brands, into the forefront.

We’ve launched CBX Brand Environments, a service designed to build engaging and closely coordinated brand experiences, to partner the brand with the retailer. That’s new.  This is an investment we’re making globally in anticipation of US retail trends we expect to quickly migrate to the global marketplace. 

Whatever the strategic approach to competing globally – a marketer establishing a branded direct to consumer retail presence or a marketer distributing the brand via local retailers – engaging the appropriate and committed local partners worldwide is crucial to their success in the global marketplace. 

Make no mistake. There are no free rides to building successful global marketing operations.  Building trust with the right partners globally takes a lot of investment, hard work, and energy. It does not happen overnight; it is a process built with each interaction a consumer has with a marketer’s brand—from in-store design and service to signage at the retailer. At the end of the day, don’t expect to be successful unless you can reach out a hand to potential local partners in the global marketplace.  A huge part of what we at CBX do, and where we have had major growth recently, has been our capacity to link marketers with appropriate partners in the global markets they’re entering.  It comes full circle: local alliances are the key to competing in the global marketplace.  Our own CBX ability to establish the right global partners for our brand consultancy and design offerings now makes us more valuable partners for our marketer clients.  Marketers must now compete globally and forge their own “local” partnerships worldwide and our experience is invaluable in making the critical local partner linkages they require for success.  Our aligned understanding and approach to building these global systems and relationships has become a win-win for both our marketers’ brands, as well as for our CBX brand service practice.  The emerging global marketplace is validating the global village concept – it’s a small world and the right relationships, especially globally, are everything!  

Owen W. Coleman, CEO, CBX Coleman Brandworx L.L.C.

Owen W. Coleman is the founder of CBX Coleman Brandworx, a serial entrepreneur and a world-class designer in his own right.  His superb ability to form lasting relationships with clients and colleagues has enabled him to thrive for decades in a business that is often project-driven. Throughout his career his success has been enhanced by his friendliness and warmth – his ability to form close relationships with his clients and his success in attracting and retaining the top designers and strategists around the world. Owen was a noted pioneer in the early use of computers for design in the 80s. 

With more than 40 years of leadership and branding know-how, Owen has been integral in creating successful consumer, corporate, retail and luxury retail branding programs for some of the world’s top brands, including Nestlé Worldwide, Colgate-Palmolive, Ahold, General Mills and Johnson & Johnson.