Global. Local. Digital.

Social Media asks for freedom for variations, individualization and decentralization. Dialog only functions when parties involved speak the same language and use the same signs. How does this fit with the credo in BtoB marketing: unified messages and centralized branding!?

Global highly competitive markets require efficient and effective international brand management. Branding has become a strategic business factor across all industries and nations.

One of the great challenges will be to reconcile central and regional/local interests in brand management. Standardization of activities and unified message or differentiation with target group and country specific communication is the question.

Previously in the BtoB sectors the central, global, unified approach dominated. There are many good reasons for it.

  • Consistent branding creates synergies.
  • Standardization is cheaper and many BtoB companies – especially most of the hidden champions simply do not have the budgets for differentiated branding strategies in every single country.
  • Unified brand management creates power.
    In a world where even strong products are copied at an ever increasing speed, strong brands are important. They can be created by a clear, unique brand communication, with a unified, focused and clearly differentiated brand message, which profiles the brand and makes it a strong character personality.
  • » Strong brands are credible when they send one core message that is based on the DNA of the brand. Varying brand messages do confuse just as dazzling personalities do. They endanger the development of trust which is essential to compete against the ever growing armada of low-cost providers.
  • » Wherever mobile decision makers and global decision making teams dominate, different brand messages are not needed. In such cases a global appearance, consistent brand strategy and continuous market presence ensure sales, strengthens negotiation positions, allows the enforcement of a premium price and helps in the acquisition of new and the retention of existing customers.
  • » High-tech products or machines are generally regarded as „culture-free“ products. Most practitioners and many theorists believe that these products are judged around the world by the same objective criteria. Branding and communication for these products are therefore mostly standardized.
  • But is this really always true that there are no cultural influencing factors when deciding for these products? And what about other product categories? Does homogenization abandon effectiveness? Does the demand for consistency contradict the customers demand and the value orientation? Isn't there a need to deal with the different expectations of the various target groups? Isn't centralism demotivating the important sales staff in the BtoB industry and isn't autonomy more motivating? Don't sales partners have got their own interests to promote their strengths?

    Psychological, cultural and market factors demand adaptation and variation in communications, also for an increasing number of BtoB products and companies.

    Also, in BtoB markets, essential cultural differences exist, because decisions are not only based on rational factors and focused on technical, measurable components. Psychological factors play an important role like for example the need for certainty. And these differ widely. In Germany it is extremely important to avoid uncertainty and risk. It is no surprise that all reassurance companies are based in Germany. Also in Brazil and Russia risk avoidance is more important than in China or USA. How do you measure risk and uncertainty? Also this differs. In the US, size and ranking is seen as high indicator for low risk to work with a company. In the Nordic countries this plays only a minor role when evaluating the trustworthiness of a company.

    Decision criteria are also weighted differently. Decision-making bodies are constituted in different ways. The decisive power in western cultures is located on the individual. The Chinese or Arab culture is heavily influenced by collectivism. The acceptance of different distribution of power is very low in Germany, in contrast to Brazil or China, where it is quite high.

    Often the market and competitive situation in foreign countries differ strongly from the home market. Market structure and maturity levels vary. Strong national competitors make market success more difficult and require different positioning priorities. Various experiences with products lead to different expectations and requirements. All these factors gain influence if BtoB products are sold to local, rooted manufacturers, craftsmen and traders instead of international jetsetters.

    Social media require individual and target specific communication.

    New social communication channels require additional freedom for variations in communication. In the digital age a message can not be simply rammed in. The much vaunted dialog only works if you speak the language of the audience and dialog partners and if you are responsive to their specific needs, expectations and psychological specifics.

    New digital technologies make targeted communication technically easier to implement and thus cheaper. However, the speed requirements increase enormously at the same time. Today, one can not afford any more complicated approval processes which cause days or even weeks to react. Rapid responses to local dynamics are in demand and therefore a much more decentralization of communication.

    Brand personality, core brand values, joint development of strategy and core message, internal branding allow for variations in communication.

    Decentralization and delegation of responsibility, however, requires a clear strategy on which the employees can orientate themselves. When this strategy is straightforward and simple, individual communication measures can be elaborated and pay yet on the brand account. Variation in communication is no more harmful for a strong brand as variation in clothes are for a person who has style. On the contrary, it can highlight the personality. This requires, however, that a person or a brand remains true to its core values, and that those are clearly reflected in attitudes and actions.

    To achieve this, it is best to involve employees and partners, customers and agencies from all countries already when defining the brand essence. Workshops, surveys, and online exchanges are suitable. In this case, one can learn a lot about markets and gather unusual ideas. Brand strategies and communication campaigns designed in such a way are highly effective. Such a process is also a powerful motivational tool. And the first step to make people around the world to brand ambassadors.

    Internal branding is the cue for further steps on the road to success. The goal is the identification with the brand and the internalization of credible, honest brand values. They should be loved and lived by all employees. When that goal is reached, a lot more responsibilities can be delegated to the countries. Brand rules may then become sources for inspiration and employees can respond quickly in social media. Conversations don't have to be blocked. And when all employees have internalized the core brand values, one needs not to fear criticism. A clear stance has always helped to manage critical situations.

    Efficiency and effectiveness must be balanced. Firstly, it is important to analyze the current situation in each individual case and to find insights about market and target groups. Depending on the results of the market, competition and audience research and the culture within the company a global communication strategy, a local, decentralized strategy or mixed forms can be most suitable. More important, however, is a clear brand message that is built on the core values ​​and makes the brand a strong, persuasive personality.

    Agency support for your globalization.

    If you want success in your internationalization, find a partner agency,
    » for whom you are important even with are relatively small budget,
    » who you can trust, who has experience in serving international clients,
    » who belongs to an international network, in which the partners in other countries do not necessarily want to reinvent the wheel and are not in the first line focused on their own internal competition for the favors of their HQs,
    » who can provide tools and processes that allow you to manage the difficult balancing act between central unified brand message and necessary regional and local implementation in a variety of old and new channels to manage, and
    » who does not claim that there are simple patent remedies on such complex issues like international brand management.

    Author: Ingrid Wächter-Lauppe, CEO Wächter & Wächter Worldwide Partners, Munich Germany
    This article was first published in GWA BtoB Kommunikation 2012, FAZ Verlag