Balancing the Global/Local Brand Experience

Developing an effective strategy for your brand in the market is tough work. It is even tougher to manage a global brand experience across multiple markets and all that it carries and means from one market to another and still ensure that it is highly relevant to a specific local market.

Strong brands are often complicated brands with a range of emotional and functional features and benefits. Everything is connected. Each element should build on the other to create greater momentum. The features of your product must connect to functional benefits. Those functional benefits, in turn, must connect to and drive emotional benefits. And finally, those emotional benefits must be transmitted into a crucial brand experience that only your brand can deliver. That brand experience will differ from market to market not so much because the brand is any different physically, but because the consumer is. So how they perceive brand benefits such as comfort, optimism, or connection for example can vary wildly. As the saying goes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. It is very important to look at your brand and what it represents and offers through the eyes of your local consumer.

What business are you really in? KIKA vs IKEA example

KIKA thinks that it is in the business of selling sofas and tables. IKEA knows that it is actually in the business of creating and delivering inspirational living experiences for its customers. Its displays, in their showrooms, living spaces with all the accessories and decorations you’d see in a real home – your home, it hopes. IKEA sells all of those accessories too, by the way. KIKA has only big rooms filled with lots of furniture. One could argue that KIKA has less to worry about because by keeping their store experience so neutral and avoiding any lifestyle context, they don’t risk getting it wrong. But on the other hand, they will never fully get it right.

IKEA also does a good job fitting local and international experiences to different target groups that combine the international experiences of the brand in a way that is highly relevant to local consumers through the room settings they assemble throughout the store. And then there is an international IKEA restaurant experience with Swedish meatballs on the menu, where you can relax a bit – thinking about what you just bought in the showrooms so that you are in the proper state of mind before you go through the final area of the store set aside to sell you all those little odds and ends you need for the big items you have already picked out. IKEA understands that customers like to pause and consider for a moment within the overall shopping experience. The odds and ends in the market hall are also sourced and displayed in accordance with local market needs.

IKEA gets it. Their other competitors aren’t even in the same game – they think they are just selling furniture.

Brand imagery

Much of what will drive the experience will evolve from various image elements that are or could be linked to your brand. There are four types of imagery available:

1. Product imagery. These are the feelings and attitudes directly related to the product’s functional features and benefits. (i.e., the sleek and stylish design look of Apple computers).
2. Usage imagery. These are the feelings and emotions associated with actually using the brand. (i.e., the sense of energy and adventure when driving a new Nissan Juke on a windy coastal road).
3. User imagery. This is the connection with the type of people who use the brand – ‘are they like me, or what I aspire to be?’ (i.e., Nike women are firmly in control of their own lives).
4. Associative imagery. These are the links between your brand and the image of the other brands you choose to align yourself with. (i.e., Shrek movie toys in the McDonald’s Happy Meal).

The crucial experience for your brand may involve one or more of these imagery elements. For example, Porsche has done a very good job over the years of linking product imagery (the definitive ‘sports car’), usage imagery (exhilaration), and user imagery (exciting and successful people) of the brand. All of these image elements matter a great deal to a Porsche buyer. Consequently, they have become one unified brand experience.

Think global, act local

We have heard this phrase so often, but what does it really mean? What exactly should be global and what should be local? Leveraging the appropriate brand imagery elements is a pretty good mechanism for aligning your local marketing with the global brand to increase relevance to local customers. Two of the four imagery factors (product and usage imagery) are connected to the very essence of the brand, and should not be altered locally. The two remaining imagery factors (user and associative imagery) are ideal to connect your global brand to local users and the activities they enjoy – all connected to relevant usage occasions and experiences for your brand.

Coca-Cola global and local brand experience balance

How do you know when you’ve nailed it?

When you think you have come up with what you believe to be a great global/local brand strategy, you need to ask yourself three questions:

Is your brand strategy meaningful?

– To your company:  Does it help the brand get to the business objectives effectively and efficiently?
– To the customer: The customer research you did should answer whether it is highly motivating and meaningful to the target customers based on all you know and have learned about your local target and what they view to be relevant to how they live their lives where they actually live.

Is your brand strategy deliverable?

Can the brand consistently deliver on the local experience you’ve identified as the most meaningful? If it can, will the target believe it? The believability question is especially important when you are trying to extend a global brand into a local experience. Don’t try to be something you are not. A good rule of thumb is to under-promise and over-deliver. You don’t need to try and convince the consumer you are local, you just need to be locally relevant. In Hungary, Coca-Cola was not necessarily an essential part of a perfect Hungarian summer experience. But, Coca-Cola started by setting up the Coca-Cola Beach House on Lake Balaton and letting consumers come to their own conclusions – carefully constructed and managed, of course.

Is your brand strategy defendable?

This is where a lot of seemingly great ideas come crashing into the ground. Be sure that what you promise is not just a category experience, but rather a brand experience that is linked to features and benefits that only your brand can provide. Think about the four image elements and how can they be ownable for you! People often ask how one successful local activation called the Coca-Cola Beach House was defendable. After all, couldn’t Pepsi have built its own beach house on the lake? Sure it could have, but because Coca-Cola was first, Pepsi would have been seen as a copycat. Or as teen consumers prefer to call wannabes – ‘a poser.’ Definitely not cool. It would have been convenient for Coca-Cola if Pepsi had fallen into that defining wannabe trap, but they are too smart for that and rightly stayed away from the local imagery Coca-Cola had taken.

Finding the right experience levers to pull so that you build local user imagery is difficult. It is also difficult to create strong local relevance with a multinational brand and not lose the consistency needed to ensure the brand retains some of the key characteristics that attract consumers from country to country and have made it into the international brand it is. Global and local are not mutually exclusive – they can and should work together. You just need to understand which benefit levers to pull to maintain the international experience and which levers to pull to create stronger local relevance. Then go do it.

Leave a Comment


Find out how we can empower your brand with a human-centric marketing approach.

    Follow our news