Charles Wright on Changes in Global Branding (Part II)

The-Makegood_charles wrightCharles Wright was recently hired as a senior partner at Lippincott’s London office. Lippincott is a global brand strategy and design firm. Charles most recently served as managing director of Wolff Olins in the Dubai office, where he built the company’s presence in India and the Middle East.The Makegood recently spoke with Charles about his new role and the challenges of global branding. (Read Part I)

The Makegood: You will help guide global brands focused on expansion to emerging markets. How do you manage consistent brand communications throughout markets like Europe and the Middle East, where the use of media is different?

Firms like ours used to be asked to define globally consistent brand guidelines. That still happens but the emphasis seems to be switching from consistency to coherence. The channels may be the same but the people may not be. What works in one place may not work somewhere else where the market dynamics or cultural norms are different. This can become chaos in the wrong hands, but it actually places a greater onus on ensuring there is a strong and simple idea behind the brand, then defining clearly where, and by how much, the brand’s expression can flex from one place to the next- and then leaving (but not abdicating) execution up to people close to the local market. But even the smartest companies get things wrong: perhaps readers may remember the fuss over a western firm air-brushing pictures of women from its catalogue in Saudi Arabia. Doh!

How about if instead of designing a brand for our home market and then adapting to for foreigners, we started by crafting the brand for the places where growth will come from. What we in the West like to call ’emerging markets’. There may even be things we can learn that will work back home: I love Vodafone’s Indian adverts with the zoozoos and could easily imagine them doing well over here as well.

The Makegood: What do western brands need to do to adapt for locations like India?

I would recommend anyone to go work in India for a while. Once you can see beyond the hustle and bustle, there is a lot to learn. The aspect of India that still entertains me most is the national fascination with getting a bargain. No matter how rich, every Indian seems to have a profound emotional need to haggle the price down, even if it’s a few cents for a snack. You can imagine what this means for western conceptions like value for money let alone premium versus price-hunter brands.

Apart from haggling, Indians of all classes also seem obsessed with cricket and Bollywood. It is tempting for a Western brand that is aiming at the emerging middle class of India (a market similar in numbers to the US or Europe) to imagine that it can play on one or both of these enthusiasms. But I groan whenever I hear an over-excited CMO tell me he needs a “brand ambassador”, whether it’s a fading cricket player or wannabe film star. Spend the money on something more useful. Like decent market research or better local staff. The point you learn from living somewhere like India is that we have imbibed certain cultural norms with our mother’s milk. But they are our norms not everyone else’s. And brands are the same: what is a self-evident truth in the US may be odd or even offensive somewhere else. And vice versa.

The Makegood: Social media use varies across countries. Can you provide examples of consistent and successful global brand communication via social media?

Not really, although I observe Coke and others trying all sorts of fun stuff. But I can see something which is even more striking: Facebook is popular in countries where internet access is limited and we might otherwise assume the population is unsophisticated. So, Indonesia is Facebook’s fourth largest market. And I don’t think they even have an office there. Push the point further and you will see that use of social media is widespread in many other “emerging” markets where the local phone companies have barely got beyond promoting the wonders of 3G. Maybe the managers of such firms need to spend more time listening and less time communicating? And maybe consistency is yesterday’s game?

The Makegood: Thanks, Charles.