When I started writing this blog I asked myself what it should focus on. Should it be about branding – adapting the brand identity, developing the Chinese brand name (from the legal entity name to the much more complex consumer- facing naming architecture)? Should it be about product development strategy – adapting the product from the ground up to fit the market, and consumers’ lifestyle and aspirations, as well as reflect the competition? Or should it be about making marketing content fit the unique media landscape with specific local brand messaging and content strategy? And what about the more operational side, like establishing local partnerships, sales channels and even recruiting local talent?

The truth is, when you’re marketing a brand outside its home country, you face all sorts of challenges – and they’re all intertwined with each other. And nowhere is that more true than China.

In all my experience of adapting global brands for Chinese consumers, I can’t think of a single example where it wasn’t necessary to change positioning and marketing mix in a big way. I’ve transformed product positioning of consumer products like Kit Kat from a self-indulgent treat to a sharing sensation among friends. I’ve searched far and wide to find spokespeople for global brands like Lux and American Express who can truly resonate with a local audience and still stay in sync with the essence of those brands.

Of course, none of this precludes the eternal debate about how feasible or desirable it is to be globally consistent. Or the need to remember that ‘consistency’ doesn’t equal a one-size-fits-all literal interpretation of a tagline. How should HSBC speak in the same tone as the rest of the world as ‘The World’s Local Bank 环球金融 地方智慧’ (HSBC had changed its global brand platform to ‘World’s Leading International Bank’ since 2011) but express consumer benefits in a really direct way? How should a fast-moving fashion brand like H&M stand out by toning down its price point and promoting its trend credentials instead? How do British brands like Pret A Manger find their purpose and emotional attachments in the context of the local culture, so they do more than just sell food?

To make brands relevant and trigger loyalty that adds up to a sustainable price premium, global brands have to get in step with local cultural imperatives and operational realities. At the risk of over-simplifying or making sweeping generalisations, here are some thoughts about the differences they can expect to find in China.

Are you talking to me?

Language is perhaps the most tangible. One of the first tasks of the marketing plan is to develop the brand name (an equivalent of the global brand identity). That’s before you even start to develop and adapt the brand proposition, key messaging and overall content. To succeed, you need to understand both global intent and local context. If you blindly follow the conventional idea of consistency and ignore local nuances, you’ll almost certainly fail.

When it comes to Chinese names for global brands, going for the safe option of the phonetic equivalent will end up sounding like everyone else. But over-rationalizing could leave you with a name that reflects the marketing brief rather than sounding like something born natively for the local market. In 2017, Airbnb relaunched in China with a new Chinese brand name 爱彼迎(pronounced ài bi yíng) that means ‘welcoming each other with love’. But reaction has been mixed, with many already comparing the company’s strategy with other brands who have failed in China. According to AdAge, Airbnb spent a year deciding on the Chinese characters that made up the name, with brand consultancy Labbrand consumer testing over 1,000 possibilities. Yet the result has been widely criticized in the press and on social media.

Airbnb’s launch campaign in China

Names can be very subjective. So use clear criteria to help you choose. Once you’re down to a shortlist, research can be useful. Carefully testing names with your target audience will help you gauge appeal and weed out any unanticipated negative reactions. Research can’t tell you everything, and it shouldn’t be the only thing you use . Nor should it stop you taking calculated risks or simply trusting your instinct. But it does help guide decision-making and build consensus among your stakeholders.

It’s not just what you say, but how you say it

Another big difference for brands in China is how to talk about benefits. They need to be prominent, but brands also need to talk about what they mean for the greater good, not just the individual. , The western idea of reinforcing ‘what I want, and how I feel’ irrespective of societal consequences doesn’t work. So the brand communications of Holiday Inn Express, an InterContinental Hotels Group brand, emphasize ‘smart choice’ rather than just ‘efficiency’. Johnnie Walker’s ‘Keep Walking’ proposition that emphasizes endless striving for personal progression has to be ‘shared’ and ‘recognized’ among peers. Mercedes Benz, one of the best-selling brands in China, elegantly fused its global positioning with a Chinese declaration of ambition in a recent campaign, executed as a six-page gatefold ad with the headline ‘For the world, we open a new page’.

Mercedes Benz shows its presence in the Chinese market through heavy advertising spend, including this gatefold spread launched in January 2018.

It’s not just how you say it, but where

Comparisons between Western markets and China often focus on the difference in internet penetration and smartphone adoption. But the popularity of smartphones has increased dramatically in China. And digital platforms are evolving fast to become part of Chinese consumers’ daily lives.

China’s internet economy has now raced ahead of the West’s, making China a truly mobile-first market. Besides the sheer size that goes with a billion-plus population, it’s also ahead on features. Consumers in China can now use the internet, specifically WeChat 微信(Pronounced Weixin in Mandarin), to do an extraordinary number of things. Apart from messaging (the key feature when the brand launched in 2011), it’s evolved to include voice and video calls, integrated news and public service announcements, gifting, ride-hailing, food delivery, doctor/dentist bookings, and even visa applications. It integrates social media, search and e-commerce, all inside one walled garden. A recent official report estimates that, as of September 2017, an average 902 million users log in to WeChat daily, up 17% year-on-year, and send 38 billion messages.

WeChat’s reach is appealing for global brands. But it also makes it easier to do business in China by bypassing stringent licence requirements. On the other hand, its multi-disciplinary nature makes it incredibly challenging to create appropriate content fundamentally different to the fragmented content in the West.

As a start, an official presence on WeChat can help global brands control their marketing message in China, create personalised interactions with their audience and directly manage customer relationships through the app. All of that could have a huge impact on brand loyalty if they handle it with care. Chinese consumers can discover and find out about brands and their products, interact with trusted friends and buy items all through one platform. So content needs to fulfill long-term brand building objectives: bridging online and offline experiences, creating a distinctive tone of voice, acting as a customer service with social listening functions, and creating a seamless buying experience.

WeChat is extending its reach to a version for business communication called Enterprise WeChat. Among other things, it lets employees track their annual leave days and expenses, and clock in and out. To underline the scale of adoption, DiDi ChuXing, the latest brand success in China, has encouraged its 7,000 staff to communicate almost exclusively on Enterprise WeChat.

Don’t just spot differences, celebrate them

Chinese consumers are increasingly sensitive to how global brands behave in the market. Brands that celebrate local culture while skilfully infiltrating their global essence can win their hearts, especially if they bypass one-size-fits-all global consistency to craft a local tone of voice. Global brands need a ‘first follower’ in China to localize and lend authenticity to the brand. In 2017, Burberry chose China’s pop, movie and fashion sensation Kris Wu as their first local Key Opinion Leader (KOL). That opened up China’s millennial market, giving the brand social currency to let its message spread on the many social commerce platforms.

Another powerful tactic is to allow local interpretations of global ideas. In December 2017, Adidas re-imagined its ‘Original is never finished’ creative platform with a new set of creators from all over the world including Kendall Jenner, James Harden, 21 Savage, Young Thug, and Eason Chan. It proved that when you create freely, the outcome will always be original, globally.

The global edit:

 

The Hong Kong edit:

 

The Korean edit:

 

China is complicated. Economically, socially, culturally and demographically, not to mention politically – whichever way you look at China, it bears little resemblance to the West. And it keeps getting more and more complicated. So one blog will never cover all the golden rules on marketing there.

There’s no single route to success when launching your brand in China. But it’s safe to say you need a plan that works for your brand and product category, and your ambition in the market. There are also other issues, like product extension, local legislation, censorship, and product safety (especially for food brands). All these steps are essentials you’ll have to consider before developing any marketing strategy for China.

Note: I have contributed this blog to VengaGlobal and Gala. An edited version of it had appeared on my LinkedIn profile.

It’s Chinese New Year on February 19. The Spring Festival is regarded as the most vibrant gift giving and shopping season in China, and therefore one of the major push for many leading brands. Many global advertisers follow the same old formula year after year, while others try to break away from the norm and do something different.

Pepsi curated a “crowd-sourced video” inviting consumers to submit 15-second videos via Mei Pai 美拍, a local mobile video app, to form a tribute to family reunions. The crowd-sourced final cut video will be eventually simulcast on the big screen in New York’s Times Square, symbolically bringing something local to a global stage. At the same time, the “Bring Happiness Home” themed promotion will deliver over 2000 postal parcels to help the mothers in the remote mountainous regions get through the cold winter days.

Apple, on the other hand, had taken this opportunity to unveil their first TV commercial produced specifically for the China market.

It has been an epic few months of localization activities for Apple. Recently they have opened five new stores timed right before the Chinese New Year. Four of the stores are in brand new cities for the brand including Zhengzhou, capital of central China’s Henan Province, West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. In each location, they have strategically partnered up with local artists such as Wang Dongling and painter Yangyang Pan to co-create signature murals inspired by each city for the local store.

Apple Store, West Lake - About the Artist_00000

The TV commercial for Chinese New Year has been met with mixed criticisms. Directed by Ann Hui, best known for her films surrounding the topics of social issues, and cinematography by Christopher Doyle, a key collaborator in many films by Wong Kar Wei. However, you can hardly trace their signature style in the production. One of the main reasons, perhaps, is because they had to follow the tight guidelines imposed on the production – it has to be “consistent” with the global version. The story bears an almost identical storyline to a commercial entitled “The Song” released in the United States over the Christmas season in December 2014.

US “The Song”

China “Old Song”

Even though it is by large a just a localized version, but at the very least, there is a strong and relevant proposition. The storyline cleverly positions the brand being the bridge between the younger generation and the old, and technology plays a role in connecting the emotions across generations.

Different brands tend to adopt a different approach to localize brand messages for local market. In the old model, creating the localized version often involves so many levels at the client side. Depending on the category of the product, it could involve anyone from the local marketing team, the regional marketing team and of course ultimately the global brand team. During the process, any form of innovative thinking will be filtered, reduced, modified, tweaked, abandoned, shot down, reinterpreted or misinterpreted.

Any creatives who had worked within international network agencies on global brands will know the challenges. Fortunately, some global brands are now doing it differently.

Apple now adopts a centralized approach – global ideas being conceived centrally, while implementation and production being done locally. Local content are developed following the global guidelines. Pepsi has adopted a more locally driven approach, leveraging current consumer trends that resonate well in the local market. While brands like Microsoft, they have established processes such as “global-readiness audit” to make sure the ideas and executions can travel well.

No matter which strategy you decide to adopt, one thing is for certain – if you want a cohesive global brand at all, you do need to think global at the time when the idea was conceived. The key to success is to create a truly global platform, which could be so fluid that it allows local interpretations without losing its integrity.

Most global brands prefer the 80-20 ratio of global-local content – to adopt 80% of the content centrally and globally, and allow local market to reiterate and adapt 20% of the content to enhance local relevancy. I personally advocate the 70-20-10 model in which 70% of efforts focus on delivering quality global communications riding on universal truth, 20% on pushing the boundaries to contextualize it with local nuances, and 10% on ideas and approaches which are unproven but could transform the marketplace in each local market.

Which model works best for you highly depends on how you structure the global-local team, and where you put the right kind of resources.

It’s also not easy to motivate creatives to get all excited to work on adapting global ideas, but you can create the space and environment to allow creativity to grow. Here are a few tips:

  • Human insights trump cultural ones. Avoid merely dressing up the global ideas but rather go deep into the reasons why, because that’s what true consistency is all about.
  • Nothing should stop you from creating something that is uniquely local; using very native expressions as long as underlying it there is a meaningful concept that everyone understands.
  • Construct a platform that local teams can “build on it” fluidly and not wasting their time to think of how to make it work.
  • Give anyone on the ground the tools and resources to thrive in scale. Be brutal in keeping the platform intact and trust your own instinct.
  • Consensus is not about everyone agreeing, it’s about everyone being heard and the rallying around the best answer. Never go for the lowest common denominator.
  • You can’t tell creative people to be creative, but you can let them.

I wish everyone a prosperous year of creativity.

When developing a global campaign for a local market, the first thing many people might consider is how do we maintain the global idea and adapt it in a creative way so that it is relevant to the local market.

Or make sure we use local creative talent to craft the content, from copywriting, art direction down to every detail in the execution. Making sure that the advertising appears just like it was created with the local audience in mind in the first place.

Perhaps choosing the right media-mix with targeted consumer touchpoints that works best for the local consumers. Such as creating outdoor billboards for Latin America, or enhancing consumer engagement with a concerted social media initiative for China.

All of the above are true.

But one fundamental question we sometimes forget to consider is whether the product itself needs to be fine-tuned.

A mobile phone brand could be a business tool in one market but a fashion accessory and status symbol in another.

A hotel brand may appeal to leisure travellers in one country but has developed with a stronger business travellers focus in another.

The brand core values remain globally universal, but the way the product is “formulated” can be different. That goes beyond just crafting the global advertising and making it work, but take a step back and look at how the product can be localised and presented.

Sometimes it means getting out of the brand’s own comfort zone.

That was what Oreo had done.

In China, Oreo has always been popular among kids. Their tagline “扭一扭,舔一舔,泡一泡” (roughly translated as “Twist it. Lick it. Dunk it.”) was established ever since the brand launched it back in 1996. The product is synonymous with the child-like style of fun. But they seem to have fallen into a victim of their success. Kids reaching a certain age have grown out of it, and stop finding it relevant to them.

So Oreo recently reinvented an extension of the product by introducing a “slim version” targeting to the trendy female adult audiences. Supported by a locally relevant multi-platform campaign and social media push. The brand personality of “fun” has been maintained, while attracting and retaining a new audience segment along the way.

oreo-thin-kv-flavor

Great global brands can be twisted, shaped and turned in all sorts of ways yet still remain recognisable. Different communication strategy needs to be considered at different stage of market development.

At the end, adapting a global campaign of a global brand is a marketing exercise, not just an executional exercise.

What are some of the other good examples that you have come across in your local market?

Note: This article was first posted on LinkedIn

In an interview at Cannes Festival of Creativity this year, Sir John Hegarty responded to the question about the state of creativity in the ad industry. He raised the concern about the effectiveness of “global advertising”.

…If you believe that a brand is about becoming a part of the cultural landscape, then increasingly we are seeing advertising failing to do that…around the world. So something has to change….

To be clear, what we are questioning here, is “global execution”.

The fact is, the assumption that one brand means the same thing in all cultures is no longer relevant. Many people argue that social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn make brands more globally visible than before. But it is exactly because of the transparency of the medium that the differences become even more profound.

So are global ideas achievable? Does it make business sense? Is there a formula to take an idea global?

Don’t mix up global ideas with global executions

The conventional definition of global advertising could be like this: creating a simple yet meaningful message; enforcing creative consistency; making sure the global position doesn’t get lost in translation. Different brands will then apply different degree of customisation, depending on the open-mindness and the corporate culture of the brand.

But it was then.

Today, this “cookie cutting” style of creating a global campaign though still exists, it has evolved tremendously and has come a long way. This has much to do with the more sophisticated understanding of what global advertising means among major global marketers. It also has to do with the fact that the world has grown more interconnected and best practices have emerged in geographic customization. Local executions can be developed much quicker nowadays. Many global clients have embraced localized marketing platforms that allow local creatives to extensively tailor marketing efforts while selectively and strategically embracing global tactics.

In some markets it also could be a clever curation of global message and local activation campaigns, in order to achieve the perfect balance.

So, it is true that there is no such thing as universal “global executions”, but there is still a strong case for “global thinking”, “global creative platform”, “global brand proposition”, whatever you choose to call it.

Volvo Trucks_The Epic Split_Van Damme_00000By chance or by design, a global idea is a perfect balance in logic and magic. (The “Epic Split” by Volvo Truck)

Brands are now created with a global mindset

To be successful these days, no matter what category you are in, when conceiving and developing a new product or service, international strategy needs to be considered. It is even more so for technology brands that has to go global at an early stage of its roll out, in order to gain traction and scale. Therefore, from the product proposition, brand naming and identity down to the marketing touchpoints, the dynamics of global need to be considered. You need to think from the outside in, and consider the broader picture from day one.

Some brands were even only being made possible with a global “problem” as a starting point. Think Airbnb’s “sharing economy” among the “borderless tribes”; and Opower uses a combination of data and clever psychology to cut across geographic boundaries. Their success was not based on just insights drawn from a single region in silo, but from a global perspective.

“Advertising” then naturally needs to be global. Not in terms of execution, but developing a universal baseline of promise that will allow local executions and expressions to flourish.

Airbnb Brand News_00001Often, a global idea starts with a global insight  (The inspiration behind the Airbnb “Belong everywhere” brand message.)

Don’t confuse consistency with standardization

With trends moving toward social media and digital placements, consistency of message and brand execution become even greater challenges. I have explained it in previous blogs on this topic so I am not repeating too much here.

The bottom line is, truly local executions take the global platform a step further, not a step back.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches_00001Consistency is to unearth the human truth, not just the product truth (The “Real Beauty Sketches” by Dove)

The fame factor

There are other strong reasons for developing global campaign. Costs and efficiency may seem to be the obvious drivers, but increasingly, there are more instrumental reasons for having a strong global presence.

Sir john Hegarty often talks about the power of legacy media, in particularly TV commercials, to create what he describes as the “fame” effect, in his book “Hegarty on Creativity: There are no rules” he talked about the power of fame:

…Great creativity has a life beyond the confines of the audience it was originally conceived for. It becomes iconic, instantly recognizable and powerfully influential. In reaching this status it becomes the benchmark for everything else that follows, rewriting the way the world looks at things…

I can argue that it’s exactly what a truly global platform could achieve. There are compelling reasons to create a big wave of consistent messaging and brand experience across markets. You cannot achieve real “fame” in any category without having an ambition to go beyond local or regional impact.

A message to the creatives

So creative folks, no matter if you are striving to develop a global creative platform, or taking the challenge of transforming a global idea for the local markets, I like to leave you with a few encouraging tips:

To those who are coming up with a global platform:

  • Don’t think that a global idea has to be dumbed down with the lowest common denominator in order to be applied globally, cause it is not.
  • Consider the “human truth”, not just “product truth”, cause that is what gives the ideas wings.
  • Taking the time to understand the regional marketplaces that make up the global market takes insights, patience, determination, curiosity, and utmost professionalism.
  • Co-create with your local counterparts and involve them at an earlier stage.

To those who have the opportunity to take an idea global:

  • A successful creative adaptation and implementation of a brilliant campaign for a local market takes equal effort as in coming up with a standalone original concept. You are not offering an after-thought.
  • Be open-minded, and ditch the conventional definition of “consistency”. Develop local executions that build on the global creative platform.
  • Don’t just do it, ask “why”.

Blog_global

When a western brand enters a foreign market, a lot of people will first set sight on the name. However, a name, as important as it seems, is just part of the defining factors. Let’s take a look at how a few brands across different categories have done recently.

Fashion

When American casual fashion brand Old Navy opened their 22,000 square foot, three-level flagship store in Shanghai in March, they did not launch with a Chinese name. Critics came pouring in right after. Some people criticised the overtly American presentation in their merchandising and launch activities. Old Navy may not be a brand that can accelerate so quickly in the market. Their parent brand GAP (also without a consumer facing Chinese name) launched their own-brand shop in 2010 in China, and is still gradually finding their way in the market. Shanghai is likely to act as their platform to anchor their presence and pave the way for a nation-wide launch of their e-commerce business, and that will be the time when their Chinese brand name will play an important role.

Old Navy_screen

Within the everyday fashion category, it is common for brands to launch without their Chinese name. H&M and ZARA, among others, all followed the same formula. When I worked on the launch of H&M in Shanghai and Hong Kong at the time, what the campaign had managed to achieve was to establish a new ‘category’ in the market. The message was defined through innovative media and owned channels such as their own house magazines. The brand also came in at a time when the millennial generation emerged, and ‘affordable fashion’ perfectly fits what they need. In a market filled with all kinds of Chinese fashion brand names, it was perhaps wise for these brands to focus on their authenticity. What latecomers like Old Navy need now is to craft the next ‘movement’, and to break the new dress code into the mass market. Perhaps adopting the notion of ‘made with Chinese’ rather than the traditional approach of ‘made for Chinese’, and leverage the impact of co-creation with the younger generation in the country. That, to me, is the real localization tactic.

Food

“今個夏天我會喺銅鑼灣開間好正嘅意大利餐廳。”

This was, apparently, what Jamie Oliver said in his video announcing the opening of Jamie’s Italian in Causeway Bay, the heart of the busiest district in Hong Kong.

Traditionally, food is not an easy export. Even though Italian food is arguably one of the most accessible cuisine in the world, and starting with Hong Kong is going to give the brand a good testing ground of the concept, before they enter further into the mainland market. Jamie Oliver cleverly adopts his down-to-earth persona by appearing to be playful in this promotional video. A subtle way to say, “Hey, mixing with local culture is in my DNA”. If he is clever enough to ride on his personal brand, he should engage with the local market through his fantastic social enterprise activities and food revolution campaigns. I believe there is a market for a meaningful brand – a global one.

Professional social network

LinkedIn中国_00001

In a different category, Linkedin has just announced their expansion in China and has launched a simplified Chinese language beta-site branded “领英” (literally meaning ‘Leading Elite’, phonetically as ‘lǐng yīng’). Linkedin (the global site) claimed to have more than 4 million members within China already, but through the partnership with Sequoia China and CBC, they hope to refine and localize the product’s offerings to the Chinese users. The decision to launch with a Chinese brand name, in their case, will help to make sure the Chinese users can communicate comfortably in native language in a business context. However, whether they can fine-tune the nuisances of the communications within the platform to reflect the Asian way of communications is yet to be seen. And once communications start to involve cross-border interactions, how can they effectively help global users to connect and communicate successfully and seamlessly, is also a crucial element. All these challenges, is not just a well-coined Chinese phrase can help.

Think beyond language

A well thought out localized brand name, is just one of the ways to gain traction in the market. The most important part is whether the brand can identify the ‘market’ for their product. They should have the insight to localize the product elements and understand how they can fit into the lifestyle of the local market. Without a clear positioning, finding a Chinese name may just be another hit and miss exercise.

If we have to choose a high street fashion brand that had made global news recently, it had to be Topshop. During London Fashion Week in September, the fashion industry had widely praised the brand for unlocking the selling power of social media, turning ‘likes’ into ‘sells’. The effort seemed to have paid off and have certainly uplifted the brand to a global status. ‘Shoot the Show’ was also described by Topshop’s chief marketing officer, Justin Cooke as social, commerce and entertainment rolled into one.

Here are the highlights of the truly 360° activation of the Topshop Spring Summer 2013 extravaganza:

  • The entire fashion show was live-streamed on their website on 16 Sept
  • The live stream video was pinned to the top of its Twitter page
  • Consumers could personalise and share their experience as it took place in real time in London’s Bedford Square
  • Converging with conventional retail activation – the show was also shown on large screens at its Oxford Circus flagship store in London and on the websites of more than 200 media partners
  • The ‘Customise the Catwalk’ feature allowed users to select and order the key looks and accessories, and change the colour to their preferred option before placing the order
  • Viewers could click on clothes and accessories to browse color options as they came down the catwalk
  • Garments ordered ‘live’ from the runway could be delivered three months ahead of industry lead times
  • The partnership with Facebook that featured a ‘Shoot the Show’ function, whereby fans could trigger a ‘camera icon’ on the screen and take a snap of their favourite looks, they could then share it on Facebook with their friends
  • All the tracks from the show were available to be downloaded via iTunes on topshop.com
  • Beauty products used by models were available online with a 48-hour delivery promise
  • Online tutorials were developed to guide fashion fans to develop their own look inspired by the catwalk show
  • Twitter followers (@Topshop) were encouraged to review the show in a ‘Tweet-off’ for a chance to win tickets to the next runway show
  • Branded content: Topshop posted videos of the show 30 mins after the event ended as newsfeed to every country

Snapshots of stats:

  • Both #TOPSHOP and UNIQUE trended globally on Twitter Sunday
  • 100,000 images shared every 20 seconds
  • One garment was sold out in 10 minutes …during the show. In every colour.
  • 2 million people in over 100 countries watched the live-streamed show, its largest online audience ever

The social media strategy seemed to have indeed made Topshop go global. What could possibly be missing?

This year, from May to end of August, Topshop had opened a pop-up store in Shenzhen, China. Now, of all the cities in China, it’s not clear what’s the strategy behind the choice of location, but nevertheless, the global ambition is clear. What I am wondering is, when will the retail brand start localizing the online shopping site to ensure it connects to the local consumers?

Here’s the topshop.com ecommerce site for the China market:

Topshop’s CMO Justin Cooke tweeted during the social media extravaganza: ‘This was the dream #Topshop we might just be the first case study they all wanted – social to commercial, likes to pounds…more to come’. Will the web site be localised in time to even enhance local consumers’ online experience?

While online shopping in China is flourishing, should retailers look at how to implement the global brand locally? Should e-commerce act as one part of their overall digital strategy as well as their overall integrated strategy offline? These are all the questions I like to explore in future blogs. Let me know your thoughts.

*The image shows the Chinese character of ‘one’.

Sometimes we hope that cultural differences do not exist. Not only can we share the same values, it makes life so much more peaceful.

The reality, however, is never like that.

We are also living in the culture of sharing. What happens in one country, is all very easy to be shared globally.

It has just been reported that in the Saudi Arabian version of the 2013 Ikea catalogue, all images of women, including the photograph credit of a female designer and depiction of family scenes throughout the catalogue, have been mysteriously retouched.

You can see the comparison of the visuals in the below images which were taken directly from the pages of the catalogues in UAE and UK.

This is not just the case of misinterpretation of images – such as the digitally retouched photos of Julia Roberts and Christie Turlington in an ad campaign for L’Oréal (which was subsequently banned in the UK)

The case with Ikea this time is more than that. It has to do with the representation of the role of female in families and society. I am not surprised that it had created such a stir and debate – and rightly so.

For a brand that had consistently scored well from the innovative urban planning projects ‘Ikea-land’ to the widely published and popular catalogue, Ikea’s globalisation strategy had always been a textbook case study. In April 2012, AdMap published a ‘Meaningful Marketing’ report and praised IKEA “makes numerous meaningful connections with people, at an economic, intellectual, organisational, spiritual and emotional level” and had registered on top of the Meaningful Brands Index across all markets.

So what went wrong?

Localisation of marketing communications is nothing new. In fact it is something I am dealing with on a daily basis. Especially in the lifestyle category, global brands do sometimes need to adjust the ‘product’ when selling in a different country. From formula of food products to the message in marketing campaigns, customisation is what is needed.

It is also not uncommon to ‘localise’ marketing materials to fit local cultural norms, we are not just talking about changing the font or layout, but strategically curate it to bring out the best of what the brand is to the local market. What’s ‘design-led’ in one country could be ‘price-driven’ in another.

The lessons learnt from the Ikea case was that the executional treatment was based on stereotypical depiction of a culture. I am quite convinced that the production team involved at Ikea had done this with no intention to offend. It was likely that in this case, localisation has been boiled down to be just a technical process – just doing, not thinking.

Here are 5 tips when developing content for products on a global scale:

  • Implementation cannot be completed without a phase of proper planning
  • ‘Repurpose’ should not be just about execution (resizing, reformatting or retouching), it should be rethinking of the relevancy of the product and message
  • Avoid cut corner solutions. Plan ahead for the production across all markets involved and discuss requirements of additional production, such as photo shoot, for each market. If planning were done upfront, costs will be easier to manage.
  • Plan certain aspects of the production to be done locally with a flexible global guidance, such as sourcing local talent in-market
  • Involve your local marketing team even when the global strategy is coming from topdown

And one last tip – even though there is no such thing as ‘global consumer’, under the watchful eyes of social media, everything is transparent.

What do you think?