Viewpoint -- Debunking The Myth Of Global Branding

Dec. 21, 2004
Unrealistic expectations belie the reality -- it's all a question of degree.

A decade ago, the common branding mantra espoused by many executives of large multinational companies went something like this: Go big, go global or go out of business. Enticed by the allure of synergies, economies and leverage that a single, unified brand could create, executives spent billions of dollars chasing the vision of brands that would reach all corners of the globe, possess uniform characteristics and associations, and deliver a uniformly consistent experience to customers -- no matter where they were experienced. Almost universally, these visions were never realized, and not as a result of ill-conceived strategy or execution. The failure stemmed from unrealistic expectations of global branding's objective, what is a global brand really is and, more importantly, what it is not. When brand guru David Aaker stated in a 2002 Harvard Business Review on Marketing article that "there are no such things as global brands, only global brand management," he was alluding to the fact that global branding is really all about how brands are managed on a global basis, and not necessarily about global reach and uniformity. This is still not fully understood. Too often, the concept is translated to mean a single, uniform set of associations and experiences across the globe -- no matter where on the globe it may be experienced. It's part and parcel of the popular view of a "shrinking world" and a more homogeneous global society with the new global economy and the benefits of technology and communications. But as current political events attest, nationalism and heterogeneity are far from dead. Clearly, the vision of truly uniform global brands is, at best, a long way off. The reality is that even brands that are considered truly global -- whether Coke or IBM -- still have a high level of variation in how their brands are delivered in different geographies. So, for the here and now, businesses must determine to what degree they would like to manage their brands on a global basis to receive the most benefits. Essentially, there are four degrees of global branding:

  • Single, unified global brands and positionings, with regional variances. Under this strategy, brands are developed and managed over time to maximize the consistency of their promises, perceptions and delivery across the globe. The variations in different regions are few, and are as limited and tightly managed as possible. DuPont fits this category. The majority of the brands in its portfolio carry the DuPont logo and tie in, albeit with slight variations, with DuPont's overall positioning, as expressed by its tagline of "The Miracles of Science."
  • Regional brand positionings and autonomy. Some brands, like Sony and Whirlpool, are known around the globe, but emphasize different brand elements that fall under the overarching brand positioning and benefit set (the benefits of the brand that sway the purchase decision) according to the nuances of different geographies. Additionally, the brand is managed autonomously in those markets.
  • Shared global brand names and common global brand-building platforms. Other brands have expanded with common global names and key associations. But the elements to brand building -- positioning, delivery, what the brand offers (e.g. dependability, quality) and its benefits to the buyer, and the brand's particular attributes -- can vary so dramatically by product or service segment or region that a premium brand in one geography may be a value brand in another. This has occurred with Mercedes, whose positioning is far more elite in the U.S. than in Europe. Conversely, Ford has become regarded as more of a premium brand in Europe than in the U.S.
  • Shared brand management processes, tools and knowledge management. Standard & Poor's is an example of those brands that have pursued a brand strategy under which only the management tools, processes and learnings are shared globally. The day-to-day brand management is done autonomously and quite differently across distinct geographies.
The vision of global brands espoused in the '90s is even less realistic today than it was then, given economic and societal disruptions around the world. What isn't unrealistic, however, is the vision of attaining global brand management strategies that optimally align with organizational capabilities, cultural differences, and brand and product nuances across global borders. It's all a question of degree. Michael Petromilli specializes in developing business-to-business brand strategies in his role as a director with the Chicago office of Prophet, a San Francisco-based management consulting firm. He can be reached at [email protected].

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!