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GENERAL STRATEGIES FOR GLOBAL BRANDS

By Sicco van Gelder*

Abstract
This paper introduces four general brand strategies and examines the internal and external
factors that influence these strategies for global brands. Managers of global and
international brands must understand these issues in order to assess the potential for
standardising their brands across diverse societies, the factors that necessitate specific brand
adaptations, and the prospects for competitive advantages. Likewise, managers of local
brands need to understand the particular strengths and weaknesses of the strategies of their
global competitors and use this knowledge to devise their competitive responses.

*
The author is founder of Brand Meta, a brand strategy and planning consultancy in Amsterdam, the
Netherlands. He has over a decade of experience with worldwide research and consultancy on major brands. He
can be reached at sicco.van.gelder@brand-meta.com.

© 2002 Brand Meta 1


INTRODUCTION global and local contexts helps determine
Globalisation has been the battle cry of the the best course for them. Therefore, this
last decennium of the 20th century. This paper concerns those involved in global
phenomenon is not new or unique to this and local brand management, as well as
period. The process has only been given an managers of local brands who often
added impetus by the political, struggle with global competition.
technological and economic developments
that have been unique to the last ten years We introduce four general brand strategies
of the century. The demise of communism, and examine the internal and external
the ICT revolution, the liberalisation of factors that influence these strategies as a
trade are only few of the driving forces of brand extends across multiple societies.
this latest round of intensified The general strategies themselves consist
globalisation. of a total of more than 20 strategy sub-
types. A discussion of these strategy sub-
The effect that this globalisation has had types exceeds the limitations of this paper.
on brands has been spectacular. New Suffice it to say that each requires its own
brands are seemingly born global, or at the particular capabilities and competencies,
very least experience a quick rollout from each has its particular competitive
home or lead countries into other markets. advantages, and each offers consumers
Many traditionally local brands are sold, some distinct appeal. The author is
fazed-out or face transition to a new currently writing a study that examines
regional or global brand name and these strategy sub-types. The purpose of
subsequent harmonisation. Brand this paper is to offer a fresh perspective on
portfolios, which have been built-up global brand strategy and management
through decennia of acquisitions, are without attempting to be exhaustive.
rationalised in order to focus attention and
resources on a limited number of strategic
brands. Long established brands have
enhanced their dominant positions across GENERAL BRAND STRATEGIES
the globe, threatening less marketing-savvy Brand strategy is aimed at influencing
local brands, but also encountering stern people’s perception of a brand in such a
opposition from local brands that find way that they are persuaded to act in a
ways to fight back. Some of the global certain manner, e.g. buy and use the
brands manage to become local institutions products and services offered by the brand,
by filling a local role in the societies where purchase these at higher price points,
they operate, while others dominate their donate to a cause. In addition, most brand
category as global monoliths. strategies aim to persuade people to buy,
use, and donate again by offering them
Debates have also flared over the supposed some form of gratifying experience. As
supremacy of global brands and the branding is typically an activity that is
inadequacy of (multi-)local brands. This undertaken in a competitive environment,
paper argues that this viewpoint is the aim is also to persuade people to prefer
incorrect and that the each individual the brand to competition.
global or international brand has specific
opportunities and limitations when it A global brand needs to provide relevant
comes to standardisation or localisation. meaning and experience to people across
Only a thorough understanding of a variety multiple societies. To do so, the brand
of factors that influence brands in their strategy needs to be devised that takes

© 2002 Brand Meta 2


account of the brand’s own capabilities and be pure-bred, have a certain nobility and
competencies, the strategies of competing bearing, and exhibit qualities that can be
brands, and the outlook of consumers traced back to these (e.g. grace, speed,
(including business decision makers) temperament, looks). Like a horse, the
which has been largely formed by brand reputation specialist can also thrive
experiences in their respective societies. on association with celebrities.
There are four broad brand strategy areas
that can be employed.
(3) Brand Affinity. Brand affinity
specialists bond with consumers based on
(1) Brand Domain. Brand domain one or more of a range of affinity aspects.
specialists are experts in one or more of the A brand affinity specialist needs to
brand domain aspects (products/services, outperform competition in terms of
media, distribution, solutions). A brand building relationships with consumers.
domain specialist tries to pre-empt or even This means that a brand affinity specialist
dictate particular domain developments. needs to have a distinct appeal to
This requires an intimate knowledge, not consumers, be able to communicate with
only of the technologies shaping the brand them affectively, and provide an
domain, but also of pertinent consumer experience that reinforces the bonding
behaviour and needs. The lifeblood of a process. A brand affinity specialist is like a
brand domain specialist is innovation and pet dog. A dog is generally considered to
creative use of its resources. A brand be man’s best friend, due to its affection,
domain specialist is like a cheetah in the its obedience, its loyalty, the status and the
Serengeti preying on impala and gazelle. protection it provides to its owners.
The cheetah is a specialist hunter with Different kinds of dogs will command a
superior speed to chase, and the claws and different form of affection.
teeth to kill these animals. The cheetah is
also very familiar with the habits of its
prey. It finds ways of approaching, (4) Brand Recognition. Brand recognition
singling out and capturing its prey. The specialists distinguish themselves from
cheetah is one of the most accomplished of competition by raising their profiles among
hunters within the wild cat species; it consumers. The brand recognition
catches up to 70% of prey that it hunts. specialist either convinces consumers that
it is somehow different from competition,
as is the case for niche brands, or rises
(2) Brand Reputation. Brand reputation above the melee by becoming more well-
specialists use or develop specific traits of known among consumers than
their brands to support their authenticity, competition. The latter is particularly
credibility or reliability over and above important in categories where brands have
competitors. A brand reputation specialist few distinguishing features in the minds of
needs to have some kind of history, legacy consumers. In some cases, a brand
or mythology. It also needs to be able to recognition specialist needs to be able to
narrate these in a convincing manner, and outspend competition to gain unbeatable
be able to live up to the resulting levels of awareness. In other cases, a brand
reputation. A brand reputation specialist recognition specialist needs to convince a
has to have a very good understanding of loyal following of consumers that it is
which stories will convince consumers that unique. A recognition specialist is like a
the brand is in some way superior. A brand peacock. Most of us will know little about
reputation specialist is like a horse. It can birds, but we can recognise a peacock from

© 2002 Brand Meta 3


a large distance. We may not know its something different depending on local
precise qualities, but if we were to choose culture. In Bengal, the peacock symbolises
between birds we are more likely to plump prosperity, while in Bali it represents the
for a peacock than for a more ordinary power of knowledge, and in China it
specimen, because of its beauty and symbolises beauty and dignity.
presence.
As in the animal kingdom, there is also a
To continue the analogy, animals that are place for generalists who mix and match
transplanted from their original habits, face strategies to their advantage. For instance,
particular difficulties. Their specialist in some markets Heineken mainly
skills, particular traits or specific qualities leverages its reputation (e.g. country-of-
may no longer be to their advantage and origin), while in others it applies its
they may need to develop new ones. formidable media planning expertise to
innovative use of various forms of
The cheetah may fare fine in other parts of (integrated) media; a specific form of
the world where there are grassy plains domain specialisation. Brands also use
with sufficient game. However, if the complementary strategies. In the case of
cheetah moves from the plains to the Nokia, it has been developing its brand
jungle it will need to develop an appetite affinity through Club Nokia and the Nokia
for different prey (e.g. monkey), change Game.
the way it hunts (e.g. climb trees) and
compete with new predators (e.g. snakes). The following section deals with factors
that influence brands’ strategies when
Although horses are widely considered operating in societies other than their
noble animals, the way they are viewed original habitats.
does differ between societies. In some, the
horse is mainly considered as a mode of
transport and competes with cars and
trucks. In another, the horse is mainly seen THE BRAND ENVIRONMENT
as an opportunity for gambling and there it A brand operates in a space that is defined
competes with casinos and dog races. Yet by its own company or organisation, its
in others, the horse is hardly used and seen competitors, and the societies where it
as symbolising independence and operates. There are both internal and
pioneering spirit. Each of these roles external factors that influence how a brand
requires different traits from the same is finally perceived and experienced by
animal. consumers.

Similarly, a dog is not considered a


loveable or desirable animal in all Internal Factors
societies. The relationship with a dog can Factors that are internal to a brand’s
be functional in some societies (e.g. sleigh company or organisation can be
dogs), affective in others (e.g. pet dogs), categorised as being strategy-related,
and ambitious (e.g. fighting dogs) in yet performance-related and stemming from
other societies. Thus, a dog may need to the brand’s past.
build a totally different kind of relationship
depending on its new owner’s background. The strategy-related factors are those that
derive from the business strategy and the
A peacock may be highly recognisable all marketing strategy. There is a strategy
over the world, but it symbolises hierarchy, whereby business strategy takes

© 2002 Brand Meta 4


the lead, guiding brand strategy. Brand internal conventions. The brand’s internal
strategy in its turn guides marketing legacy is about who have developed it,
strategy. who have managed it over the years, and
what the role of the brand has become for
The business strategy is aimed at achieving the organisation. This influences how
particular consumer behaviour. Only if management, staff, partners, distributors
consumers actually purchase, use (more and shareholders view the brand and its
often), pay a higher price or donate (more) future potential. It may prove difficult to
will objectives of a business strategy be change such perceptions once a brand has
met. These objectives may include a larger been slotted into a specific position. The
market share, increased returns, higher internal conventions of an organisation are
margins and increased shareholder value. such issues as how things are typically
Brands are designed to persuade done, support systems, what the culture is
consumers to exhibit the behaviour that like, who has the power to decide, who has
will make these objectives come true for the power to frustrate decisions, the
the organisation. Thus the influence of structure of the organisation, its policies,
business strategy upon brand strategy is and its (other) activities.
direct and compelling.
For a global brand, such influencing
The marketing strategy aims to translate factors exist at central as well as at local
the brand strategy into actual products or levels. More often than not, there are
services, with a specific price, to be sold at tensions between central and local as
specific outlets, to be promoted through specific factors work in opposite
specific communications activities and directions, and people within the
channels, and to be supported by specific organisation have different agendas for the
service. The influence of the marketing brand.
strategy is thus indirect in that the correct
translation of the brand into the marketing-
mix determines whether consumers get the External Factors
correct impression of the brand. External influences upon a brand strategy
come mainly from three quarters:
The performance-related factors are competition, consumers and media. These
dependent upon the marketing external influences will vary between the
implementation, i.e. the actual production markets and societies where a brand
and delivery of the products and services, operates. Therefore, these influences need
their accompanying messages to to be determined locally.
consumers, and the actual product or
service experience. The implementation When a brand is introduced into a foreign
eventually determines whether consumers society, it will encounter particular brand
experience what the brand strategy set out strategies that are being practiced by
to provide. The marketing implementation competitive brands. Unless competitors are
may make or break a brand at the moment very complacent, head-on confrontations
that is of most importance to consumers: with them are generally not the best way of
e.g. when they actually experience the winning the hearts and minds of
brand through advertising, promotions, consumers. It is, therefore, important to
purchase, usage, and after-sales service. determine competitors’ brand strategies
and to find ways of flanking established
The factors that stem from the brand’s past competition by choosing an alternative
are the brand’s internal legacy and its strategy.

© 2002 Brand Meta 5


Category conventions are the unwritten general need for nutrition, there are
rules that govern the way in which considerable differences between societies
products or services are designed, with regard to which foodstuffs are
advertised, distributed, serviced, priced, acceptable for specific meals. Not to
experienced, etc. Challenging such mention foods that are totally unacceptable
conventions may provide a brand with a to specific societies, as witnessed by the
competitive advantage. It is imperative that controversy over the consumption of dog
such a challenge has value to consumers meat during the upcoming world cup
and that they are willing to go along with soccer finals in Korea.
the challenge. This is only the case if the
particular convention is no longer rock The media can seriously affect a brand
solid. Such opportunities emerge when strategy in a positive or a negative manner.
competition is complacent and In some developing countries foreign
underestimates the effects of the challenge. brands are promoted by the media as
An example is the advent of on-line share examples of modernity, while in others
trading, which became possible due to the these same brands may be portrayed as the
combined development of the Internet and vanguards of a foreign domination.
the popularisation of shareholding. Particularly, bad news about brands can
Established stockbrokers failed to respond spread like wild fire across boarders, as
adequately to the challenge to their Coke found out in Belgium, where the
conventional mode of operations and thus outsides of some bottles were
lost a lot of their business to Charles Swab contaminated with a fungicide, causing a
cum suis. health scare.

Cultural conventions determine how


people in a society interact, what they
believe, how they make decisions and what IMPACT ON BRAND STRATEGIES
meanings they attach to certain The factors discussed above each have
representations. Cultures are not static, but their own specific impact on the four
develop through intergenerational and general brand strategies and their strategy
interpersonal learning and experience. A sub-types. Due to the limitations of its
cultural convention can be challenged if it format, this paper focuses on factors that
is already loosing its value to consumers influence the four general strategies only.
and is ready to be replaced by something We also limit the discussion to one global
new. Therefore, one needs to be on the branding issues that has attracted a lot of
lookout for such cultural shifts. Once attention among practitioners in recent
identified, it becomes a matter of deciding years, namely brand harmonisation or
whether the challenge will be of perceived standardisation. This is not say that the
value to consumers and will provide factors discussed above do not also have a
competitive advantage. profound effect on other global branding
issues such as global brand extensions,
Needs conventions determine the forms in rationalising a global brand portfolio,
which consumers’ needs are manifested. global brand architecture and co-branding
Human needs are not universal and neither global brands.
is the importance placed upon each need.
However, the major differences lie in the
manner in which a need is articulated or Domain Specialists
the form of a solution that is provided to a Domain specialists generally require
need. For example, although there is a economies of scale to be able to sustain

© 2002 Brand Meta 6


their investments in constant innovation. Domain specialists can also be prone to
Brand proposition standardisation or cultural conventions, especially beliefs and
harmonisation is part of this drive towards customs directly related to the products or
economies of scale. Domain specialists services involved. For instance, there is a
tend to centralise brand management, traditional belief in Chinese culture about
which leaves little room for local the efficacy of certain herbs. Proctor &
adaptation. Domain specialists, therefore, Gamble tapped into such beliefs by adding
need to either establish new conventions Showu root extract to its popular Rejoice
themselves (through a successful shampoo, claiming it makes black hair
challenge) or not enter the market at all. shinier. This adaptation provided Rejoice
Information and communications with a competitive response to local
technology (ICT) companies have had the competition such as the Olive brand, which
advantage of establishing conventions had earlier staked its claim of providing
without having to challenge existing lustre to black hair.
category conventions. They have had the
opportunity to shape their category. This is Domain specialists’ brand building
why many ICT companies have been able activities consist mainly of introducing
to establish highly standardised global global brand extensions to reinforce the
brands. Among the world’s ten most perception of the brand’s innovativeness.
valuable brands in 2001 (compiled by Without constant and consistent
Interbrand) are four such ICT domain extensions, the brands would quickly lose
specialists, namely Microsoft, IBM, Intel their relevance to consumers.
and Nokia.

Shaping a category does involve having in- Reputation Specialists


depth knowledge not only of technology, Reputation specialists are a diverse bunch,
but also of consumers. Iridium, the mobile some of whom rely heavily upon their
satellite phone operator, did not have this pedigrees while others leverage their
knowledge and failed miserably when it connections to celebrities, and yet others
introduced a service that few felt a need build on a promise that they have
for. Most people already had excellent demonstrably been able to keep.
alternatives to the expensive and unwieldy Reputation specialists are often good at
system. tweaking their brands to ensure relevance
to consumers in specific societies. This
Domain specialists are particularly means that brand and marketing
susceptible to category conventions, as management need to be largely localised,
these largely govern the brand domain with a largely a guiding task for global
aspects. Renault, which introduced a fair management. It also means that
number of innovative car designs during competencies such as consumer
the past decade (e.g. Twingo, Scenic, understanding and narration need to be
Espace), has little or no position outside available locally.
Europe. While the brand has successfully
challenged automotive design conventions Reputation specialists are particularly
in Europe, it fails to persuade consumers susceptible to cultural and needs
across the Atlantic. Other European car conventions. Brands that leverage their
brands, many less innovative than Renault, country-of-origin make use of beliefs
have been successful in the USA. (sometimes stereotypes) about those
countries. However, the significance and
essence of such beliefs can vary widely

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across societies. The same applies to to standardise their brands across societies
values. Virgin’s reputation as a challenger by using themes that are common across
to established brands connects well with various societies. For instance, Mercedes is
the general British distrust of major a brand that many (successful) people
companies. Whether the same will work around the world wish to be associated
for Virgin in the Far East is doubtful, as with. However, most affinity specialists
consumers there tend to trust major need local brand management in order to
companies and their brands more than be able to build a worthwhile rapport with
contenders. consumers. Affinity specialists need to get
close to consumers to be able to connect
Reputation specialists often make use of with them. This closeness requires affinity
people’s senses of insecurity and their specialists to understand exactly which
needs for belonging. A toothpaste brand conventions can and cannot be challenged.
that is endorsed by dentists may meet This also means that the brand’s
security needs in one society, while the organisation must encourage local brand
relevant security need in another country is management initiatives.
whiteness. A particular celebrity
endorsement may work wonders in one Affinity specialists are particularly
country, but the same person may not susceptible to cultural and needs
mean a thing in another country. For conventions. For instance, a financial
instance, Nike used American football and services brand that connects to it customers
baseball star Bo Jackson for advertising in by employing empathy utilises a society’s
the USA, but substituted him for local prevailing values and esteem needs. In a
sports celebrities in other countries. collectivist society, the brand’s empathy is
likely to be expressed through showing
Reputation specialists often have a limited deference to customers. In an individualist
scope for challenging category society, the empathy is likely to be
conventions. However, they also have less expressed through personal recognition
of a need for doing so. Volkswagen, which and advice pertaining to the customers’
builds on a reputation for the excellent specific financial situations.
quality and resale value of its cars, does
not feel the need for constant innovation. Affinity specialists also make use of
Unlike Renault, Volkswagen’s sales do not people’s sense of belonging. Many youth
dry up when it doesn’t introduce brands seek ways of appealing to
innovative designs every few years. consumers in such a manner that they wish
to be associated with the brand. This
Reputation specialists’ main brand entails constant cool hunting and staying
building activities are narration to and closely in tune with teens and young
education of consumers about their brand, adults. Tommy Hilfiger was the epitome of
as well as an experience that is consistent teen cool, but when the brand got stuck in
with the brands’ reputations. the same rut for a season it instantly
became obsolete.

Affinity Specialists Affinity specialists have the greatest scope


Affinity specialists are able to pluck the for challenging category, needs and
heartstrings of consumers. They way they cultural conventions. Due to their general
do so differs markedly between brands, but closeness to consumers, affinity specialists
the common result is unrivalled brand are in-tune with their consumers and can
loyalty. Some affinity specialists are able sense when conventions are shifting. The

© 2002 Brand Meta 8


Body Shop challenged packaging instance, most people are not able to
conventions by using simple plastic refill fathom the differences in the propositions
bottles, thereby reinforcing the social offered by various banks. What they are
conscience of the brand, which resonated aware of are the well-known banks. This
with likeminded consumers. Maximizer awareness breeds confidence and leads
bra challenged values of female modesty in most people to choose one of these. A
East Asia by promoting a push-up bra more extreme case is the mass wine
using slender dark haired western models. category, which is teeming with unfamiliar
The brand tapped into (professional) Asian brands. By raising its profile, the Ernest &
women’s sense of developing self- Julio Gallo brand provides a safe-haven for
consciousness. consumers. It is a brand that they can trust
to provide a consistent quality at an
The main brand building activity of agreeable price.
affinity specialists is relationship building.
It differs considerably between the types of In some categories, consumers actively
affinity brands how this is achieved, know only one or two brands. Apparently,
whether that is through events (e.g. Harley there is an inability or a reluctance to know
Davidson), through service experience more brands. This may be due to the fact
(e.g. Starbucks), a loyalty programme (e.g. that competition is weak at raising its
Shell), an Internet information site (e.g. profile or the category is a low-interest
Pampers), through demonstrating an one. Such brands become the points of
understanding of target consumers (e.g. reference in their category. For instance,
MTV), extolling principles relevant to people will generally be actively aware of
target consumers (e.g. Greenpeace), or by only one or two toilet paper brands. These
demonstrating coolness and hipness at brands will usually have very distinct
relevant occasions (e.g. Burton). The propositions, e.g. one is soft and the other
particular connection with consumer needs is decorative. Distributors’ own brands will
to be constantly reaffirmed by the brand usually occupy the value positions. The
through behaviour, advertising, publicity, recognition specialists keep their
direct communications, brand extensions, advertising expenditure at high levels to
etc. Brand extensions generally aim at preserve this situation.
reinforcing that bond by offering products
or services that bring consumers into closer These high levels of advertising
or more frequent contact with the brand expenditure necessitate recognition
(e.g. Harley Davidson aftershave). specialists to find economies of scale in
this area. Developing regional or global
campaigns is a logical consequence.
Recognition Specialists Recognition specialists, therefore, tend to
Recognition specialists succeed by using centralise brand management, which leaves
two aspects, namely consumers’ inability little room for local initiatives. Recognition
to discriminate between a multitude of specialists often have a limited scope of
brands in a category and their inability to adapting to local conventions. However,
know more than a few brands in a category. recognition specialists are susceptible to
In some categories it is difficult for category conventions and needs
consumers to understand the differences conventions. For example, Citibank
between brands. Subsequently consumers presents its credit cards as ‘dependable’ in
will opt for those brands that they know, the USA and as having ‘distinction’ in
the ones they hear of often. These will Hong Kong. Citibank thus adapts to the
usually be the big players in a market. For

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prevailing conventions of representation in CONCLUDING REMARKS
both markets. How best to manage a brand
internationally largely depends on the
Obviously, the main brand building factors discussed in this paper. Brand
activity of recognition specialists is (mass) strategy is not a given and needs to be
advertising. A high general awareness constantly reassessed. Brand managers
among consumers forms a formidable must decide what is the best course of
barrier to competition. A recognition action for their brands in particular
specialist, therefore, requires advertising markets, based on an analysis of the
skills as one of its core competencies. relevant internal and external influences on
the brands. The author has developed the
Global Brand Proposition Model, a unique
framework with which to assess these
issues. The ideas expressed in this article
derive from the model.

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