Web Is Great Equalizer for Producers and Consumers

When Everyone Has Access to Your Content, Single-Definition Branding Goes Out the Window

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I miss the good ol' days of global brand strategy. It used to be so simple: Develop a single, absolute definition of your brand, then produce content -- mostly TV spots and print -- that was generic enough for local voice-over talent to translate, perhaps augmented with an image or two for local color. What was important was that those absolutes of brand were constant; the delivery component was tactical. "Think global, act local" was the mantra we stole from the world's do-gooders in the 1970s, and it was supposed to save money on production costs while ensuring consistent delivery of our messaging.

Only not so much anymore. In fact, the internet has turned this model on its head. What your marketing does locally has implications for what people think globally. The "here" vs. "there" distinctions turn out to have been an artifact of one-way media. When it comes to online content, there's only an "everywhere," a leveling of access -- for producers and consumers -- that means our brands can't talk to anyone without reaching everyone, in one way, shape or form.

Jonathan Salem Baskin
Jonathan Salem Baskin is the author of "Branding Only Works on Cattle" and blogs about marketing at Dim Bulb.
This new context raises some not-so-elegant questions that your global agency may not want you to ponder. Your local firms might not be equipped to address them either.

For instance, at what point does the "translating" of your brands begin? If you still hope to deliver the same brand in different cultures, you risk developing such a generically muted position that it's either 1) inert by the time it gets to local markets (i.e., looks great, but nobody cares) or 2) people care, but do so because it's wrong, so the effect of your branding is that people talk about your branding, vs. what you'd hoped to tell them with it.

This is because social media are exploding in many of your markets and doing so in ways that go beyond wording and accents. I'll bet that understanding this variability is left to your local partners (or one-stop shop). Yet the "behavior" within and to/from these communities is probably more important than the demographically or lifestyle-correct branding messages you choose to put into them. Consistency across markets isn't necessarily a plus; the parts are far more diverse and powerful than the sum of your brand. How could it be the same thing in two different places and times? Why should it?

We're just getting comfortable with calculations of "lifetime customer value" as a real metric for the efficacy of marketing's efforts, but I wonder if this networked, distributed-communications world of ours has given rise to memes or topics that have value over time because they prompt behaviors. So Coke is the most-reached-for drink by thirsty beach-goers in Rio. SQL Server is the go-to product for every new retail site in Croatia. Shiseido is the choice of working women in Japan because they get sun protection in addition to moisturizers.

Are these behavioral qualities of global brands or local ones? Or both?

Maybe we're saying goodbye to the idea of a single version of "brand" and replacing it with definitions of branding that are far more behavioral and dependent on local give-and-take.

If I'm right, you can throw all of those surveys and studies on the imaginary value of your brands into the garbage. Your challenge is far greater than adopting new media; the real experiments -- offering the potential of real returns -- require that you revisit, and risk revising, your very conception of your brands. Consumers are already doing it for you in every market you're trying to reach.

Things were changing since before our current economic woes started. The good ol' days of last century were oh-so-last-century ago.

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