The global village created by advances in communications technologies increasingly enables the world's populace to come into contact more with corporations and brands than governments. More people are in touch with icons like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, IBM, Nike, Pampers, American Express or Ford than any single nation's government.
I believe the responsibility of a global corporation today is to help improve lives and to otherwise make the world a better place. Here are some ways to go about this.
First, understand there is a problem in how the U.S. and the brands associated with American culture are perceived in other countries. Favorability ratings for America in most countries of the world have declined significantly. However, most Americans have little first-hand experience of how others see us (only 18% of the U.S. population holds a passport, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and 86% of those passport holders visited Canada or Mexico).
The U.S. government has encouraged business executives to be more involved with these issues. Last year, I was among a group of global advertisers invited to a State Department briefing to consider America's poor perception internationally. A report by the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy concluded that, to combat the significant resentment and misunderstanding of the U.S. across many countries, not simply the Muslim countries, "new thinking and new structures call for new mind-sets, not new millions of dollars." What might that new mind-set be?
Keys to new mindset
A new mind-set can help marketers operate better in a world of rising anti-Americanism.
* Understand secondhand culture. The concept of "secondhand smoke" has now evolved, in a broader sense, to also apply to the effects of "secondhand culture." Due to the rapid expansion of media accessibility, American culture, including U.S. corporations, is now more perceivable to other cultures than has ever been possible before. Like secondhand smoke, our culture exposes itself in places and affects people in ways that we are not aware of-even people we may not be intending to connect with. This has an effect on how they think about us.
Realize that your corporation is actually serving an interconnected, intercultural world that has no borders. The globalization era is over. It has given way to the need for appreciating inter-culturalism.
* Make capitalism inclusive. America's economic and social policies are not meeting the needs of developing markets, especially Muslim-dominated markets. It is time to make capitalism more cooperative and collaborative in practice.
Columbia University's Joseph Stiglitz, who served as chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors during the Clinton administration, discusses this capitalism of exclusion in his 2002 book, "Globalization and its Discontents." He refers to the exclusion in economic relevance generated by the three main institutions that govern globalization: the International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and World Bank. These world financial institutions operate from the perspective of Western economic theory. Yet market forces and the economies in most developing markets do not react in similar ways.
Mr. Stiglitz, the World Bank's chief economist from 1997 to 2000, acknowledges the economic policies of the IMF, WTO and World Bank are driven by the U.S. and are out of touch with many of the economies they are intended to help. "In many cases," he concludes, "commercial interests and values have superceded concern for the environment, democracy, human rights and social justice." In a very introspective way (when you think of our own history), he refers to it as "taxation without representation."
Brands are connecting with an inter-cultural global society that is more transparent. Some cultures feel they have no stake in it. Other cultures, like ours, seem insensitive to the others' needs, wants and desires. Make sure your brand is accessible economically, too.
* Embrace the young. The developing markets are predominantly a "youth culture," one significantly different in life stage, economic status and mind-set than in developed markets. U.S. corporations need to have their fingers on the pulse of the world's largest and most influential audience: the world's youth. The global youth culture is the point-of-market-entry for the new market and the new world of public opinion that is emerging. This youth market is the most media-literate audience in history. It is consuming technologies and media from all vantage points of opinion and culture. If they are the consumers of your brands, they believe the brands are theirs, not yours.
* Think like the sun. The prevailing marketing "frame-of- reference" of the last 20 years has been rendered obsolete by advances in communications technologies. The commonly used marketing management concept "think global/act local" originated in the 1970s.
We need to look at the earth from the outside in, from a vantage point similar to the sun's. Everywhere on the planet we gauge our days with the rise and fall of the sun. When the sun goes down, we turn off the lights, put our head on our pillow and fall asleep. For all intents, perception seems to stop, until the next day and the new dawn and we resume our marketing activities once again.
However, the sun does not go up and down. It is we here on earth who revolve. And in the interconnected world we now live in, perceptions are ongoing with brands that connect with consumers globally. "Think like the sun" is a frame-of-reference that can help us think outside our immediate environment or time zone, to help us better consider the effects our actions and communications are having more broadly.
* Improve life. The research firm RoperASW conducted a worldwide study to learn about cause branding and whether doing social good can translate to market-share improvement for companies or brands. Overall, 38% of its sample of the world's consumers say "it is very important in their decision-making that brands and companies make efforts to address social issues or causes." Top issues consumers across the world want to see companies take on are: environment, education and hunger/poverty. It is against these needs and desires that commercial messages can be perceived to be in such disharmony.
The anti-Americanism issue is not going to go away on its own. We will have to work hard to earn a more favorable perception in the world community. Fortunately, renewal is an equity of the American ideology. America's corporations have such an influential opportunity to change perceptions by example in virtually every community and culture on the face of the earth.
Tim Love is vice chairman-international of Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, New York. This essay is based on a paper submitted to the U.S. State Department. To obtain a copy, contact [email protected]