The Marketing Globetrotter: Creative that can go the distance

We talked with our clients and other savvy global marketing experts to gather opinions and advice about the challenge of producing globally relevant creative. You’ve heard it before: Consistency is key in creating a strong brand.

Consistently marketed brands build relationships, trust and credibility across markets. Expressing your brand in relevant and creative ways — whether through words, imagery or colour — can be challenging as you expand your brand geographically. According to our panel of global B2B experts, there isn’t a playbook for how best to do this, and what works for one company might differ for another based on a variety of factors.

The Brand Is the Brand

Many B2B marketers favour approaches that keep the need for local adaptations and other changes to a minimum, especially regarding their branding.

“When it comes to the brand, we focus on global consistency over local adaption. We only adjust how we communicate about our brand if necessary or legally required. Otherwise, we stay true to the global brand,” said Klaus Sejr Madsen, international marketing director, Brüel & Kjær, HBK.

“Regarding brand treatment globally, the brand is the brand,” stated Sidders. “We don’t allow much flexibility, except in a few cases where local or regional influences are significant.”

Madsen’s and Sidders’ declarations reflect most opinions related to high-level expressions of corporate brands. But that doesn’t mean global companies want to be inflexible as they consider how to be relevant and compelling in different geographic regions. They go about it in different ways.

Keeping Things Simple

When the overall aims are global consistency and budgetary conservation, B2B marketers find simple ways to ensure brand rigour doesn’t create local relevancy hurdles.

Oon-Bybjerg stated, “Our overall aim is to ensure the corporate brand is consistent. We understand it’s a global business world, but that doesn’t mean we must make radical changes that create complexity and cost. For example, we try to avoid extensive use of human imagery. We also standardized a simple set of business languages for translations that support most of our business.”

“Budgets don’t always allow for extensive localization,” said Vincent. “Some of the most effective marketing assets we create are simple 2D animations and videos requiring very little translation and no voice-over. These media are versatile and international and give customers something they can connect to without concern for language barriers. Keeping your visuals simple and universal minimizes the number of adaptations you need to make.”

Saving Room for Adaptability

“Local adaptations leave room for markets to address specific demands, regulations, trends and more, so your brand can align with the target audience and local stakeholders’ challenges and value drivers,” said Ralph Krøyer, managing partner of Cross-Border Communications. “Through co-creation across markets, you may discover rising trends and drivers which you could explore in other key markets.”

For some, being globally relevant and effective means being highly adaptable. Consider the point of view of Basheer. “A rigid set of brand standards isn’t always the answer. Allowances for colour, image and other adaptations that may be more appropriate for your regional strategy are necessary.” He noted that red is the predominant feature of the Flowserve brand but that the industrial equipment manufacturer adjusts its colour palette for certain global initiatives. In one case, they shifted from their familiar red to more neutral tones to communicate a different feel to customers in markets where the green economy and decarbonizing are prominent concerns.

Colour seems to be where marketing leaders offer their regional marketing teams the most flexibility.

“We try very hard to build some flexibility to meet local requirements into the brand. We need to leave some freedom that allows a good amount of creativity. This motivates our team and builds marketing momentum,” said Jessica Svahn, global brand manager at AAK. “One key area is that we included more colours in our design guide to meet global requirements. The same goes for the imagery where we need to reflect the cultures of our served markets.”

But before you expand your brand guidelines to allow more freedom, build safeguards against tricky cultural missteps.

Don’t Assume Anything

Bell has spent decades carefully adapting creative to global markets. And he’s seen a lot of near-misses. He shared five of them with us, under the collective advice of “Don’t assume anything”.

  1. Eastern cultures have nearly opposite interpretations of the colours black and white. In many cultures, for instance, white is worn at funerals and black at weddings.
  2. Different colours have political implications and associations in many regions.
  3. In some Asia-Pacific countries, campy and outrageous creativity — ideas we might consider weird in Western cultures — may be effective.
  4. Doing a sports-related campaign? Watch out for football(i.e., soccer) uniforms that feature rival colours.
  5. Logos and icons incorporating symbols as simple as a plus sign may be poorly received in certain regions for religious reasons.

Bell’s advice? No matter your experience, conduct thorough local reviews before implementing a costly execution and launch.


See Also: The Marketing Globetrotter: The Challenges of Global Messaging

The Power of Co-creation

While after-the-fact reviews can help to mitigate embarrassing or costly errors, many of our experts noted that getting people involved up-front is the most powerful way to ensure your creative hits the mark.

Svahn offered this advice: “Build more co-creation into your branding and campaigns to ensure buy-in from all parts of the organization. Not only does this assure a globally applicable approach, but the buy-in also leads to consistent execution globally as you move forward.”

“By proactively collaborating with colleagues and customers in other regions on the front end of brand conceptualization and development, companies can ensure that campaigns make sense globally from the outset,” said Sidders. “That’s where transcreation comes in: the concept and practice of creating ideas that are adaptive across languages while maintaining the intended context, style and tone.” He noted that it is not uncommon for Cummins to involve dozens of go-to-market stakeholders during the early planning stages for launches and campaigns.

And while this final tip might sound self-serving, the right agency partner can also make a difference. “It is helpful to partner with a creative agency that has a global team,” said Vincent. “They know what is trending and popular in their region and can give guidance on what you should be doing.”

Global Creative Isn’t Just a Marketing Opportunity

For many, developing globally relevant creative goes beyond simply doing an effective job for business reasons. Being thoughtful about inclusivity and diversity is a principle that is more prevalent today than at any other time in B2B. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps Sidders said it best:

“If your campaigns and programs express a homogenous, single idea of your view of the world, you’re missing an opportunity. Not to mention, incorporating diversity into your work is the right thing to do as a human. This is a huge part of our company values, so it naturally bleeds into our work. I hope these beliefs are prevalent throughout more and more companies like ours.”

About the Author

This article was originally co-produced by U.S.-based BBN partner TriComB2B and Cross-Border Communications in a white paper published by TriComB2B titled ‘Top Considerations for Highly Effective B2B Global Marketing.’ TriComB2B is unabashedly devoted to industrial and technical B2B marketing, helping clients design optimised marketing strategies that drive decisions in complex, considered purchases.

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