I love the smell of vanilla in the morning – how do you do great global marketing?

I blame a dramatic change in my views on global marketing on a team of Bonn-based marketers. (You know who you are, and I always hated the colour magenta anyway.)

Mar 24, 2022

By Neil Davidson

Years ago, I was part of a charm offensive, flying around Europe to try to sell-in a new cross-market model and a new campaign at the same time. Both failed. The French were dismissive, the Czechs led a group of non-committal markets (but were great fun on a night out) and the Southern Europeans were always on holiday.

Sorry is the hardest word (in German anyway).

The German clients were more strategic in their response to this new way of doing marketing. One approach was to cancel meetings in Bonn the day before they were planned for, but always when we were already on our way. The first voicemail we heard when we landed in Cologne Bonn Airport was to let us know that our trip was now pointless, but it always ended with an upbeat ‘Entschuldigung!’

Why is global marketing so difficult sometimes? Why are some of the outputs so often low on insights, ideas or creativity but so high on vanilla marketing that you can smell it as soon as you open a toolkit? The opportunity to fix global marketing’s issues is by learning from what makes it great sometimes. (Some of our best work has been created for multiple markets so it can be done.)

At the heart of the fix for any global work is the toolkit, as well as a toolkit mentality: a team makes stuff over here, other teams receive and execute stuff over there, and the depth of connections between these teams is usually fleeting. This is usually due to a drive to save money, a lack of curiosity and an unwillingness to put in the hard yards that great global work demands.

Know your people (and their limitations).

It takes time and effort to really know target audiences in different markets and pull them together into something meaningful and insightful for a global campaign. It also takes as long to get to know the local client teams, but global strategies and ideas will fail without this understanding or building meaningful working relationships.

The only way to truly know local target audiences is to invest time in markets, add qualitative and quantitative data insight to that, and knowingly apply an outside perspective to generate new insights rather than bring cultural blind-spots to this. One of the other biggest watchouts is treating your local colleagues as proxy for the local target audiences. They rarely are and can have as many blind-spots as you but think they know better because they are in the market.

Going from hero to zero, and back again (hopefully).

Building understanding of audiences and local marketers takes time and intelligence. There’s also an investment needed in building the foundations before you get going on any campaign, including finding consensus with your local colleagues about what the brand is really about, as well as its challenges, in conjunction with agreeing how marketing actually works so that you can agree on the tools needed to solve these challenges.

Few of us like change or challenge and the responses I’ve had in these situations range from being thanked ‘for presenting the future of marketing’ to being asked to leave the building at the same time as dropping a hard copy of my presentation in the bin. However, change and challenge are needed for many existing models of global marketing if you want to beat your competition. We’ve used behavioural economics and neuroscience to do this; challenging old thinking, looking at problems differently and using neuroscience research objectivity against the subjectivity of ‘That’s great but it won’t work in my market.’

Create versus execute – mind the gap.

One other global marketing pillar worth challenging is the traditional create and execute model, that one team creates core strategies, ideas and core content and another executes, usually with a gap between the two. The world of marketing does not need another toolkit that makes local marketers lose the will to live when they finally get past the manifesto and a sell-in video that screams ‘Straight Outta Hoxton’ before they get to a campaign toolkit that doesn’t fit their target audience, strategy or channels.

The responsibility for fixing these sits at a global level and the best global marketers have recognised that the lines between create and execute must be more blurred, starting with the work to understand local markets, their target markets and local clients. It then moves onto practical measures such as writing briefs for local executions in tricky channels such as social and experiential, as well as helping vet local suppliers and outputs where it’s needed.

Don’t flick them and forget them.

The worst global toolkit mindset includes flicking and forgetting, and therefore never truly understanding what did and didn’t work. Getting data out of local markets can be hard work, but always worth it. It starts with helping local markets set better objectives and finding better ways to get and analyse meaningful data. Without this feedback loop no one is going to improve at the global or local level. With this and proper reviews of what actually worked and what didn’t work for both local colleagues and target audiences there is a chance to create marketing and advertising that makes a difference and truly connects global brands with people around the world.

Who knows, crack that and you might even have a local market colleague waiting to meet you at the airport the next time you visit.