Why global marketing demands a special set of skills

A new breed of marketer is needed to take on the rich and diverse challenges of global roles, writes Grant Duncan, technology, communications and media practice head at Spencer Stuart.

Global marketing is not a new phenomenon. In the post-war years, as international and cultural barriers came down and the flows of global commerce increased, brands (in particular Western ones) fanned out across the world. With them went a vanguard of global marketing executives carrying suitcases filled with pre-mixed campaigns and guidelines. Some were true pioneers; others were simply messengers or career-enders.

Global marketing is an altogether richer cocktail now, however, driven in large part by the increasing sophistication and buying power of those markets once tagged "Third World" or "developing". To simply impose a ready-made strategy on these markets is to seriously underestimate them. Nonetheless, the economic logic of the global brand has to be maintained.

Enter the new breed of international marketer. Global executive-search firm Spencer Stuart’s latest study has confirmed that this dynamic needs a different kind of executive – one who is passionate about genuine multiculturalism, committed to living and breathing a wide range of international experiences, and sees this as a career-enhancing stage on the journey, rather than a cul-de-sac.

Global footprint

Companies seeking to develop their global footprint and exploit opportunities for their brands in growth markets are increasingly reliant on outstanding marketing leaders who can build teams with the right balance of skills and experience. Creating effective global marketing operations capable of driving brand growth means finding and developing people with cultural savvy and intellectual agility, both at the centre and out in local markets.

Today, there’s a huge likelihood of new and exciting things coming out of developing economies and feeding the global brand platform. Consumers are becoming part of a sophisticated global community, thanks in part to the impact of social media, and there is widespread acceptance of global brands. Yet consumers retain a strong sense of pride in their local culture.

CMOs have to make clear, informed decisions about the control that can and should be exerted from the centre without jeopardising the potential opportunity in any market.

These forces are turning brand internationalisation into a more complex discipline. As brands cross frontiers, marketers must address cultural nuances and deliver campaigns that reflect how local consumers interact with their brands. CMOs have to make clear, informed decisions about the control that can and should be exerted from the centre without jeopardising the potential opportunity in any market. They must ensure that everyone shares a common understanding and respect for the brand’s core values, while translating high-quality consumer insight into agile and effective execution.

Companies have experimented with a range of organisational models to achieve this. The pendulum has swung from centralisation to decentralisation and back again, driven by the forces of standardisation and adaption. Internationalising a brand requires a clear understanding between those in the centre and those in the regions as to which elements of the brand are fixed and which can be adapted.

Global-brand, local-execution CMOs must adopt organisational structures that will allow for the creation of global brand teams as well as centres of excellence that incorporate the right mix of functional skills. Establishing and communicating a clear framework that everyone involved in the marketing of brands understands and buys into is critical.

The main difficulty in formulating a coherent, consistent international branding strategy lies in finding a true insight that is applicable across all countries. Most CMOs now recognise that achieving a unified brand expression usually involves a flexible approach in which some elements remain fixed, while others are adapted to local conditions. Once the brand characteristics and values have been clearly articulated, countries should be allowed to execute campaigns that connect with people locally. Understanding of local behaviours and entrepreneurship are key to making the brand relevant.

To exploit their brands to best effect internationally, CMOs need a first-rate network of trustworthy marketing professionals in distant geographies capable of reconciling the demands of a global brand – the "non-negotiables" – with the commercial realities and cultural nuances of each local market.

Common goals

There is a growing preference for developing and deploying local talent with the skills and market knowledge to manage and grow businesses in local markets. However, this is not always possible, so CMOs need to be good at identifying, developing and retaining people in those markets who share a common goal with those at the centre, and combine intellectual agility, cultural sensitivity and international experience with sharp commercial instinct. Finding people with the right skill sets and personal qualities to handle international assignments is not easy. Mistakes can be costly.

Executives who have had international exposure from an early stage tend to have an advantage over their peers when it comes to developing a global mindset, but that is not to say that others cannot develop one. Aside from strong technical skills, we have identified five essential characteristics that any marketer must possess if they hope to make a success of an international assignment (see box). Humility (low ego and a willingness to learn), sensitivity to cultural nuance, intellectual curiosity (appreciating the broader cultural context), agility (intellectual, cultural, social and emotional) and communication skills (articulating and inspiring) will make all the difference in a global role.

Have you got what it takes to go global?

Humility
"What I went with was real humility to learn the local market and to understand cultural differences. I think I was very accepted by that team, probably for that attitude as much as anything."
– Helen Souness, general manager, Marketplaces, Envato

Sensitivity
"There are a lot of ways to do business. You need to have the sensitivity, the willingness and the fascination to get under the skin of the local culture and to scan the differences and similarities."
– Hanneke Willenborg, vice-president, global brand development, dishwash, Unilever Home Care Category

Intellectual curiosity
"The true marketer is constantly wired in to what’s happening — from technology and pop culture to shifts in shopper behaviour. The people who are naturally interested in and opinionated about the dynamics of the changing world around them are normally the ones who will excel in a marketing career".
– Carlos Ricardo, global director of marketing, advertising and sponsorships, BBVA (Madrid)

Agility
"Marketers are having to deal with much shorter cycles, so they have to be more flexible and learn on the fly. You need people who can step back and understand things in the abstract and yet get into the detail when it comes to local implementation."
– John Kennedy, vice-president, corporate marketing, IBM

Communication skills
"The most important thing for a top-class international marketer is the ability to find new ways to adapt the communication to a changing environment."
– Matthias Becker, former CMO, McDonald’s Germany

Why go global?

- Develop a fresh perspective that challenges your company’s and your own preconceptions.

- Differentiate yourself from your peers.

- It is a healthy way to break habits and set patterns of behaviour.

- Appreciate the difficulty faced by local teams.

- Develop an "outside-in" mindset.

- Learn to bring the voice of the consumer alive inside the organisation.

- Learn to get into the depths of execution with limited resources.

- Become better-equipped to design relevant programmes when you’re back at headquarters.

- Test your adaptability, agility and ability to survive outside your comfort zone.

- Become fit for purpose in an increasingly globalised world.

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