If you are a marketer in a big company - big nationally, that is
- you could be forgiven for having some dark thoughts about Ted
He was the Harvard professor who was said to be the first to put the
word globalisation on the corporate agenda. And now few companies of
any size have been able to stay away from the global battlefield,
whether willingly or unwillingly. The pounds 79bn assault by Vodafone
AirTouch on Mannesmann will not remain the biggest bid in history for
So why the dark thoughts? Because marketers, more than many of their
other functional counterparts, face some hair-raising challenges once
their bosses embark on global adventures.
The first challenge is that of cultural differences. This isn’t about
understanding the nuances of nationality in your customer base. It is
very rare that these mega-marriages have anything to do with improving
the focus on customers. They tend to be more about hubris, faulty
strategic thinking, or seeking non-existent synergies.
No, this is about that daunting prospect of acquiring new marketing
colleagues from diverse backgrounds.
Forget all those words of wisdom which say that strong company
cultures can iron out nationality quirks. Gaze at the inhabitants of
the business class section on your next flight. They might look the
same, but strip away the laptops, the suits and even the business
English and the cultural stereotypes come screaming to the surface.
And forget the supposedly close ties between the US and the UK. Ask
any marketer in the European arm of a US multinational how comfortable
the fit is. It’s not.
Even worse, there is no global lexicon for marketing. Marketing means
different things to different groups and has different cultural
reference points. As a UK marketer you can talk to a German about
sales promotion and the words might sound the same but they can mean
Cross-border discussions about strategy can find the participants at
So it’s not surprising that this is becoming prime territory for a new
breed of consultant, brought in to try to get marketers in these new
behemoths to speak the same marketing language across the globe. After
all, how can you present a united front to customers when you can’t
even talk to your new colleague next door?
After the nationality and language issues comes the biggest challenge
yet. And that’s for marketing to try to pick up the pieces of the
business when the cross border merger goes sour. And it will, more
often than not.
If business history teaches us anything, it is that even those global
corporate marriages which seem so blissful at first develop cracks in
You only have to look at what’s happened to the DaimlerChrysler
When these two got together in 1998 to create the then-biggest-ever
merger worth dollars 35bn (pounds 22bn), there was excited discussion
about brand fit, synergy, cost savings, and so on. This was to be a
merger of equals, a taking of the best parts of both the German and
the US cultures.
Less than two years on, the cultural divide between the two sides and
the emergence of the Germans as the dominant partner has led to a
haemorrhaging of talent from Chrysler and a radical management
So while those at the top squabble, who’s left to mind the brands? No
prizes for guessing.
Laura Mazur is a business writer and author.