OPINION - Leader - Devolving power is a key challenge for global brands

Think global, act local. It’s one of the most easily-trotted out phrases in marketing. It sums up the business missions of some of the world’s biggest companies, from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola to Microsoft. But saying the words is a lot easier than delivering on them, and in many ways it’s getting harder.

Think global, act local. It’s one of the most easily-trotted out

phrases in marketing. It sums up the business missions of some of the

world’s biggest companies, from McDonald’s to Coca-Cola to Microsoft.

But saying the words is a lot easier than delivering on them, and in

many ways it’s getting harder.



The incentives for global thinking are obvious. There’s the

globalisation of the media market itself, with billions of consumers

available via the web. Then there’s the increasing consolidation of

media businesses which are seeking to offer integrated solutions across

portfolios of international media brands.



Plus the obvious cost savings of coming up with a campaign that goes

down as well in Birmingham as it does in Beijing.



The danger, of course, is that while thinking globally, you get badly

damaged on the local front. Just ask Coca-Cola. Last week it was

revealed that Douglas Ivester is to take early retirement from the

company to be replaced by the unfortunately named Douglas Daft. An

article in The Sunday Times last weekend said Daft ’may have an

impossible job on his hands in restoring the lustre of a tarnished

brand’.



It’s a verdict that may exaggerate the scale of the problems facing

Coca-Cola and its new president. But when the company in trouble is

Coca-Cola, the world’s biggest and most powerful brand, it demands a

sense of drama in the reporting of its woes.



Many of Coca-Cola’s problems stem from a failure to think and act on the

local stage. Its biggest public relations disaster of the year was the

slow, arrogant response from its head office in Atlanta to reports of

contaminated cans of Coca-Cola being sold in Belgium. Those people taken

ill included children. Yet Coca-Cola’s actions were begrudging, and too

slow. It behaved like a huge US global brand, with little understanding

of what was happening on the local level - and that, say its critics, is

exactly what it is.



Coca-Cola’s poor PR made it look vulnerable when a string of other

setbacks hit it during 1999, including raids on its offices by the

European Commission investigating anti-competitive behaviour, and the

French government decision to block its acquisition of Orangina from

Pernod Ricard. It would be naive to suggest that a bad year marks the

decline in the fortunes of a brand which has led the way in global

marketing, but Coca-Cola’s annus horribilis proves the need for strong

brand management and control.



But, ultimately, if a company as good as Coca-Cola can get it so badly

wrong, there are lessons for every marketer who works for a company

operating in international markets. The Henley Centre has talked about

the next few years seeing a ’regional renaissance’ in terms of

management at a local level. Consumers don’t want distance between them

and the brands they purchase. They want it up close and personal, and

that means a level of local accountability and autonomy.



The evidence suggests devolution of power is going to become a major

issue for global brands. For marketers it’s no longer enough to say

’think global, act local’, they are going to have to start thinking

locally too.



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