[Podcast] Is Global Brand Planning Still Possible?

Shann Biglione
Oct 7 · 17 min read

Episode 3: What happens when the world of a brand gets fragmented into multiple massive markets? Local planning takes the front seat! In this episode Rachel and Shann tell you why they think local is where the magic is increasingly happening, and how the role of global and regional brand planners is shifting.

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Rachel 0:00
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the Overthinkers. I’m Rachel.

Shann 0:03
I’m Shann.

Rachel 0:04
And today we’re going to be talking about if global brand planning is possible.

Shann 0:09
So what do you think?

Rachel 0:12
I think it’s, um, it’s a really interesting thing, because we’re starting to see more arguments around this idea of globalization, right, and being able to see a trend that’s happening in Tokyo or Singapore, and you can wake up and access it on Instagram, this morning. But I think the reality is, because all of these markets are increasingly becoming far more mature, in their communications, what I feel like is, the only thing that’s possible is being able to come up with sort of a global positioning and a certain number of categories. So maybe being able to stand for something quite specific or carve out a niche. But I think, in order to create any sort of meaningful activation, it’s going to need to work off of a sort of localized insight. So I think, you know, for a bad example, Nike is able to stand for athletes and be advocates for athletes around the world. But what that looks like in China looks very different from what it is in the United States, and it’s very different, again, in Europe. And I think, you know, there are categories where that would be true. Like I would say, there’s companies like that have the global reach, like Google or Unilever and Procter and Gamble, where maybe that’s possibly still true, but I don’t think it’s universally true for for all brands and all categories.

Shann 1:32
Yeah, I have a pretty extreme view, when it comes to that, which is I actually think global brand planning is slowly dying. And that’s been accelerated. And it’s not, there is no value to it, I think there is value for people to blend some aspect of the brand at a global level, because first of all, they have the resources, there’s people whose job is to do pure brand planning. And that’s very, very useful and helpful for these local markets. But having come out of China, after five years, I can guarantee you there are very, very few campaigns that translate very well into the Chinese market. And you know, back in the days when having a global campaign meant having something pretty strong in the US, or maybe a little bit in Europe, and that just was able to cover most of the markets and the other ones were smaller, it was mostly fine. But nowadays, I genuinely think there have been enough emerging cultures, not just countries, which are so different and so nuanced compared to what we’re used to, to see in the past, that the global planning aspects is becoming very, very hard. And I see my day to day job, because I am actually, the work I do for for a client is I’m helping the US, I’m doing regional, and I’m doing global as well. So I work across all three right now. And if you have a market that’s big enough for you to activate, and the businesses important for you there, you’re going to be much, much, much better, doing local insights, be tapping to that local culture. And especially, you know, we talk a lot about purpose driven brands lately, you know, having a purpose needs to be so wet into the culture that is going to be very, very hard to translate them and just talked about PNG, for example, I think even PNG are embracing more and more that aspect of localization. And starting from a source of truth that is much more local in nature, it should take the tide versus the tide, which is a great, absolutely an American ad. And they’ve not necessarily translated into other places, it worked because there was a Super Bowl, and there is a culture behind the Super Bowl. And, and so even those big brands tend to have aspects that are hyper local, I think.

Rachel 3:45
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s interesting when Coca Cola used to try to do this very well, where they would have a sort of ad where they would create the storyline and have the narrative and in and of itself, and then it would sort of manifest differently in each of the local markets, but it would tell the same story. And I think that there was a period in time in like, 2006, to 2010, where I feel like that was probably working really well for them. Because Coke, you know, had 150 years to percolate into our shared consciousness. But I don’t know if, I think especially the CPG brands of the world are well situated to be able to adapt to this, right, because they are also one of the few remaining marketers where they worry about all for the P’s. So the product promotion price and those sorts of things. And so, I think what they’re struggling with is between like, do we give the markets that type of autonomy, and then the global role suddenly becomes something like an MBA like role where you’re really just looking at business cases, for markets to help say, this should be our set of product lines, here’s where we’re going to invest everything. And we’re in control of our sort of localized choices. But I think for like, a month, a true marketer like a Nike or I would even say like a Google now, I think they’re allowing that sort of local autonomy,

Shann 5:08
Oh, they definitely are pushing. I mean, I think the country which I really believe has driven this the most has been China. And you know, I’ve had the chance to speak to people who worked in all those brands when I was there. And, and for sure, there’s been increasing freedom given to this to this country, because it’s just too big and too different. And it went all the way to luxury brands when I worked on LVMH and, and some of those highly centralized brand architectures. I mean, you know, for a long time, you know, anything that was not produced out of Europe, as in Paris, or Milan, the headquarters would never ever see the day of light. And nowadays, actually, most of the content you see created in China is using entirely local approaches and so on. So there is there is definitely I mean, I think there’s a spectrum, it’s definitely not going to die entirely for me like there’s first of all, there’s plenty of markets that are going to need some global assets, because they don’t all have the budgets or bandwidth to go and create local campaign so that that aspect is going to is going to stay for sure. And also, as you said, you know, there at that brand planning on a global stage can still provide a an architecture for those local activations can go and live. But I genuinely think that the brands that want to make the most of some key markets are going to take a step closer to say, you know, what that local market needs its own independence needs to grow and develop its own things. And there is a point at which the global people are going to become more of a, not a nuisance, but like they are gonna get a little bit in the way I think, and it’s going to be a hard to justify that engagement for those for those big markets. And that begs the question to me is like, you know, would global people increasingly become less custodians of the brand, but more helpers to say small and medium sized markets? I don’t know.

Rachel 6:56
Yeah, I mean, I think it’s an interesting thing that you’re saying too around, like the production of assets. Because I think that’s increasingly what the role of like Global Engagement Directors increasingly is right? It’s trying to figure out where we can find out production efficiencies to allow for some of those, like tier two or tier three markets to have marketing, whereas they otherwise wouldn’t. But yeah, I think now that we’re starting to see the sheer maturation of markets like China, or increasingly, Brazil, and Europe,

Shann 7:31
India is coming, there’s quite a few of them

Rachel 7:34
There’s quite a few large ones that require sort of distinct care. And it’s no longer sort of just the US and Europe driving everything. And so I think it’s definitely going to be a challenge moving forward for those brands. And I wonder, too, if there’s, like going to be any sort of breakup or fragmentation, maybe it is that regional roles end up being the most powerful one. So if you’re managing LATAM, or if you’re managing North America, or if you’re managing something else, that could entirely be the best, the best place.

Shann 8:04
I’m going to offend some of my friends here, potentially, but I think regional is the first one to go, I don’t think it’s gonna be reinforced, I think, if anything, what you’re going to see is the reinforcement of certain local territories. When I say that I need to caveat it, there’s different regions and different setups. Take LATAM, for instance, it’s a fairly homogeneous region there. And when I say fairly, I don’t mean like all markets at the same because they’re definitely not, my LATAM colleagues, I’ve explained this to me enough, and I understand it now. LATAM isn’t one country. And, but there is definitely the ability to have a semi-shared language, even though there’s, you know, some similarities and nuances. But ultimately, they are still mostly speaking the same language outside of Brazil. But that can work there is, it’s some homogenous enough to kind of work. If you go to Asia Pacific, and I can guarantee you, taking a regional Asia Pacific role, if you’re listening, I don’t think is necessarily the most exciting career plan you’re going to find as a strategist, because everything is so different. And you’re going to have big markets like China, which are so ahead and have their own ecosystem that are different from Japan and India which literally has nothing to do with it. And then you’re going to have the up and coming markets, even levels of development are very, very different. And that heterogeneity, it just makes it very, very difficult to run something at a regional scale. It doesn’t mean there is no value for regional people. But let’s be clear, that regional has increasingly become and always had some of that problem, but it’s increasingly so now, coordination job much more than a proper brand vision job for that region. And you got to EMEA, so European markets it’s quite similar as well. I mean, you know, it’s not that the French and the Germans think that they’re the same. There are similarities, but they’re, they’re still variances, and the Nordics and Eastern Europeans. And so it’s, it’s always quite complicated to kind of go and look at the regional part. So for me regional is not going to be the solution all. For me the solution is you’re going to see increasingly, markets, big markets are going to take a greater stake and the and they’re going to basically, you know, own their own development. And these are going to be usually markets based on size and growth potential of that market. And then you’re going to have smaller ones, that are going to need a bit more support, and they’re going to be clustered into different things. And that could be visions, that try work cross work those. But again, it makes the role of the global planner quite difficult. Because let’s be clear, and I’ve done enough of it on both sides now. You’re not going to go walk into China and tell them “hey, this is the campaign you should be running”, they gonna look at you funny and nod at you and then just tell you “Fuck off, I’ve got my idea and I know way better than you do”. So it’s and they’re right. That’s the thing that’s like, ultimately, they are right, like, I’ve seen so many times where things fail, because we come with, you know, a global view of it, that it’s becoming very, very complicated. So that that planning and that brand aspect, and basically, that tactical expression that we used to have in global roles, I think it’s disappearing, there’s still a strategic aspect, you know, helping markets understand, you know, what the business potential is the kind of audiences the kind of tools we should be using. And I what the future of the brand is going to be around and the pipeline of products. So there is definitely a role but I think is going to be increasingly from a especially from a communications perspective, move to that super strong local market. And if not, those local markets are going to be the ones creating assets that others are going to be using.

Rachel 11:41
would you would you say that some of that would be us helping to guide our clients in the nuances of those sort of smaller countries. So like, for example, right now, I’m also in a global planning position where we’re grouping all of Europe together for one of these briefs, for example, but they also want the same brief to be applicable for Russia and Saudi Arabia. And I’m, like, women and Russia and Saudi Arabia have vastly different ideas of what femininity is, for example, for this, this one brand I’m working on. And so I do feel like it’s part of my responsibility in this global role to advocate for the differences in these markets to the client who understandably wants to try and consolidate things to make briefing, or production more seamless, but do need to push back. So could that be part of our responsibility as global planners?

Shann 12:37
And you’re my Yeah, but you’re never going to be great at it. That’s going to be the problem. Yeah. And I say that, I’ve learned to be humble about those things. It’s just you. I mean, I left China a year ago, and I can guarantee you my use to tell you what to do in China is 20% waht it was a year ago. And, and because things change, things evolves and culture moves pretty fast. And, and it’s not that there’s not universal things we can we can plan around for sure, there’s going to be always things we can do you know, but there’s definitely enough differences and enough nuance, that’s just you just can’t as a global person capture fully, and if not even being in the country just makes a big difference. You know, like for me coming back to the US, you know, I needed to readjust and relearn what people are already following and what they’re listening to, you know, it takes time to acclimate. And it’s not like I was completely disconnected from it, you know, I still watch the movies and TV shows. And, you know, I watch some of the things on YouTube when I was in China, but it was hard to kind of follow what’s going on. And, and ultimately, I think, you know, when you look at this global platforms and campaigns, they’ll be fine. But because they need to be universal, they’re going to be a bit vanilla most of the time, if you want something that is really, really special and unique and kind of scratches something that other brands have not said before, it is going to happen increasingly at the local level for me, not a global level.

Rachel 13:54
Yeah, that makes sense. And I think to to the to what you’re saying about the idea that culture has been moving so quickly and Faster, faster now than ever before, from global brand planning, because it’s so complex, you end up doing everything about 18 months in advance, and by then you’ve completely missed the window on it. And like having anything that’s meaningfully landing in any of the markets.

Shann 14:15
I mean, one of those categories probably is going to be cars, because automotive needs to be planned within three years. I think it’s hard. And as someone who still does quite a bit of global work right now, I do feel the pain and it’s difficult to find a answers that feel like genuinely exciting. I sometimes can come up with things like that, what the excitement usually comes from, “Oh, we do have something that could be universal here”. And it becomes more “oh, we’re able to solve a problem”. But are you giving the most exciting solution to that problem? Usually, that happens when I get to work on the local aspects. That’s kind of where the gold really kind of comes in. Like for me, you know, when doing global planning it’s kind of digging for silver, if you really want to dig for gold, you have to go a more local for this to happen.

Rachel 15:04
I feel like that’s the perfect line for us. I don’t think I top that by any stretch of the imagination.

Shann 15:09
Well, I’ll tell you one more thing. It’s that we talked about brand planning, but even media planning, because that’s what a lot of the work I do is media related, as you know, it’s the same question, can you do global media? Penny? And the answer is yes, there’s definitely aspects you can do like, you know, roles of channels and understanding, you know, what, what are we going to be prioritizing or ecosystems, these are things you can usually draw pretty well from a global perspective. But there are still pretty stark differences. You know, I mean, and it’s… TV consumption is not the same in every country, for instance, it’s still pretty strong in the US. And yeah, people if we but you know, people don’t watch TV, and it’s like, well, look at the figures in the US, you’ll be surprised, it’s actually not that bad. And then you go to China is like the media ecosystem is entirely different. So again, how to give a global response and direction on media, that is supposed to work for a country like China, where everything is on Alibaba and Tmall and WeChat versus the US where TV is sill kind of big player and you have to use YouTube and Google and, and you have Facebook, and they have very, very different approaches and how they do things, their data systems are completely different. And, and these being your two big markets, straight away, there’s a question as a global practitioner, where can you really add value, when you’ve looked at these two markets, often for brands represent half of their revenues. What happens there? and the reality is, you have to go sometimes to a more local level to be able to do it. And you can find, again, interesting things and core directions that can be true across market, you can definitely do that. And you know, explaining to you when to flight, how to optimize your media, how to be more efficient about it, you can — and these guidelines are useful and helpful for markets. But you quickly realize that in the big markets, again, the gold is not there, the gold is going to be in those, how you going to find a partner that’s going to be very interesting, that can help you kind of get this idea forward. And the level of partnership that they need is, is just something that a global stage, I cannot see. And I cannot even plan for it. And so again, the goal is going to happen at that, at that at that local level. And that’s going to be very difficult. And you’re going to end up with this global media is going to be mostly here to help the small and medium markets. And I think that’s going to be a question for global practitioners. Like if you really want to be at the cutting edge, I know there was a time when global couldn’t do that. And I think those days are difficult to carry forward. If you really want to be doing work that gets you super excited because you do the most advanced things. I think a lot of this will very often come from local places.

Rachel 17:42
Well, and I think it’s, it’s a question of values, right? Because as a business, like whether it’s Procter and Gamble, or Unilever or Coca Cola, they probably are valuing, you know, command and control, right? They don’t really necessarily care how, like how meaningful or how different or how salient it is at a local level, when they really just want a clear understanding or a clear rule set or rubric for everyone to be following. And so I wonder if the organization’s ever going to be sort of properly set up to incentivize good work as a result, as well.

Shann 18:15
Do you know, companies that succeed or fail at that? Incentivizing this?

Rachel 18:21
Incentivizing adhering to a better setup process? Or incentivizing good work?

Shann 18:28
Good work, technicaly they all say that they do.

Rachel 18:31
I mean, like, there are organizations that have like brand engagement architectures where you can you sort of go through and based on market level and sort of maturity of the brand in that market, they’ll make strong recommendations for a media mix. I know that that’s something that both like both Unilever, and I think Procter and Gamble have done before, like Unilever is very well known for having like the brand love key and those sorts of established planning processes. But in terms of incentivizing either award winning or attention grabbing types of work, I’m not sure I’m like, they all say that they are set up for it.

Shann 19:10
I’ve seen some good things being pushed there. I mean, the Unilever or the P&Gs, and having worked kind of across, you know, I have found those companies to transition pretty well, actually, to that incentive, and I think, you know, also the, there he is, what’s what’s great in those companies is ultimately if you have motivated and driven local marketeers, they will make sparkles, they will they will give at some point, that confidence, yeah, that these guys know what they’re doing. And it’s a process. But ultimately, that trust can be gained. And I’ve seen amazing things that can happen. I mean, I know when I worked in the movie industry, and I worked in Disney, for instance, you know, Disney in France was quite specific, because we don’t have the right to advertise movies on TV. So the TV assets, the trailers were useless to us, the out of home assets were much more important to us. But that’s where the local market was like, “well, if the poster has to deliver more into the campaign than what it does in the rest of the world, then we need have to have our own posters”, and they deliver their own posters, and every now and then what happened out of France, they had that trust, and then you and they were Well, I mean, I remember our teams working with the production teams to get the right poster for Tarzan and the and the Pixar films and so on. And and ultimately, very often, those posters would end up in the international pool as something could be quite useful. And same was true in Japan, for instance, when some of the assets were interesting. That trust once established, it works, it just needs to have those local engineers let’s call them who are just passionate and just want to champion something. And if they do that, I think there’s not there’s never been a better time to be a local marketer. Because I think brands are really, really keen to kind of find people have the power and charisma and appetites to go and drive those things locally. And I think I believe that’s going to be more and more freedom and the delegation of powers to the people who really want to do it.

Rachel 21:03
Yeah, absolutely. I absolutely agree. And I think I’ve seen a lot of that type of work sort of emerged most effectively at that most local level.

Shann 21:12
Cool. Well, I think that’s it. We’re about 21 minutes in, tried to stick to 20 minutes. Thanks, Rachel.

Rachel 21:18
Thanks, Shann.

Shann 21:19
We will speak to you next week.

Rachel 21:19
Yeah!

Views represented and reflected are individually held and are not representative of our employers.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

The Overthinkers

Ramblings from marketing strategists in the trenches. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud!

Shann Biglione

Written by

Head of Strategy at a media agency by day, marketing pain in the ass by night. Co-host of The Overthinkers. Opinions feistily changed.

The Overthinkers

Ramblings from marketing strategists in the trenches. Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts and Soundcloud!

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