Everybody Wants to Rule the World: Challenges in Managing Global Marketing Programs



With the progress in digital technologies and access to audiences across the globe, the potential to grow market share in new regions and expand reach is easier than ever…in theory. The opportunity to launch global marketing campaigns that consistently communicate a company’s messages and differentiation is available but global programs are not without challenges. For the purposes of this article, I will focus on three main challenge areas – organizational, cultural/regional and tactical.

Organizational Challenges

One of the key factors in successful marketing programs is based on how an organization services foreign markets. Some of this is determined by the nature of the company, its stage in its lifecycle and its corporate structure, but some models seem to work better than others in impacting regional and local marketing success.

According to an eConsultancy report “The Global Conversation, most leaders in this area use the “hub and spoke” model – the concept of centralized management with local expertise. This concept helps control processes, share platforms and establish brand consistency, while allowing regional and local groups to bring in specialists and make adjustments to local content development, marketing channel usage and approaches to execution.  Successful models of this nature also ensure that the right technology platforms and processes are in place to maintain a standard for the brand, campaign measurement and overriding messaging.

The challenge with this model is finding a good balance between global standards and local variations.

According to Pankaj Ghemawat, from his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Companies too responsive to interregional variation risk adding too much cost or sacrificing too many opportunities to share costs across regions. As a result, they may find themselves vulnerable to attacks from companies taking a more standardized approach. On the other hand, companies that try to standardize across regional hubs—and in so doing overestimate the degree of commonality from region to region—are vulnerable to competition from local players.”

Cultural/Regional Challenges

Regardless of the organizational model, there are many cultural and regional challenges that impact your marketing campaigns. Two of these are the translation of ideas (vs. words) and the evolution of marketing channels.

  • Translation of Ideas

While I’ll touch on translation of actual words in the tactical section, the other important aspect of global marketing campaigns is the translation of meaning, concept and ideas.

For a fun (or not so fun if you were the one responsible) look at some of the errors companies have made when not considering meaning in translation, check out this link: http://www.campaignasia.com/article/cultural-blunders-brands-gone-wrong/426043.

While some of these seem as if they could have been avoided by better research, the underlying issue is the assumption that “if it makes sense here, it will make sense there.”  Cultural differences do not only apply to slang, words and colors but also how audiences function in their daily lives, how they work, interact, socialize, make decisions, etc. Understanding differences can be the determining factor between failure and success.

While the following article focuses on major global brands, they give a good example of how they have tailored the marketing efforts to regional and cultural differences – sometimes just making small changes that would provide a local and, therefore, more favorable perception: http://www.k-international.com/blog/5-examples-of-powerful-global-branding-in-action/.

  • Evolution of Marketing Channels in Region

One of the other challenges in actually executing marketing programs is that not all marketing vehicles are available in every region to the same degree of effectiveness. The evolution of digital marketing varies greatly as do the platforms and applications available in each geographic area.

Additionally, some sites, particularly those that serve the B2B market, are behind in the ability to accept tracking tags or provide reporting data that makes it challenging to assess campaign performance.

While some channels are consistent across regions, others may have to be considered to have the full impact in a specific country. For example, in the German B2B market, print media is still very prominent, but it is dwindling in the United States. In China, the WeChat app is one of the most prominent apps, which is not available in Europe. In Eastern Europe, many sites still do not accept tracking code which puts them at a disadvantage for consideration. Social media in Europe does not have as much uptake in business situations as it does in other regions.

Despite the differences across regions, per the same eConsultancy study, email marketing appears to be the most prominently used channel particularly among market leaders. If you want to read more about email and its comeback, check out Misti Jones’ blog on that topic.

Tactical Challenges

Tactical challenges seem minor after the major organizational and cultural challenges, but, as they say, the details will be your undoing and often is the root cause of failure.

  • Time zones – Depending where a company’s headquarters is, time zones can be a real challenge with teams meeting and communicating in the very early morning or very late at night. This can put a strain on local teams as they must also address local needs within the standard local workday.

Timeliness to responses also is critical as you may also miss an entire day of productivity while answers to questions are delayed. The general practice is to work east to west through time zones and portion the day’s work according to region. In working with clients that have multiple regions, our team practice is to address work from Japan, then India, then China, then Europe, US central/east coast and then US west coast. Also, in understanding our individual client work patterns, we know that if we respond to email by 9 a.m. CST and 11 a.m. CST, we will receive responses from India and Europe respectively before the end their days.

From a planning perspective, building in extra time to implementation timelines to allow for the natural delays can help keep the campaigns on schedule.

  • Translation

The other aspect of global marketing programs is the time needed for translation and local proofing. Part of this challenge is also managing changes that come at the last minute, which will require additional translation and further delay the campaigns from launching simultaneously across regions. Translation databases can help greatly with this, but the local language proofing tends to be the biggest source of delays. Again, building in extra time and providing timing alerts to the proofers can help assuage this issue.

The above two factors are just two of the tactical challenges but are big contributors to the delays in simultaneous global launches. Again, according to an eConsultancy report “The Global Conversation”, leaders in the market are proficient in global campaigns only 22% of the time – a fairly major gap. Below you can see the graphic from the study that shows that most respondents are not doing a very good job – a statistic that is indicative of the challenges of global campaigns.

While managing global programs has its challenges, discipline in scheduling, consideration of cultural differences, consistency in platforms and access to information and strong communication practices should help make them more manageable. Let us know how you have overcome some of these challenges. We would love to compare notes.

Shannon provides guidance and leadership to MCC clients and team members alike. Her wealth of experience in the digital space and her expertise in analytics provide strategic insight to drive our clients' businesses forward. Since joining MCC in 1999, Shannon has leveraged her thorough nature and client-first approach to climb from account manager to supervisor to director and now vice president. In her tenure, she has developed strategies and supervised tactics for global brands and small, privately held companies alike, ranging from Alienware, CommScope and Texas Instruments to Professional Bank, Accudata Technologies and Raze Technologies. Prior to joining MCC, Shannon worked for Flowers & Partners, Grey Advertising, API Sponsorship and the Los Angeles Lakers organization. She has a bachelor's degree from Pepperdine University. Away from work, Shannon spends much of her time cooking, reading spy novels and wrangling her daughter.

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