GHN Thought Leader

Dr. Mario Hardy

Chief Executive Officer, Pacific Asia Travel Association

“Going glocal is the new black” 


We live in a world that has become more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous (VUCA) and it is becoming extremely difficult to predict how we will be impacted by world events. Our world is increasingly divided, and it has become more apparent that the demand to satisfy local needs trumps the demand to solve global issues. It is the eternal paradigm of global vs local that we face with our governments and businesses. 

And while it is tempting to address the issues that humanity is facing in this VUCA world, today I would rather focus on more practical challenges that marketeers face every day. How do you build a strong global brand that appeals to local markets in a world that is fast-changing and even more focused on its local identity? 

“As social, economic and political interdependencies make the world ever more global, our hearts still cling to our small tribal ancestries, and yearn for the comfort of our local surrounds – a language we speak and understand, people that look and sound like we do, familiar foods. Predictability.” - Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith - Senior Vice President of Global Research at PageUp and co-author of the book 'CLIFFHANGER: HR on the Precipice in the Future of Work’

I had worked for a large corporate brand that struggled with this challenge for years. Actually, every time our company changed owner; we went from a global approach to a local one. The business went to both extremes in a matter of years, from having a fully centralised marketing team to decentralised local marketing teams in every regional office. 

Developing a global brand that appeals to all has become more challenging than it’s ever been. The solution! Brands needs to become “Glocal” (i.e. apply a marketing strategy that standardizes certain core elements and localizes other elements). In other words, the concept prescribes that in order to be successful globally, marketing managers must act locally in the different markets they choose to enter.

For some businesses this may mean that products need to be adapted to local markets (e.g. think McDonald’s with its vegetarian menu in India) and in others it may simply mean a different way to market a product to make it more appealing and relevant to the local market.

I strongly believe that in order to be successful locally, you need local expertise on the ground that is in touch with the market. The advent of social media has significantly impacted the work of marketeers, not only in the way they communicate and market products but in the speed of how markets are shifting. There could be a series of local festivals and activities that create opportunities to market certain products or local events that make it more difficult to market at certain times. These are things that only someone on the ground would know (either your own employees or outsourced local marketeers).

I believe that global brand values can co-exist with the need to localise product offerings. Consumers will believe in a strong global brand value (e.g. think Volvo which is known for safety), but will still want the offer to be made relevant to them and tailored to their needs and wants (e.g. no point in marketing a car that has a great grip in the snow, if you are marketing in Thailand). This example is an obvious one, however in most cases it is the small and subtle local messages that generate the greatest impact.

As customers look for consistent yet relevant brand experiences wherever and whenever they interact with them, the pressure is on for marketeers to find innovative and creative ways to keep campaigns locally relevant, while maintaining a consistent sense of brand ownership globally.

To keep a consistent sense of brand identity while simultaneously ensuring local campaigns are relevant and effective, it is important to always be looking at your brand from the view of your customer and consider whether your global brand identity resonates locally. This can be achieved through local focus groups or by using a simple method of A/B testing. Share two different messages with an audience and see which get the most positive response. 

While it is more common for global brands to go local, the opposite is also possible where local brands have a desire to go global. In this instance it is equally important for the local brand to build some strong values that resonate globally.

Marketing is a real science and I have great admiration for everyone working in this field, especially in time when everything around us is changing at lightning speed. 

Going “glocal” isn’t something we should fear; it helps better appreciate our differences and the multiple dimensions that global diversity can bring into our lives.