Economic uncertainty is forcing many companies to re-examine (or second guess) their global marketing strategies. At the same time, the brand management rules in key emerging markets in APAC and MENA keep evolving and are being rewritten. While the global economic crisis is one catalyst for the shift, it is by no means the only one – and U.S. marketers will lose their edge if they fail to understand what it means for them.
Emerging markets are legacy-free markets. They are unencumbered by an entrenched history of marketing and branding standards and ideology. Enormous cash hoards have been built up with the impact of two decades of rapid growth. Consumers in emerging markets are increasingly sophisticated. And the financial crisis, for once, is hitting Western economies. How does this change the rules for brand management in emerging markets?
Rule #1: Leap and learn from the local market…
Because they haven’t gone through generations of linear technology development, everything now is focused on the little screen of a mobile phone. Asia and other emerging markets are fascinating in terms of how mobile technologies can help drive the expansion of consumer and business markets. Marketers in Asia, in particular, already have years of consumer data from branding, advertising and marketing initiatives carried out exclusively in these technologically sophisticated marketplaces. There’s a lot there for U.S. brand managers to learn that can help them use these new “marketing” technologies more effectively in the US.
The Challenge: Communications are converging, but this is a process and issues with interoperability, regulation and security present challenges to mobile marketing. The future playing field for marketing will be mobile. Emerging markets have bypassed fixed line and instantly adopted mobile. They will be leading the pack driving the next-generation of marketing technologies.
Rule #2: Be relentlessly on-demand and stubbornly strategic in your marketing
Understanding cultural barriers is a necessity when developing a marketing strategy that can generate the most results. The branding in marketplaces such as India, Thailand and Indonesia is very much communal. Life truly is lived “on the street.” Although, in many cases, messaging is generally sporadic or inconsistent in quality, due to the urgency and delivery of the message, clients in emerging markets are generally looking for immediate results with a physical “call to action.” There is no time for a storytelling campaign that will be dragged out for months. Messages get out in an urgent and direct fashion – hence the emergence of the “mobile way.”
The Challenge: Brands in emerging markets aspire to be global powerhouses. They need to be tactical, on the ground and on-demand, but they also require strategy and the meticulous building of a brand narrative if they want to compete on the global stage. Being handcuffed to a fixed strategy means reacting too slowly to market motion and trends, threats and white spaces constantly emerging in the market. Being too tactical means not crafting a clear identity and story that takes the brand to the next level, globally and locally.
Rule #3: The boundaries in emerging markets move all the time— so should your marketing strategy.
B-to-C marketing is more challenging in these markets, and so is B-to-B. Why? The workforce in emerging markets is mobile, fluid and in permanent motion. Many companies can’t afford a bricks and mortar facility, with the accoutrements of “normal” business life in more established marketplaces. Employees are given mobile tools with which to perform their job functions. So internally, mobile marketing along with branded virtual events are important tools to catch and retain their attention, and commitment.
The Challenge: Projecting a consistent brand image and identity amidst the congestion of brands is critical. No one can afford to be misunderstood or worse yet ignored, among the crowd, should it be employees or customers. The brand face has to be familiar enough to gain traction and momentum, but fresh enough to get attention among the crowd. This requires audacious pervasiveness and the sensibility to know when to tease and when to be literal with your brand communication.
Rule #4: Emerging markets are unpredictable – but so is the rest of the world— that’s no reason to pull back.
China is cutting back on manufacturing, with implications for millions of consumers there – but so is the United States. India has just sustained a grievous terrorist attack in Mumbai – but so did we. This is not just an exercise to note similarities between “us” and “them.” These emerging markets are important economies that will increasingly open new sources of consumption as well as production, create new technologies and define consumer tastes and trends. Why wouldn’t you want to be there?
The Challenge: We’ve just realized that the housing market in Las Vegas is inextricably connected to the Icelandic banking sector. At this point, the fear of the “unknown” couldn’t be much scarier than what we now know all too well. We’re in this together. But, bear in mind, emerging markets have their own rules of engagement and are best reached by forging the right local partnerships at the right time. With explosive consumer demand in key emerging markets, now is the right time.
Rule #5: Compete with them there now…or compete with them here later.
Which brings us to the last rule… not competing is not wise. I am willing to wager anyone that a large number of the world’s most interesting new brands will come from emerging markets in the next decade. So that means that U.S. companies that pull back into their own domestic market, or enjoy safe harbors in European markets opened decades ago, are missing the boat.
The Challenge: No one likes to give up home-court advantage, but playing in someone else’s turf usually makes a company and a country more flexible and competitive, and forces us to rethink the conventional wisdom we once thought was too progressive to be challenged.
Sophie Ann Terrisse is the CEO of global brand consulting firm STC Associates.