U.S.-based Walmart discovered this in 1998 when it opened its first German store. Germans, it turns out, don’t appreciate being greeted in the front lobby by a friendly staffer in a blue waistcoat. They also don’t know how to react when employees smile at them. What are standard practices in the U.S. actually alienate German consumers. Walmart eventually scrapped these policies in Germany.
Say hullo/hola/bonjour to glocalization
Smart brands are learning Walmart’s lesson by using the concept of “glocalization” to grow their market share in foreign markets.
First coined in 1980 by sociologist and theorist Roland Robertson, glocalization is “the simultaneity—the co-presence—of both universalizing and particularizing tendencies.” In other words, “glocal” companies adjust their global brands to suit the language, customs, laws, shopping habits and preferences of local markets.
Looking to bring glocalization to your international strategy? Here are five ways to help your global brand succeed in diverse local markets.
1. Stay flexible, but establish guardrails.
Balance is key with glocalization. Teams need the flexibility to be able to broadly adapt the global brand to fit local opportunities—but they also need guardrails to ensure the global brand doesn’t get lost in the process.
For example, American fast-food chains that aim to penetrate the Asia-Pacific region will need to consider that dietary preferences vary widely from market to market. In India, many consumers choose not to eat beef for religious reasons. Hong Kong, on the other hand, has the highest per-capita combined meat and seafood consumption in the world. A single strategy applied equally to both markets will be doomed to fail.
To meet these realities, companies must adapt their menus, product offerings and services to match local customs and preferences. And yet, the customer experience must still represent the unique global brand. Apple, after all, must still be recognizable as Apple.
2. Understand customer segments.
True glocalization involves understanding how to segment customers in every market. Consumers in foreign markets respond best when global brands customize their products and services to reflect their local languages and customs.
A good example of this is Lays potato chips. While the brand is immediately recognizable whether you’re in Cairo or Calgary, the brand has kept its finger on the pulse of local flavor preferences: Magic Masala in India, Ketchup in Canada, Red Caviar in Russia and Pickle in Romania. Even the venerable Walkers brand in England, which is now owned by Lays, shares an almost-identical logo and packaging but still offers classic British flavors like Cheese and Onion or Prawn.
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3. Be careful with translation technology.
To make a global brand local, think through how technology will impact that strategy.
For example, most websites in the U.S. display in English and possibly Spanish. Websites in Europe, however, need to be accessible by customers who speak 24 official languages in more than 44 countries. As if that weren’t challenging enough, 40 languages in Europe have one million speakers or more.
Localizing brand messages across dozens of languages requires a robust technology platform capable of auditing and maintaining this complex language structure.
4. Create the right org structure.
It’s helpful to assign brand interpreters, to coin a phrase, who will manage the localization of the brand in each market. Picture glocalization as a bicycle wheel, with the global brand in the middle and the local markets at the end of the spokes. Someone in the hub must be responsible for the global brand, and someone must own the spoke. With the right organizational structure, managing the confluence of brand management, technology and operations will make glocalization seamless.
Companies frequently opt for either a brand-based structure or a service-line-based structure. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, typically centralize their technology platforms, but they organize their sales and marketing teams around branded products. This structure ensures the company can drive maximum innovation and efficiencies, while also enabling the “boots on the ground” staff to quickly adjust product go-to-market strategies as needed.
5. Focus on customer experience.
Ultimately, glocalization is all about delivering an amazing customer experience, no matter where in the world the customer happens to be.
Whirlpool has done a marvelous job expanding into foreign markets, primarily because they have taken careful note of these markets’ needs. In India, they completely re-engineered the design of their washing machines’ agitators. Why? So that Indian women could wash saris without the lengthy piece of fabric getting tangled and ruined. By being thoughtful and delivering an experience that made customers’ lives easier, Whirlpool helped build brand loyalty in this market.
Clearly, succeeding in diverse markets has never been more challenging. And yet, companies have never been more prepared to tackle this challenge head on. The secret lies in taking the time to understand the nuances of each individual market, and then making more informed decisions to create and deliver the most amazing customer experience possible. Do glocalization well, and the world is yours.
Bibhakar Pandey is vp, customer experience, marketing services at Capgemini.