Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

In 1967, Marshall McLuhan, the renowned communication theorist, wrote: “Time has ceased, ‘space’ has vanished. We now live in a global village… a simultaneous happening.” McLuhan wrote this to address the emergence of television broadcast news. Little could he have imagined our current “simultaneous happening.”

The current speed of communication reinforces the need for marketers to reach their customers quickly. In this era of instant gratification, marketers are increasingly aware that time to market is the difference between a moment of contact and a missed opportunity. Given this, how can we align global and local interests in a way that captures the attention of local audiences, where they are at that moment, and using the medium they choose?

More than ever, global and local marketers need to align their message, approach and brand. The advantages of a centralized marketing approach are well cited: it offers consistent branding and messaging, uniform processes and lower marketing costs. However, this is an individualistic world with high expectations for relevance. Local markets have unique characteristics based on a myriad of factors including purchasing trends, cultural traits, language, climate, political and regulatory environments, and so much more. This calls for a local approach, knowledge of local markets and local marketers who truly understand the context.



An effective ‘glocal’ strategy entails a clear vision of both sides of the equation.

Beyond translation

An effective local reach meets local customers’ demand for relevance by taking into account more than just their language. It is hardly effective to market parkas in New Zealand or sprinklers to Canadians in December (unless, of course, it is an unusually hot winter in Toronto.)

Global marketing should embrace the knowledge that local marketers have about their audiences while leveraging existing brand equity. Rather than competing (which is often the case), an effective glocal approach harmonizes the strengths offered by both global and local teams.

Ideally, marketing organizations need to distinguish between their messages: generic corporate content and brand identity may be applicable in multiple locales, but campaigns associated with products or services may need a local approach.

This entails understanding the markets per region, what buyers prefer, what they buy when, and how they are motivated. Strategic global messaging needs to take into account the local market perspective. Furthermore, local marketers need to operate within the parameters of the global brand, while ensuring that the local marketing message reaches its mark.

What about global social media?

If anything is a “simultaneous global happening,” it is social media. At any moment, you can read, hear and see the perspectives of individuals around the world, real-time, on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. This doesn’t even include the plethora of local social media. Yet social media is often still an afterthought rather than an integrated part of a global or even local campaign.

As global as we are, only 31 percent of internet users are native English speakers, and of non-native speakers, more than 80 percent prefer their native language. Social media needs to have a local presence in the most appropriate language possible and on the local social media platform of choice. By understanding local habits in social media, organizations can substantially build brand value. By comparison, global approaches may have a much more limited reach and effect.

Tactical knee-jerk responses must be tempered by strategic choices on a global and local level. Again, this is really about understanding the market and knowing how to communicate with it. Social media is best integrated into other local marketing strategies, which support global brand values while simultaneously enlisting locally appropriate tactics.

Looking forward

The rise of mobile and tablet marketing will continue to challenge a purely global approach. Location-based services and applications have tremendous potential, since they capture the attention of the customer on the go. Smartphones are now like wallets and keys: a portable necessity that makes the notion of ‘online all the time’ a reality.

Location-based offers are not only applicable for small businesses, but also for the local promotion of global brands. To capitalize on this opportunity, mobile advertisers and app providers need to provide a tangible value-add, to avoid becoming simply an irritant.

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