We live in a global village. From the US to Ukraine, brands are increasingly becoming global reference points that we can all share and understand. Whether it’s our bank, our mobile phone or our sports shoes, certain brands have succeeded in permeating almost every continent on earth. The brands that have succeeded in driving international expansion have often shown willingness to adapt to their surroundings. In other words, to think globally and act locally.
In the latter half of the 20th century, we watched as the forces of globalisation brought growth and recognition to leading brands, allowing them to bring local ideas to global audiences. We saw American food and restaurant brands like McDonalds and Starbucks spread beyond the general stores and main streets of their homes and lay down roots all over the world.
McDonalds grew globally by becoming a paragon of standardisation, basing its business success on a tightly controlled system of replication across the US and then the world. Founded in 1940 in California, USA, as of 2018, it operated in 101 countries, with around 36,900 restaurants and one of the world’s most recognised brands.
As McDonald’s grew, it reaped the rewards of localisation, adapting its offering based on local tastes and needs. Today, the business is one of the best examples of a brand that has successfully mastered the convergence of local and global. This was evident as early as 1963, when they introduced the "Filet-of-Fish" sandwich in Cincinnati restaurants to cater for the area’s Catholics who did not eat meat on Friday. And, when in 2014 McDonald’s found itself struggling in large foreign markets like Russia and China, they cited a failure to localise correctly as a key problem.
Fast forward to the present day, and McDonald’s menu localisation has been repeatedly reiterated as a core tenet of their continued global success. In China, chicken nuggets are replaced by ones of tofu and fish. In Chile, avocado puree outsells ketchup and barbecue sauce. In India, the Big Mac is absent from menus, but the vegetarian Marharaja burger is hugely popular in its place. This localisation strategy seems to have worked: in 2018, McDonald’s reported their best comparable sales performance in six years and a positive sales performance across the globe.
In the 21st century, some brands are taking the next steps into localising their new locations and tweaking their offering to appeal to the tastes and loyalties of a local market. This approach can refer to the product itself, the brand’s environments or even their communications campaigns. When Starbucks opens a branch in a 19th century Kyoto tea house, or Coca-Cola hands out branded headdresses at Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval, they are both demonstrating a commitment to localisation. The core ideas and commitments of their brand have not changed; Starbucks is still providing a ‘third place’ where customers can spend time over coffee and Coca Cola is bringing people together through moments of happiness. But, the expression of these concepts has been tailored to suit the audience in a particular location.
Localisation should be considered as part of any business’ international brand strategy, even if they decide against local product adaptation. Take HSBC for example; a brand that has developed a brand strategy that remains the same, but effective regardless of market. By positioning itself as “The world’s local bank” it is able to blend in wherever it goes, its brand standing for service and a welcoming, if neutral, cosmopolitanism.
To avoid being disrupted by the convergence of global and local brands need to be clear on what they stand for. Whether their mission is to sell fast food, or be the world’s local bank, a brand needs to have a clear brand idea that can be executed strategically, whether that requires flexibility or a mono-brand approach across their touchpoints. The brand strategy must, crucially, be brought to life through culture-sensitive customer and employee experiences if a brand is to find success in different markets across the world.
CHECKLIST: BUILDING A BRAND THAT IS BOTH GLOBAL AND LOCAL
• You brand should be a tool to help you expand internationally with confidence.
• Consider whether localisation is built into your brand strategy and if it is not, it’s time to rethink.
• Maintain an agile mindset and be open to adapting your product for individual markets and competitive scenarios.
• The convergence of global and local can be seen as an opportunity to get creative and grow your business.
• Turn your brand into experiences that local audiences will appreciate as part of their every day life. Ensure that these experiences are sensitive to the context and culture within which they exist.