Jason Hill, GE
Posted May 28th, 2014
I started my career on the agency side ten years ago, just a few months before the first Advertising Week in New York. I was one of the few people from my college class (and, later on, my MBA class) to pursue a career in the advertising and media space. Ten years on, attracting world-class talent is still a major issue for the industry—but one that I will let others tackle for the purposes of this book. I will also leave to the experts predictions around where the digital revolution will take us. It is incredible, however, that ten years ago agencies still had separate digital departments; mobile capabilities were slowly being acquired but hardly integrated; and agencies could still be pigeonholed by core competency.
Another profound change that is only gaining steam as we head toward 2020 is around the question of building global brands. As digital media and social networks have grown up, they have sped along with them globalization, a democratization of content, and a greater sense of connectivity across markets than we’ve seen before. It was once novel that a TV network could bring the Gulf War into our living rooms; now, of course, we can monitor uprisings, elections, natural disasters, and celebrity opinion in real time. What does that mean for a brand looking to establish a foothold in foreign markets? For many marketing organizations, “global” brands meant sales and distribution of product in other countries, and maybe a TV commercial translated into another language. While this definition has become more sophisticated, many marketers have yet to evolve their thinking. To be ready for 2020, brands must commit to global, they must think and act in borderless ways—from their strategic insights, to their creative campaigns, to how they plan and buy media.
At GE, we began investing in our global brand one country at a time in conjunction with our sponsorship of the Olympics. The positive response from local market customers and employees was instantaneous, and we quickly ramped up our efforts in key markets around the world. We’ve learned a lot along the way, and we’re only just beginning. For marketers with progress to make between now and 2020, here are thought-starters to consider when building a global brand—which, today, is really all of them:
DNA is universal
Define a direction for your brand that crosses company borders and comes from the core of who you are. If your business strategy is sound, there will be remarkable consistency in how stakeholders view their relationship to the brand across cultures. Nowhere is this better expressed than among employees.
Boots on the ground
When it comes to developing messages and making them relevant to local audiences, a global brand team can’t live in a hometown bubble. Frameworks and structures help, but local market nuances must guide the approach. And nuances don’t come through over the phone—you have to get out and see it for yourself.
In country for country or go home
Your brand can only be as local as your business. If you don’t have localized production, manufacturing, employment, there’s no point in trying to tell a local story. Credibility is paramount. And it’s not just for marketing. Revenue opportunities go to the companies who have committed major sunk costs. We like to say that it’s not about what GE means to the market but what the market means to GE.
State of the union
In developing markets, business strategy and growth areas are increasingly shaped by government priorities. Understanding national objectives, getting close to government, and shaping brand communications to match is crucial. Your closest partner for understanding the market may be your government relations team.
Paid meets earned—one team with shared objectives
Global audiences, especially business decision makers, have already filtered the content they want to consume. When it comes to news and information, brands aren’t going to curate it for them, but are better placed to integrate, convene, and shape the conversation in real time—acting like a publisher. Tap into the entourage effect and pair with media brands who share a common DNA. This means marketing and PR must be connected at the hip.
Redefine the creative process
Acting like a publisher applies to creative development and production, too. Global brands need to take a nimble, always-on approach to gathering and distributing content. We suspect the agency model looks more like a news organization with a few bureaus than a map with hundreds of dots, like those we put up in pitch meetings ten years ago.
Innovate, incubate, scale
These are the three steps we follow, particularly when it comes to our media partnerships and content activities. The social web means campaigns are no longer discrete or walled-off, and content must be made to ricochet, not just for added eyeballs, but because global brands need to tell a globally consistent story. Another lesson: don’t just innovate and incubate at home, wherever that may be. Our best pilots have been in non-U.S. markets where the tollgates are more frequent and more unfamiliar. We have had more success with scale when we pilot in a challenging place.
All of these points have implications for team structure, agency relationships, and talent. Indeed, balancing a desire for scale and the necessity of nuance is a challenge, but one well worth undertaking, and one that will become ever more central to advertising in the latter half of this decade.