Monday, May 20, 2013
THE GPS DILEMMA
Isn’t having a GPS in your car wonderful? How did we ever live without it? In the blink of an eye we can see exactly where we are; and we have any number of appealing voices to talk to us and tell us how to get where we’re going. Even better, if we suddenly decide to change our course (to go a different way), the GPS quickly acquiesces and “recalculates” the new directions. Is there anything not to like about global positioning?
It turns out there might be, for global brand positioning, that is: however do we live with it? The notion of having a global positioning for a brand, unlike the GPS for our cars, isn’t new. While it’s hard to say exactly when it became popular, it’s pretty likely that certain brands such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes, and Marlboro were among the first to demonstrate the global brand positioning concept—in action anyway.
In the first place, the products within these brands were originally the same, no matter where in the world they were sold (okay, Coke might argue that its product “secret formula” is still the same worldwide, even though the sweetener commonly used is high fructose corn syrup in the US and cane sugar in some others). Secondly, brands such as these typically addressed similar needs and therefore delivered similar benefits from market to market: people everywhere get thirsty or need a lift during the day; people everywhere aspire to success and, if/when they do, reward themselves with a super luxury auto; and people (who smoke) everywhere want to feel the rugged, manly independence of the Marlboro Man. Finally, these kinds of brands began their marketing in the age of mass marketing…where it was believed that one size did indeed fit just about all.
But a lot has changed since these enviable global brands set their original brand positioning strategies. First and foremost, we no longer live in a world where one size fits all; needs and benefits vary significantly from region to region, especially from regions with highly developed markets to those of lower developed ones. And yet, despite these obvious differences, so many corporate management teams insist upon “downloading” a global brand positioning to the rest of the world and demanding that no one deviates from it. Instead of being helpful, though, these global brand positioning statements pose a number of dilemmas for their marketers—particularly those who are far afield from the home office. For example:
1. Marketers may not fully understand the global positioning—for a couple of reasons: in the worst case, they have had no formal brand positioning training, so they really cannot understand or appreciate what a brand positioning is about anyway; or, if they do in fact understand the whys and wherefores of brand positioning, their market conditions may be quite different from those in the HQ market…so they simply “don’t get it” (and, sorry to say, they are rarely informed sufficiently by their HQ or Franchise leaders to help them get it).
2. Not fully understanding the “why” of global positioning, regional marketers often conclude it’s all about (only) communications. They fail to recognize that a brand positioning should guide everything the brand does—all the Company resources that the brand invests in—not simply just what the brand says in its communications. Consequently, they sometimes invest significant resources in promotions or sponsorships or even in product innovations that are not in-synch with the brand positioning, that do not keep building the brand positioning.
3. Compounding this misunderstanding, regional marketers are also often “downloaded” a communications approach or campaign from HQ. In some cases, this can be helpful: imagine receiving the MasterCard “Priceless” campaign idea, which not only seems based upon a pretty universal insight (about those few things in life that bring us true happiness and that we cannot buy at any price), but is also inherently flexible enough for “priceless moment” tailoring to local markets. Being instructed to operate within this campaign idea would not be a dilemma but a joy. On the other hand, what to do about a HQ-downloaded communication campaign that was developed for inciting switching among the intended target, when your market is so under-developed that you require communications to incite adoption of a new category or practice? Now that’s a dilemma that changing a language or even a few copy words rarely can fix.
There are some other dilemmas besides these few, but the net them all is this: whether global, regional, or single-market based, a brand positioning simply must set the brand up to be competitive, to WIN! We are often asked about our opinion on the subject of global brand positioning. The answer we have printed in our book, Competitive Positioning is worth repeating:
The first thing we think is that a productive global brand positioning is relatively rare. When you put your mind to identifying brands that have the identical positioning and meaning to their customers across the globe, well, it’s hard to come up with a number of brands that’s more than you can count on two hands. The usual suspects come to mind—McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Heineken, BMW and Mercedes—but the list quickly dwindles. We infer from this either that creating a successful global positioning is very hard to do or that it’s not necessarily the best thing to do. Actually, both of these inferences are probably true…
In many product categories and in some drug classes, the market development varies greatly from continent to continent, and country to country. Probably more than any other single fact, this explains why so many brands have multiple Brand Positioning Strategy Statements—or, at the very least, brand positioning variations—in different regions…
Net, our take is that having a global Brand Positioning Strategy may be the envy of marketers everywhere—but it may not always be the best way for a brand to win everywhere.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.