Magazine article Communication World

Thinking Locally, Thriving Globally: Brand Expert Nigel Hollis Explains What Makes a Brand Truly Global

Magazine article Communication World

Thinking Locally, Thriving Globally: Brand Expert Nigel Hollis Explains What Makes a Brand Truly Global

Article excerpt

In his 2008 book The Global Brand (Palgrave Macmillan), Nigel Hollis, executive vice president and chief global analyst for the brand research firm Millward Brown in New York City, explored how brands can transcend their national and cultural origins to become truly global. CW Executive Editor Natasha Nicholson talked with Hollis about how companies can build their brands globally while staying relevant locally.

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Natasha Nicholson: What makes a strong global brand? How do you define it?

Nigel Hollis: I define a strong global brand as one that has transcended its cultural origins to develop strong relationships with consumers across different countries and cultures. Inherent and universal appeal is rare, which perhaps helps explain why there are so few true global brands, let alone strong global brands.

To meet my definition of global, brands had to be measured by Millward Brown's BrandZ equity study--a competitive comparison of more than 50,000 brands, based on the evaluations of consumers and professionals from categories in which they shop--in six or more countries. While these standards are not stringent by any means, by my calculations, only 4.5 percent of the brands surveyed could be characterized as global. On average, these global brands were measured in 13 different countries, representing a wide range of cultures. However, that does not mean that they are strong everywhere. Very few brands are strong in more than a few countries. As a result, brands like Google, Nokia, Colgate, Coca-Cola and McDonald's are the exception, not the rule.

NN: What are the elements required to develop a strong global brand?

NH: The brands I just mentioned are clear examples of strong global brands. These brands stand for something. What they stand for may vary depending on the country and competitive context, but they stay true to their origins and promises. And they are not easily confused with their competition. They have special meaning in people's minds that cannot be easily duplicated.

It is difficult to generalize beyond this, because how a brand goes to market and how it crafts its communication depend on the brand itself, its competitive context and the culture in each country it enters. Management philosophy also plays a role. Traditionally, a company like Nestle has allowed significant regional flexibility in how its brands are marketed, compared with a brand like Gillette, which has previously taken a more centralized approach to managing and marketing its brands.

NN: In your book you talk about identifying a global brand promise. Could you give some advice on how to do this in a way that resonates with a variety of cultures?

NH: Identifying a promise or positioning that will appeal across countries and cultures is difficult in the best of times. It requires the brand team to dig deep and not settle for superficial ideas. Research should be an integral part of the process, because you cannot assume that what resonates well in one culture will do so in another.

For example, since 2000, Johnnie Walker's "Keep Walking" campaign has been credited with uniting perceptions of the brand and boosting sales around the world. The concept of progress allowed Johnnie Walker to transcend market differences to inspire men throughout the world. But that insight did not come overnight. The whisky category has always represented masculine success, but it took two years and qualitative research conducted on a global scale to identify that the definition of male success was shifting from attainment of overt status to self-improvement. By contrast, Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty resonated well in independent-minded Western cultures but failed to engage women in China and Japan, where more traditional views of feminine beauty still hold strong.

NN: What are some examples you've seen of global brands successfully integrating into local markets? …

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