Brands: Think global, act local

Think global, act local

The world right now is a diverse place. And for global brands, this means providing a global experience but with local relevance. The best approach to understand this is, “different voices singing the same tune” where each voice represents a different market yet are in harmony. By featuring a mix of local consumer demands, brands can craft global messages that can make customers feel comfortable, no matter the culture or place.

Localising a brand’s image, reputation and services isn’t a new concept. And it’s important, now more than ever, to look into effective target messaging in a globalised setting.


One size does not fit all

In many instances, due to difference of cultures, a brand could not replicate its success with ease in another country. We need to recognize the local cultures, language and consumer patterns of its foreign market to make a difference. It’s no wonder that many brands see the importance to create conversations with customers in their own markets and languages. A one-size-fits-all messaging model just does not work when brands try to speak to local consumers who are immersed in a different cultural reality.

The challenge here is to make sure the brand’s key global message does not get lost in translation. A brand has to make sure that its main identity remains, yet is accepted across markets while adapting to elements to the culture that would make it unique and identifiable to a certain market alone.

Take Coca-Cola’s ‘Happiness’ message, for example. Every country has their own version of happiness. In the Philippines, Coca-Cola satisfied audiences with a ‘Happiness is home’ message by sending overseas Filipinos home to the Philippines while in Singapore, gratitude was a synonym to happiness when Singaporeans expressed thanks to migrant workers. Coca-Cola has managed to translate its main “Happiness” message to people from all kinds of backgrounds.


Making the right impression

Marketing localisation helps brands make the right impression. It’s for certain that a scantily-clad Paris Hilton chomping down a Carls Jr burger will not work in Malaysia due to our cultural sensitivities. Another example is the famous Japanese brand of confectionary Pocky, which in Malaysia is sold as ‘Rocky’ because of the former sounding too similar to the non-halal pork meat.

Tailoring a local message is something that will help brands make a difference by weaving them into the cultural fibre of the community it’s targeting. On top of that, localised messaging brings a brand closer to the community. We think Nando’s Malaysia has done an amazing job when it comes to “Malaysian-izing” the brand, not just through its tongue-in-cheek tone but by speaking Manglish, which we are all familiar with because language is also an important factor to consider.

In 2012, the Harvard Business Review asked global consumers about how language affected their purchasing behaviours, and found that:

  • 1% of consumers spend most or all of their time on websites in their own language.
  • 4% of consumers said they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language.
  • 2% of consumers said that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price.


Finding the right balance

Getting it right will be a challenge for many global brands, and to mitigate risks of offending the locals they are targeting, strategies need to be based on solid research.

For this, brands have to be open and flexible to adaptation yet stay sensitive to cultural nuances. It’s a chance for brands to learn more from their respective markets, and showcases diversity on their part. We live in an age where differing cultural values, languages and peoples are respected so it only makes sense for brands to be inclusive to all.



Chris Bolman, 27 Oct 2014, How Top Brands Localize Global Marketing Campaigns

Dr Nitish Singh, 25 June 2014, A Localized Global Marketing Strategy

Martin Roll, 4 June 2014, The Fine Lines of Brand Localisation

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