Some of you reading this may think this topic sounds familiar. And it is. We presented ‘Managing a global brand locally’ a couple of years ago. However, in light of the pandemic and new ways of working, we felt it was fitting to look at it again in this new context.
Managing your brand globally has always been a challenge. The pandemic has taken that to a whole new level. Here, through the lens of six perspectives, we tackle some of the challenges the ‘new normal’ presents, share what we’ve learned and ask the question whether managing global has really fundamentally changed at all?
In our experience, it’s a struggle to find brand positioning and messaging that holds everybody in an organisation together but is also representative of everyone at the same time. You end up with a message that is either so Stepford Wives it feels inauthentic or becomes a series of conflicting and fragmented messages that try to be too many things at once.
We looked at a global energy company which has repositioned itself successfully. It has taken focus on its ambition one step further and made it about purpose and the journey to achieve it. They’ve set clear targets for their purpose and in doing so have aligned the entire organisation around it. They recognise that different regions will reach these in different ways and at different speeds. It is not about delivering on the brand positioning now. Instead, it’s about the future, working together as one organisation to achieve our purpose together. It’s less about doing things right, and more about doing the right thing.
While having one direction like this is important to bring people together globally, there will of course be regional differences which you shouldn’t ignore. The devil is in the detail. The global companies we looked at who came across as most authentic made sure that when it came to their regional websites they celebrated those differences with pride. The core idea at the centre of the company culture remains the same but nuanced messaging shows local strengths. It succeeds in not only achieving global cohesiveness but also in showing the local expertise and experiences that make them special.
We’ve talked about how messaging can bring cohesiveness and consistency globally, but what about visual elements? Nowadays, we’re often tasked with making a brand’s visual identity, including the logo, as simple and typographic as possible, not least because of the demands of social media and design. Bright and vibrant logos buck the trend although there are well-established and instantly recognisable brands (we’re thinking of that global energy company again) who can pull it off and use their bold and complex logo as the thing holding it all together, showing that, complex or simple, your logo should be one of the tools to help you achieve this.
The best visual language, we feel, should be spare and relatively stark. This way, it translates easily across geographies and is relatable to the broadest audience. Understand that you’ll have nowhere to hide – it must be beautifully crafted. Imagery plays an important role too. We’ll often hear from clients that they’re reluctant to use their own people in photography. People come and go and there’s a fear that you won’t be representing everyone. Yet the benchmark examples ignore these worries and plunge straight in. As a result their photography not only feels authentic, human and real, but it shows all manner of difference without even trying.
If the pandemic has brought something positive, it’s undoubtedly that people have become closer. We spoke to clients who told us that they’ve become far better at finding the right person to talk to in their organisation about a project or issue, rather than the nearest person sitting at the next desk. This has helped our working relationships, as well as our tolerance and understanding. The pandemic has become a leveller– our faces all get the same size square on a group Zoom or Teams call, whether you’re the CEO or the marketing assistant. When we have these good relationships it makes us stronger in every way.
In some ways, remote working has brought people together more easily. Companies that have found communication between localities easiest are those where consistency shines through. The key thing we believe in navigating this virtual world is tone – your tone of voice, the tone of your written copy, but also your visual tone – and being able to adapt it subtly as your communications require. Working online has required an appreciation of colleagues that perhaps wasn’t there before – empathy has become valuable. One day your tone might need a bit more of that understanding if you or your colleagues are going through a tough time, but another week it might be more upbeat, focused on energy and drive. The takeaway here is this – we achieve more if we try and do it together, and it’s clear that the companies who’ve invested in a cohesive brand that has clarity, and make it a priority, are the ones who’ve found the last six months easiest.
If we’ve not made it clear so far (and we hope we have), one of the biggest challenges of managing brand globally is being consistent. Actually, we believe the word is cohesive, because what we’ve seen more and more is that global companies are really celebrating the differences between regions now. It’s less about relentless consistency and more about creating a sense of bringing everyone together.
Businesses have many channels now to consider for communications. Social media has brought a whole new set of considerations. Instagram used to be considered the territory of B2C, but we now see Instagram coming into its own in the B2B sector too. Social media, and particularly image-led Instagram, lets companies showcase diversity. We’re rarely surprised by the bigger tech companies who do this well, truly showing this is core to who they are. But we’ve been surprised by more unlikely businesses who have used Instagram to create something very different from their corporate site. Good examples focus on people in the business, promoting the things they do as an organisation. Creating engaging content, either through imagery or user-generated stories, that celebrates their people in different parts of the world highlights their diversity – not only of the employees but of thought too. When we visit company offices in different cities there is a palpable variation in the feel and culture of each place, each one exciting in its own way and such content reflects this. At the same time, informality achieved through user-generation, coupled with seeing people taking part in their own personal way as a member of one bigger team, even if they’re 6000 miles apart, creates cohesion globally by bringing them all together in one place.
ESG is still relatively new for many and your global business may not have a consistent policy across the organisation just yet. How do you get more consistency and communicate your giving back agenda in a consistent way? Firstly, it’s important to have a set of defined principles that drive everything you do and to make those clear. Keep copy to a minimum – this is about letting actions speak for themselves, writing beautifully and passionately about your work but succinctly. This will give audiences the strongest sense of what you’re about.
When we looked at companies doing this really well, we found common threads. An overarching theme was companies mobilising their people to have greater impact. Then the best examples don’t try to do something that feels miles away from the core business – they’re not jumping on the latest trend but are doing things that reflect what they do as a business and about which they can speak with expertise. This also means they can do it well and consistently across geographies because everyone in the organisation understands it. In doing this, and by showing what they’re doing through thought leadership, news and social media, cohesion is created even when they have lots of different things going on. At a local level, on regional websites, we noticed the corporate citizenship links bring you straight back to the main website ESG pages, so you’re always driven to one central place. This also makes things easier as you only have to curate content once, with your principles sitting over the top. Doing this also underlines how ESG policy sits at the heart of your business, consistent and cohesive wherever you are in the world.
Our final thought is a brief one and looks more closely at film and the challenges of producing one that represents your company globally. We believe it’s not so difficult to bring all of your people together successfully on film, even when you don’t have the budget for a big global shoot (and few organisations do).
A few years ago, we created a film for a client who wanted to do a large anniversary campaign. There were lots of things going on in the business around the world but we couldn’t go and shoot them all. So instead, we issued a set of guidelines so people could shoot content themselves on their own phones. We were able to edit the many films we received into one longer film with a script over the top. It was cost effective but brought everyone from across the company together in a way that was personal yet still consistent. The film promoted the anniversary really well, but at the same time it was also able to highlight many other things the business was doing in terms of projects, social responsibility and more. It was very well-received both internally and externally, and brought everyone together across the brand because they all felt they had been able to contribute in some way.
To close, we hope our ideas have given food for thought, with some tips on how to craft a global message, the idea of less is more to drive your brand and the recommendation to always put your people first and value those relationships before getting too caught up in your processes. Create cohesion by showing your differences and focusing less on rigid consistency. Promote how you give back globally too, as there is no better way to celebrate togetherness. Finally, bring your people together with film in a way that needn’t break the bank. Giving everyone the opportunity to contribute will mean they’re as invested as they can be in supporting you to manage your brand globally – and successfully.
Whether you want us to be frank, bright, able or all three, get in touch.
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