Going Global #1: Focus on Local Needs

coca-greece_07sv.jpgParlez-vous le project management? A cross-cultural perspective and local market understanding is always needed when delivering effective project management solutions. There are many cultural communication mistakes that have been made by well-intentioned global strategists who assumed similarity rather than difference. In Taiwan, the translation of the Pepsi slogan “Come alive with the Pepsi Generation” was presented as “Pepsi will bring your ancestors back from the dead.” Cisco had to re-think the design and size of its router products to suit compact Japanese offices. Nike recently offended Chinese customers when its ad campaign featured LeBron James trouncing sacred dragons on the basketball court. And Microsoft created a Geo-political Product Strategy (GPS) team to avoid the number of management faux pas that resulted from a lack of cross-cultural knowledge.

Culture plays a pervasive role in identifying, recognizing, and understanding local product and customer needs. Building a consistent global image through local communication strategies can pose a challenge for corporate and country management teams. On one hand, a global communication strategy is needed to ensure consistency worldwide. On the other hand, localized communication is required to effectively connect with customers. The role of corporate is often to conceive and manage a global strategy through a specific style, tone, and image. Country management teams need to further refine this strategy to communicate value to local customers. Internal teams need to address culturally appropriate communication determined by language, terminology, design, color, style, format, and delivery. 

For example, Starbucks is rapidly expanding around the world to accommodate global travelers and local coffee drinkers. However, local consumers aren’t always that excited to see the green, white and black logo in their countries. After signing a lease to operate its store in the Forbidden City in Beijing China, Starbucks made its usual bold statement through its logo sign and familiar interior design. Locals protested and branded Starbucks a capitalist invader of this sacred place. Employing more discreet signage worked for some time, until new protests were led by Chinese news anchor Rui Chenggang who felt “Starbucks’ presence undermined the Forbidden City’s solemnity and trampled over Chinese culture.” Thus, Starbucks was eventually forbidden to have its coffeehouse and closed its doors this summer. Hmm, it may have been named Forbidden City for a reason! 

The US companies that are creating success around the world have learned to move from a US centric view to a local view. After failed attempts in trying to conquer the Chinese market, many US Internet companies have now realized the importance of partnering with local companies in order to manage local market dynamics. EBay has partnered with Tom Online, Yahoo purchased a stake in Alibaba.com, and Microsoft launched a joint venture with the Shanghai municipal government. This has created an opportunity to better understand the local customer base and particular preferences such as sights and sounds when navigating a site. 

With the globalization of US products and services, there has also been an anti-globalization movement by local customers who are rejecting American style marketing. There has been so much concern over anti-American and anti-globalization sentiment that a group was formed (Business for Diplomatic Action) to improve the perception of American brands and US business overseas. The centralized global business approach driven from US headquarters by many hi-tech companies often reduces the subsidiaries authority and input on local customer needs. Feeling ignored or misrepresented, local customers may seek local competitors who can offer more customized products and services. 

Since international sales is a growing priority, US companies are starting to pay attention to local market needs. A global business strategy that succeeds in avoiding local customer rejection needs to focus on localized products and marketing tools. A product needs to address local requirements for design features, packaging, and pricing among others. Marketing positioning and messaging needs to consider the language, tone, and imagery. 

Instead of alienating international customers, partners, or colleagues, companies need to consider the importance of a global view with local input. In the words of my favorite Viking proverb, ‘make sure you seek out ways to be welcome wherever you go.’ In the next blog session, we’ll take a look at the role of planning in engaging teams and customers worldwide. 



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