We find ourselves in a world that's moving faster. Where globalization and technology keep evolving our concept of relationships—and a saturation of products, services, and other commodities are available to everyone, everywhere. With all of that before us, one thing remains the same: How do you create a global brand experience that stays true to your brand and is culturally relevant?

At the Yale Center for Customer Insights conference last month, one of the speakers, Beth Hirschhorn, EVP Global Brand Marketing Communications for MetLife, used a term that really stuck with me: “Global Blanding.” With everything so connected today, so many companies strive to extend the brand experience and overarching brand message worldwide. But in many cases, that’s really hard to do because of the cultural differences and level of brand or category development across nations. They search the globe for consumer insights, and then boil it down to the least common denominator to ensure they are being consistent across the board. 

One example where an adaptation had to be made was from Gilt Groupe—an online shopping club for clothing, household items, travel, activities and more (with over 6 million members). Much of their marketing is through membership and word of mouth. Kevin Ryan, Founder and CEO, shared that 60% of members were referred by a friend. In the US they offered incentives to members who refer friends and even more of an incentive if the friend makes a purchase. This was hugely successful in the US. They tried that in Japan and it didn’t work at all. Why? They learned that in that culture, people didn’t want to make money off their friends. So they quickly adjusted it to a shared incentive for both the member and the friend – leading to a success.

Beth Hirschhorn shared that in Japan, after purchasing insurance, there was a kind of buyer’s remorse due to outstanding questions that cropped up later or lingered after purchase. They implemented a plan to start calling people and giving them the option of a phone or in-person meeting to field their remaining questions post-purchase. This resulted in higher retention rates. They also learned that in the Japanese market, those customers who were late on payments would not sign up for auto pay options for fear of overdrawing their accounts. So they devised some type of overdraft system to enable people in that region to prevent late payments and avoid the dreaded phone call. 

I thought those were some good examples of how those companies identified cultural differences and made changes to ensure that the brand experience wasn’t watered down, but fit with the needs of the region. Those examples don’t seem like they were all that hard, nor drastically conflicting with the overall brand vision. But to stay true to who you are, and still reach the intended target, you have to be willing to learn, explore and understand the cultures and communities you are venturing into. We do this worldwide with many of our own clients through Creative Ethnography® services. It's a way to really dig deeper into another world to get to those nuances and insights you need to be global.

Two questions to ask yourself:

  • Are we choosing the insights to go after because they are really compelling to a culture or because they are really convenient for us?
  • Is there a small, but meaningful change that can be made to overcome barriers of a global branding strategy?

If the answer to #1 is that it's about convenience, or the answer to #2 is no, pick up the phone and call me.

Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Consultant at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

©2013 Ideas To Go, Inc. All rights reserved.

Beth Storz

Beth Storz is President and Innovation Process Facilitator at Ideas To Go. She co-authored the book, "Outsmart Your Instincts: How the Behavioral Innovation™ Approach Drives Your Company Forward." Beth has been a guest on many innovation podcasts and her work has been featured in media outlets such as HuffPost and Fortune. Beth holds a BS in Business Management from Cornell University and a MBA from New York University’s Stern School of Business, and has worked in brand management at some of the premier consumer packaged goods companies—including Unilever, Kraft and Nabisco. Since joining Ideas To Go, Beth has established herself as a leader in the Innovation landscape and designed and facilitated projects for hundreds of companies—from CPG to financial services to pharmaceuticals.