Over half of Chinese shoppers have refused to buy an American brand, in protest at what they see as their country’s unfair treatment by the US government in the countries’ ongoing trade dispute . If you’re a marketer for a global brand, even if that brand isn’t American, that’s the kind of statistic that’s going to keep you awake at night.
The more polarised consumers become, in an age of populism, Brexit, strong-men leaders, the harder the task of brands trying to make connections across borders. But before we all retire to cry into our drinks, there is another side to this equation we should consider.
In the run-up to Singles’ Day (the huge Chinese online shopping event on November 11 this year), Bloomberg reported that 78% of Chinese shoppers were considering boycotting US brands . But when the numbers came in, American brands Bose, Estée Lauder, Gap, Levi’s, Nike, The North Face and Apple were all among Alibaba’s 15 top-selling Singles’ Day brands .
What do all these companies have in common? They earned customer loyalty by making a connection that transcends the characteristic – in this case, their national origin – to which local shoppers may object. There are many reasons why this is true from the quality of their products to the strength of their branding.
But none of these would matter at all, if those brands were unable to communicate authentically and meaningfully in their target markets. And this can only happen if brands are sensitive to local cultures and language so making sure marketing is relevant, authentic and engaging.
If it’s that important, harden it
Talk about hardening the supply chain and people tend to think of sourcing and distributing of key components – they might not think of marketing. So what about localisation?
Poor localisation, or delays in localisation, can prevent products coming to market, create barriers to conversion and hit sales. And often, a successful workflow localisation is complex, involve many parties, cross borders or involve specialised tools and technologies. These are all difficult to replicate at short notice.
As international tension and sensitivity increases, the importance of getting localisation right is greater than ever. It’s time to recognise the importance of localisation to the supply chains on which we rely to get products to market in a form, and with the necessary support, to maximise sales, revenues and profit.
How to optimise and protect your localisation operations
One way to protect your localisation setup against disruption, is to centralise it. In this scenario, a single localisation team in the head office creates all the localised content (packaging, posters, point-of-sales materials, marketing collateral – everything) and then distributes it to the markets. This works well for large well-resourced corporations who can afford to recruit and maintain highly trained and often expensive specialists.
The benefit of this model is that it can be run highly efficiently and is proof against most forms of local or cross-border disruption. The downside is that, without the highest levels of experience, local knowledge and skill, the work may not be as strong as if there was involvement from individual markets.
At the other end of the spectrum is completely decentralised localisation. Here, each market has control over which content is localised and how. As you’d expect, this yields high levels of relevancy, local language and cultural awareness. It’s also relatively proof against many forms of cross-border disruption. But it offers very little scope for the head office to ensure brand consistency and messaging quality across all markets.
Mix it up
For many brands, the best model is a mix of a centralised model – with a specialist localisation team doing all the heavy lifting – and a decentralised input and feedback system. Assets are created centrally but sent to local markets, where relevant senior staff give input into language, local preferences, cultural fit and so on.
But while this may be the system that delivers the best results for many brands, without proper hardening, it is vulnerable to disruption.
Often, thousands of files may move through the production chain between hundreds of country execs, localisers and reviewers – with feedback and amends coordinated to the tightest possible timeframes. Any disruption and product or campaign launch dates are delayed just as surely as they would be if the supplier of a key component failed to deliver.
The answer is to build failsafe and redundancies into localisation. But this can be challenging. Qualified in-language specialists are hard to find. The relevant software is expensive to license, and to get the right result and the best returns requires a qualified specialist.
The answer, in this case, is to work with an outside partner able to offer the scale, the redundancy, the technology and the expertise needed that delivers the quality you need to succeed in an increasingly volatile local market and the robustness you require to protect your process against shocks.
The successful US brands who swam against the spirit of the times on Singles’ Day and won over wavering Chinese consumers show how important it is for brands to make authentic connections in local markets. These connections are vital to success. They rely entirely on successful localisation. And that localisation relies on highly complex, high-investment cross-border processes which every company doing business globally should think now about securing and hardening.