Several decades ago, marketing professor Gerald Levitt predicted that global companies would create “universal brands,” which could be sold everywhere in the world. But the reality has been much more complicated than his vision of a world market dominated by a few global brand leaders. Globalization has changed consumer attitudes, and the needs of different countries have created more room for branding choices, both local and global.
In general, consumers evaluate global products on the same basis as they judge local brands. But there is one major difference: global brands don’t get the benefit of local cultural references and traditions. Instead, global brands must fight to establish themselves as part of a universal culture that is constantly changing and refracting around the world.
This means that global brands have to work harder to connect with consumers in every country and region, and they need to monitor their positioning in local cultures to ensure that their brand image stays consistent throughout the world. For example, some global brands use the same product name, logo and packaging across markets, adjusting only for language or cultural differences. But this approach can backfire in some countries, especially those with a strong sense of national identity.
Another important issue is the growing antiglobalization movement that has targeted international corporations for alleged environmental and social abuses. Global brands can become lightning rods for these attacks, which are reflected in protests that involve breaking windows and stomping on corporate logos. This has led some consumers to avoid purchasing or even acknowledging global brands.
But some global companies have figured out how to overcome this challenge. They have developed regional subsidiaries that sell their products under their own names. They also partner with local celebrities, which can help give their products the cachet of being local and familiar. For example, Nike partnered with Manchester United to promote its sportswear in the U.K.
Other examples of good global branding include Red Bull, which carries its name to all nations, and McDonald’s, which offers different menu items in each country to cater to the tastes of local customers. For example, it serves McArabia in its Middle East restaurants and features macaroons on its French and Italian menus.
But not all businesses can afford to be international players. Even smaller companies can take steps to globalize their products and marketing. For example, Airbnb has built a global presence through local events in cities and countries all over the world. It also features photos and videos from its international guests in its social media campaigns, attracting global consumers to its brand. These approaches can also make the company more visible to potential buyers, which may boost its reputation and sales in some markets. This will be particularly true if the company can demonstrate that its products meet unmet needs in different regions. For example, a home-cleaning robot that can be programmed to clean specific rooms in the house could be a hit with buyers all over the world.