Think locally & Act globally.
The term is also used in business strategy, where multinational corporations are encouraged to build local roots. This is sometimes expressed by converging the words “global” and “local” into the single word “glocal,” a term used by several companies (notably Sony Corporation and other major Japanese multinationals) in their advertising and branding strategies in the 1980s and 1990s. “Think global, act local” is the strategy for companies of all shapes and sizes that have global aspirations. Generally, if your brand(s) is available in major markets and some minor ones (keeping in mind that corporations have different financial parameters for defining global brands) and is perceived as being universal by your consumers, then you’re competing globally. If not, you are a global wannabe.
Acknowledge your state and focus your time and attention on succeeding in your current geography. A global future will only be achieved by succeeding locally first.
If you already are competing globally, is the “think global, act local” strategy helping you achieve better results? From our perspective on implementing processes and programs the answer is “yes” for most global companies. But it’s time to evolve. Here are some thoughts about the strengths and vulnerabilities of global branding today and a new strategy to consider for tomorrow.
Clarity of purpose. Successful global brands strive to be unique, meaningful, and enduring to the target audience in current and potential markets. The right distinction establishes a powerful global foundation, which can be adapted to local wants and needs, resulting in a powerful localized message. With the world becoming smaller, a consistent global foundation allows consumers to easily find the brand they want wherever they are.
When a brand has identified its global difference, which can be defined as a distinctive benefit and a reason to believe the brand can deliver it, it has the foundation for consistent application. But market segmentation can reveal that the feelings consumers have about a promised benefit varies by target and geography. A brand can maximize its opportunity in virtually every locality by tailoring its message to the needs of local audiences.
Knowledge exchange. A global brand management system (GBMS) expands your geography and access to brand experts. Every geography counts as a test market for ideas and programs. Brand managers can assess what’s working and not working around the world, and apply that information in their own territory. In a GBMS, the number of individuals who intimately know the brand is multiplied and can be deployed for the advancement of any part or the whole.
We are working with a brand that was launched internationally before launching in the US. A successful US launch is now underway, thanks to open information sharing by the brand managers in the other countries. The US team has returned the favor by offering some evolved approaches to product range and packaging graphics.
Group-think. In the spirit of collaboration and achieving satisfaction among all geographic representatives, too many key brand decisions end up being “by committee” acts. The success of brand management over the years is due to having an owner of the brand, one person whose voice counts more than others, one person who marries the art of branding with the science of branding. This person makes the tough decisions to try bold programming that could either bomb or dramatically build the brand.
An effective GBMS must keep group-think in check. Dissension is important for the ultimate good of distinctiveness. Not every voice can or should have equal importance. It is imperative to carefully define what decisions must be made globally and who is the ultimate global decision maker. Similarly identify what decisions are most appropriately made at the local level and who the ultimate decision maker is there. A good place to start is by determining the desired results (wants) and critical success factors (needs) both globally and locally.
Communication without comprehension. Certain statements can mean different things to different people, whether they speak the same primary language or not. It is critical to check for understanding and intent within and outside your organization. Watch for universals in body language. Never hesitate to ask for clarification on every nuance. These subtleties are crucial to an effective GBMS and to ensure your consumers understand and are motivated by your message, no matter where they reside.
Capitalizing on clarity of purpose and knowledge exchange while watching out for group-think and communication-without-comprehension can contribute to the success of not only global brands, but local brands. However, our analysis of the strengths and vulnerabilities of GBMS reveals the shortcomings of the current strategy “think global, act local.” The interrelationship and interdependence between global and local suggests a revision: “think local, learn global, act global.” “Think local” because local is where every brand begins and ends. “Learn global” because a global view highlights what seems to be working and what needs to be improved. And finally, “act global,” which reflects a critical facet of global brand management today: the ability of local successes to drive global success and global success to drive local successes.
In a conversation the other day I was trying to describe some of my viewpoints and some of my aims. The person I was speaking to came back with, “sounds like the ‘think global, act local’ concept”. I agreed in short before a quick pause and then said, hold up. That is not what it is, it is exactly the opposite. While I greatly appreciate and support the ‘think global, act local’ movement, I definitely come to it from a different point of view.
If we spend all of our time thinking about things on a global scale (and it is wonderful to realize that our small footprints can have a large impact on the world as it exists beyond our typical site line), then we never really learn the intricacies of the multitude of varying ‘locales’ in the world. This is the problem with thinking globally, is that what exactly do we really know of the globe? How many of us have really been out and about it? Most likely our ‘think global’ concept comes from someone else’s concepts, someone else’s viewpoints. Not that this is all bad, but think about it in the terms of you letting someone else interpret the world for you and then giving that already digested info to you for your usage. The world as we see it is shaped entirely by the information that is presented to us after someone else has already picked and chosen how to see it and explain it.
Now think about it locally in your ‘line of site.’ You know the people, the culture, the norms, the generally accepted practices, the niceties, etc. You understand the area, you understand the people, and you know how they ‘function’. Now think about humanity in general. We have an infinite amount of cultural nuances and variances, yet we all still wake up in the morning and all pretty much put one foot in front of the other, we look to eat, to keep ourselves clean and warm, search for company in others, etc. The world is not such a different or mysterious place, people like it when others are nice to them; they like to be able to control their own interactions with others, live in a secure setting, etc. On a grand scale these things make sense to us all as we ourselves are human, and we know what human emotions and situations feel like. Asking global offices to cede control over any area of their local operation and make the sweeping changes necessary to move to a global model is going to meet resistance. Therefore, the first prerequisite in the globalization Process is to get the buy-in and support of C-level management. Change of this scale and magnitude cannot be requested, it must be mandated. To ensure universal adoption, the orders must come from the very top. The variances really come in different ways of doing things, different cultural conclusions and different view points. So in this way I would say that what we really need to be doing is to be thinking about the local things that go on in the world – everywhere. We should all be striving to go to as many places as possible, to learn as many things as possible, and then try to draw our own larger ideas from this. We should figure out how it is that people all over the world do the same things and then try to find a global system that allows for the most inclusive and amicable system to allow people to be people. Take ideas from all over the world (not just the ones that are presented to us through they eyes of an opinionated journalist, an over educated academic, or an adgendaed politician), but those of local people, dealing with a multitude of locally unique, yet humanly similar, issues to those seen all over the world. There are some many brilliant ways of doing things that we don’t even no about. We need to find them, search them out locally, and then try to incorporate them into our global ideas and actions.
Instead of achieving the economy of scale of a global enterprise, many multinational corporations still function as a loose confederation of U.S. and foreign business interests, each with its own reporting systems, business practices and IT solutions. In a time when corporate accountability is under intense scrutiny, corporate financial officers must certify the performance of diversified holdings around the world without standardized processes or integrated information systems. Moreover, with scores of data silos around the world, companies operate with huge information blind spots. It can take weeks, even months, to collect, reconcile, translate and analyze a company’s regional and overall performance. As one CFO ruefully put it, “What I get every fiscal quarter is a global headache.” The situation is an outgrowth of outdated technology and business practices. For decades, the prevailing wisdom for companies expanding oversea was to: “Think Global/Act Local.” This market theory was based on acculturation: the practice of customizing product and services for regional consumption in accordance with the local language(s), currency, culture and regulatory climate. Not surprisingly, localization encouraged each country of operation to develop its own customized IT solution and operational procedures.
There is a difference between operating around the globe, and being global. Globalization refers to the process of streamlining and standardizing communications, business functions and management practices throughout the global organization. While the global offices remain sensitive to cultural and compliance issues in the markets they serve, the organization functions as an integrated, global enterprise. This model, reflecting the new economic realities of a 24/7 global marketplace, can be summarized as: “Think Local, Act Global.”
Globalization touches all businesses today, regardless of size or location. A small company or specialty manufacturer might not serve an international audience, but the organization can improve its supply-side economics by finding alternate sources of product and services in other markets. For large corporations, the benefits are far-reaching – literally spanning the globe.
In this article, we will examine the road to globalization and what changes must occur across-the-board to support the new organization. I will spotlight important considerations in designing and implementing a globalization strategy, drawing on customer experiences. We will focus on the enabling technology and what specific technology features and functionality support and abet the process.
Change the culture
Among companies around the world, there is near unanimous agreement that globalization is a strategic priority; however, uncertainty exists over how to enact such comprehensive change. Corporate decision-makers tend to see globalization primarily as a technology challenge, but from our experience, the largest impediment to globalization is cultural.
The “Think Global, Act Local” mindset is firmly rooted in corporate culture. Within most large, geographically dispersed organizations, the overseas offices and subsidiaries continue to operate with a great deal of autonomy. Seeped in the local business customs and laws, the in-country managers are regarded as regional experts and their decisions regarding that market are largely deferred to. They typically have proprietary IT systems to handle various aspects of their business, and purchase goods and services from local vendors and suppliers. Globalization cannot be implemented in an ad hoc fashion.
Change the business processes
Globalization requires common business practices and processes across the enterprise. The challenge is to reengineer processes to be globally efficient, yet locally accountable. A multinational company still must meet all in-country requirements set by foreign governments, as well as honor the business traditions, etiquette and customs which are the underpinning of successful and long-term relationships. The aim, therefore, is to establish shared services and global practices, which simultaneously have the flexibility and robustness to meet local compliance criteria. For example, in both Southern Europe and in Japan, negotiations are sealed with a document similar to a promissory note, basically a pledge of good faith and intention. Therefore, any global system serving these markets must offer local versions of this protocol document.
Our advice in implementing a global system is to build as broadly as possible. In other words, accommodate and support diversification. Metaphorically speaking, the system should operate like a master light panel where everyone is using the same energy source (data) and amperage (processes), but users can switch on or off the lights as needed.
Determining the local subset of required functionality for each nation of operation is not for the faint-hearted. Expect in-country offices to defend their entire system as essential. In reality, it will be a mix of real and manufactured needs. Some processes will comply with local statutes and customs; others will reflect the idiosyncratic preferences of management, past and present. For instance, some regional managers want top-line financial summaries, while others prefer detailed reports with lots of market numbers and breakouts. Chances are high the local reporting system will mirror the in-country manager’s personal style, or those of one or more predecessors.
One strategy to get around this problem is to put one person in charge of one global business process, such as customer relationship management or finances or human resources. Chosen for their experience and skill sets, the manager can take ownership of process design and implementation worldwide, and they made the local judgement calls. For instance, a collections expert will have the final say over the content of invoices (as opposed to product or sales managers), because it is the task of that department to make sure the company gets paid.
In addition to supporting market diversification, the global system must support the company’s full range of business activities. An important lesson to remember is that ‘dummying down’ the system will defeat the purpose of globalization. If local markets cannot access the information and forms they need, they will be forced to create parallel systems. Never compromise functionality in an effort to simplify and streamline global processes.
Change the technology
As aforementioned, most corporate policy makers overstate the technological challenges of globalization and underrate the cultural ones.
The technology to support globalization exists today. The Internet provides a low-cost, global communications network, which even the smallest specialty parts supplier can access with a standard Web browser, serving as a common platform to standardize, automate and streamline business processes, enterprise-wide, in real-time.
When formulating a globalization strategy, the first step is to conduct a worldwide technology audit to understand the deployment of resources, and what compatibility and integration issues exist. A technology group also should evaluate e-business solutions to identify what features and functions are available, and at what cost. Among the issues to examine in detail, is how “global” are the solutions. Some e-business software vendors may claim to offer global solutions, when in truth they improvise foreign market solutions by partnering with local partners. These customized software solutions might address local compliance needs, but they also will introduce future compatibility and maintenance/upgrade problems.
To have a truly global solution, look for e-business software solutions with the following features and tool sets:
1) Data consolidation. Globalization is best served when the enterprise uses the same consistent data model worldwide, enabling a single definition of customers, suppliers, partners, employees and business events to be easily across the enterprise.
2) Automatic conversion of external documents into the receiver’s language. In a global marketplace, language remains a barrier. With this system feature, external documents are prepared in the language, currency and custom of one nation of operation, and automatically translated into the language, currency and custom of receiving destination.
3) Interoperability among all systems.
4) Global support. In implementing a global technology solution, you want to ensure that operations around the world can receive the technical support at the local level.
5) Unicode support. Unicode is a universal encoded character set that allows you to store information from any language in a central database. It defines codes for characters used in every major language written today, and also provides support for over 94,000 characters for the world’s alphabets, ideograph sets and symbol collections (i.e., punctuation marks, diacritics, mathematical symbols, technical symbols, musical symbols, etc.) Using Unicode, a company can deploy a single system, and a single data center, reducing IT operations and allowing users to have access to complete global information. It also supports corporate web sites that serve customers from all over the world.
As globalization takes hold, the users accessing company resources will widen to include vendors, customers, and partners. Therefore, companies must adopt an outward-facing collaborative culture. While early collaboration solutions, like Electronic Data Interchange (EDI), were prohibitively expensive for mid-to-small size companies, the Internet is opening up the supply chain to anyone with a standard browser. Moreover, through role-based Web portals, companies can control how much visibility partners, customers and suppliers have into their operation.
Once a common infrastructure and software solution is in place, companies and their suppliers can realize a fast return on investment (ROI) in terms of shorter product cycles, greater inventory optimization and real-time market intelligence and decision-making.
Globalization = Economy of scale
As companies adopt e-business strategies, the world literally shrinks.
With a universal communications platform and common user interface, marshalling and deploying corporate resources worldwide becomes less an issue of geography than cost-performance.
By operating from one unified Web-enabled infrastructure and a centralized global database, a company can better utilize and deploy its resources and personnel to meet worldwide demand. With the creation of virtual teams, companies can juggle more projects simultaneously. Reducing the need for consultants to travel increases their bandwidth and their value to the company.
Globalization is important to businesses of all sizes. Removing regional silos of process and data from any organization can alleviate information blind spots and enable management to best analyze and evaluate both division and overall business performance. Streamlining and standardizing communications, business functions and management practices to be consistent throughout the global organization, while local offices remain sensitive to cultural and compliance issues in the markets they serve, allows an organization’s worldwide market presence to be more than all over the globe.
Driving the change to act global yet think local is not easy, but economy of scale and operational efficiencies built into a standardized, global system make its benefits clear: As revenues grow, cost reduction, information sharing and margins improve. Local business specifications and advantages can continue while management now achieves global visibility and real-time information about performance. It is an investment that keeps producing dividends.
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