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Customize Your Message AND Your Product - Expert Advice on Marketing Across Borders

Customize Your Message AND Your Product - Expert Advice on Marketing Across Borders

An Aquent Talent Spotlight

Article by Anne Stuart

Figuratively speaking, our planet is smaller than it used to be, thanks to jet travel, the Internet and other inventions that reduce the historical limitations of distance and time. But when it comes to global product launches and marketing campaigns, it’s a big world after all–and going global involves serious challenges as well as significant opportunities.
Cindy Dyer understands that reality all too well. Dyer, who is currently in an Aquent placement as senior manager of consumer strategy and insight at Frito-Lay Inc. in Dallas, started out as a food scientist, but moved into marketing while at Pizza Hut Inc. She’s also worked for global giants like General Mills Inc., Campbell’s Soup Co. and Mead Johnson & Co., the infant-child nutrition division of Bristol-Myers Squibb. Throughout her career, she’s been involved in international branding and marketing campaigns.
Following are a few of Dyer’s tips for successfully taking your products and messages beyond your own borders:

Don’t fret if you’re not fluent in the local dialect. The biggest myth about going global is that language differences remain a big hurdle. Not so, Dyer says. Of course, it never hurts to learn a few courtesy phrases in any country where you’re doing business, but chances are you won’t need them much. In many countries, executives and managers involved with major international product or marketing initiatives typically speak English. In the increasingly rare circumstances when that’s not the case, there’s a simple solution: Bring along or hire a team member fluent in both languages. Says Dyer: “When I did my international work, we often had a person who spoke English with us as an interpreter.”

Learn as much as possible about the local culture. That’s far more critical to success than showing your ability to stumble through a few foreign sentences. “Become knowledgeable about your consumer in each market,” Dyer advises. “Get to know the needs in their environment.” How to do that? “Spend some time studying the regional culture. Immerse yourself in it,” she says. If you already have marketing personnel in the region, draw on their expertise as well. That investment of time and effort will pay off in a better understanding of how to reach your target customers–and it might also prevent embarrassing or costly cultural gaffes.

Remember that innovation begins at home. Most large American companies have international divisions that are much smaller than their domestic operations, Dyer points out. “So their big research and marketing engines are in the United States, and their international divisions depend on the marketing and product innovation that’s happening in the U.S. to fuel innovation everywhere else,” she says. Bottom line: No matter where you’re launching a new product or campaign, start by drawing on your considerable domestic resources as much as possible.

Maintain overall brand consistency worldwide–but customize individual products to local tastes.“Most big companies tend to keep their brands the same all over the world. If it’s Lay’s here, it’s Lay’s everywhere else,” Dyer says. “If it’s Pizza Hut here, it’s Pizza Hut everywhere.”

However, individual offerings under those brands can–and should–vary widely from one country to the next. Take Pizza Hut, which operates restaurants in more than 100 countries and territories worldwide. In all those locations, the product is still pizza–”but it has to be pizza for each market,” Dyer explains. “You can’t just export it and have it be that everywhere you go, you have the same pizza.” In India, for instance, customers can order a masala pizza–a pie made with a spicy blend of traditional Indian seasonings–but you won’t find that selection on U.S. menus.

As a more specific example, she cites the chain’s famous Stuffed Crust Pizza. “The concept is that you put something–a treat–in the crust edge. But it’s different from place to place,” she says. “In the United States, the crust edge is stuffed with cheese. In Asia, they put meat in the crust. In Mexico, they stuff it with cream cheese and jalapeno peppers.”

That’s an example of international teams building on domestic innovation, she says: “They took an idea that was created in the United States and innovated on it for their own tastes and their own markets.”

Customize your marketing messages as well as your products. “Find out what’s culturally acceptable from a marketing perspective, what’s motivating to the customer,” Dyer says. “Even if you use the same message everywhere –for instance, ‘Come get stuffed pizza because it’s delicious’–the way you communicate that will be very different in different countries.” In other words: When you change your product to fit local tastes, you need to tailor your message to appeal to local customers as well.

Stay ahead of the curve. Keep an eye on the regions where your organization is likely to step up efforts in the next year or two. So what’s hot and what’s not? Mexico, South America and Asia–especially China–are all becoming major consumers of American products, Dyer says. As for Europe, on the other hand: “It’s still out there, but it’s not a growing market for most companies right now.”


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