The challenge of how to communicate across regions is not a new one. But one aspect of comms that the pandemic has amplified is the need to think both globally and locally.
When we spoke to international marketers several of them mentioned how relationships had improved over the past year. Whilst our home offices might have been busy with pets and partners, it seems that some organisational and customer relationships blossomed.
This blog explores 7 ways in which relationships have changed, why that might be and what that means for the future.
Increased sharing of digital knowledge and best practice
As the pandemic hit, brands were required to accelerate their digital offering. Industries that had relied on face-to-face events or physical meetings had to quickly establish a strong digital presence. Demian Rimars, Marketing Manager, EMEA at Bitglass, Inc., noted that around 75% of their global marketing activities had to shift to digital – a huge upheaval compared with how things were pre-pandemic, which shows the unprecedented level of challenge that marketers faced.
The rise of webinars, hours spent on social media and online shopping meant that both brands and consumers had to become au fait with digital. But not everyone embraced screen time at the same rate.
Céline Bonsignore, International Marketing Manager at softgarden e-recruiting GmbH, found that the adoption of digital technologies varies across different regions and that can have an impact on how a digital brand like hers engages customers in different regions. For example, customers in Eastern Europe tend to be advanced in their level of digitisation and so marketing messages have to reflect this. But, in other territories, the level of familiarisation with digital tools is less, so the focus was more on education. This meant sharing knowledge across regions as well as helping customers adjust to the new situation they were in. By understanding the different levels of knowledge, softgarden have been able to tailor marketing strategies for each new market they enter.
Working together to execute quickly and with creativity
The challenges the pandemic presented meant marketers had to quickly create new playbooks. Both speed and creative thinking were critical for succeeding in this period. For a lot of brands, digital strategies were already high on the agenda, but the pandemic accelerated the execution of these plans.
Flavia Richards, Global Marketing Manager at Hallite Seals, felt the impact of this. Hallite Seals’ long-term goal of launching a new digital platform got brought forward and campaigns that may have taken months to execute before were completed within weeks. This speed to market means not only a potential competitive advantage, but that customer requirements can be understood and acted upon much more quickly.
Tina Ganguly, Senior Marketing Manager, EMEA at Graduate Management Admission Council, reflected that this period made her focus on what will best help the business grow. This was achieved by looking at her plans creatively and being willing to spot and then solve challenges rapidly.
Sharing skills to benefit other regions
Getting new digital strategies out the door not only relies on adapting to customer needs, but also ensuring you have the talent to execute them. Not all regions are operating on the same level when it comes to digital marketing.
According to the Digital Marketing Institute, the United Arab Emirates is the fourth country in high demand for these skills. Amanda Holmes, APAC & EMEA Marketing Director at Alaris, also found that digital marketing capability was advanced in their Middle East region. When all regions had to increase their use of digital channels, they turned to their colleagues in the UAE to help. They were asked to share advice and learning with their marketing colleagues in other regions to allow people to learn proven techniques quickly. Not only has this increased the skills of marketers in other regions, but it has created closer relationships across the board.
Learning from other markets
As the pandemic moved through regions at different speeds, and with varying levels of impact, the learning from countries that were affected earlier could be shared with other regions. For example, Amanda found that they could use insights from their Chinese market, who were impacted first, to help predict what might happen elsewhere.
However, whilst we can look to other countries as a heads-up, each country (and in some cases region) responded differently to COVID. In the UK alone the rules, at times, varied from city to city! Whilst the pandemic is a global experience, it resulted in local variations.
The combination of these two viewpoints meant that brands had to consider both global and local messaging. Global messaging was required, but these messages had to be adapted to the local situation and knowledge of how things were changing so fast. In Amanda’s experience, this meant that local colleagues were more willing to collaborate and provide constructive feedback, which led to the localisation of global content becoming more acceptable.
Engaging local colleagues in content development
Before the pandemic, Chris Rushe, Marketing and Communications Director at KRY International, was a regular visitor to their HQ in Stockholm. He used these visits for building relationships and collaborative creative sessions with key people. COVID has meant that these interactions have been moved online. One benefit of this is that KRY has had to adapt the content production process (moving some production to the UK), whilst ensuring that any creative content is localised for different regions.
In the past, KRY had found managing local content a challenge. Due to everyone having to find new ways to collaborate as a team, it’s now much smoother – and this experience has meant that this balance and good relationships with local colleagues will continue in the future.
Building trust with consumers
As the global perspective has changed, so too have customers’ expectations of brands. Consumers are increasingly conscious of global issues such as diversity and sustainability, and so brands are expected to act as global citizens.
This lines up with the experience of Jennifer Attias, Global Brand Strategist. She has found that the pandemic has shifted perspectives on these global issues, and this has meant – especially in younger age groups – that consumers are more challenging of brands and expect more from them. This has manifested itself in the form of trust and the increased importance of brands being trusted by consumers.
In the Edelman Dimensions of Brand Trust Framework, purpose and, more specifically, the efforts by companies to have a positive impact on wider society, is one of the dimensions they consider as a key trust-driving element. Marketers need to understand their customers in their local regions to determine how they build trust locally whilst addressing where they stand on global issues.
Developing stronger personal relationships across teams
The increase in communication and relationships across teams was discussed by several of our interviewees. Jonathan Hehir, Global People Marketing Manager at Talend, found that people in his global organisation have connected much more over the pandemic. They are working together more closely than before – and this is echoed by Flavia who has found that the relationship between the sales and marketing teams, for example, has improved through the pandemic.
Looking to the future
So what does this all mean in a post-pandemic world? McKinsey found in their recent research that organisations which invested in building ‘social capital’ during the crisis will be in a better position as they transition out of it.
Anna Lewis, Senior Director of Marketing, EMEA at Cloudera, sees this period as a time of learning and reflection. “For me, the three things I will take into the year ahead are leading with empathy; a mindset that is more open to taking risks – failing fast and iterating; and lastly being more mindful of connection.”
James Alliband, Manager, Product Marketing at VMware Carbon Black, echoes this sentiment and notes that the challenges of the last year have made them become better at delivering highly targeted content to a range of audiences as a marketing team – which will stand them in a strong position going forwards.
We’ll close this blog with a final thought from Alan Frail, Global Brand & Marketing Manager at Metallix Refining. He sums up a key observation shared with many of the marketers we spoke to when he says that “the brands that do best out of this pandemic will be those that have been adaptive and have risen to the challenge”.
Have you found this time useful for building stronger relationships? Drop us a line and let us know. Until then, if you have any questions on translation and localisation for international marketing, please get in touch.
A huge thank you goes to everyone that spoke with me and contributed to this blog:
- Demian Rimars, Marketing Manager, EMEA at Bitglass, Inc.
- Céline Bonsignore, International Marketing Manager at softgarden e-recruiting GmbH
- Flavia Richards, Global Marketing Manager at Hallite Seals
- Tina Ganguly, Senior Marketing Manager, EMEA at Graduate Management Admission Council
- Amanda Holmes, APAC & EMEA Marketing Director at Alaris
- Chris Rushe, Marketing and Communications Director at KRY International
- Jennifer Attias, Global Brand Strategist
- Jonathan Hehir, Global People Marketing Manager at Talend
- Anna Lewis, Senior Director of Marketing, EMEA at Cloudera
- James Alliband, Manager, Product Marketing at VMware Carbon Black
- Alan Frail, Global Brand & Marketing Manager at Metallix Refining