Knowing the audience is key in any marketing and sales strategy. From industries in packaged goods to services, both local and global considerations have been at equal play for a long time. The focus on the so called glocal consumer masses is for a good reason – around the world today, consumers are more fragmented, as well as more similar to one another than ever before.
As a result, one of the most frequent questions our clients come to us with is how to position a product or service so that it is successful globally. We discuss some of the most prominent implications below.
The DNA of the Glocal Consumer
Abundant talk about globalization in the last years has left many to believe that modern consumers are a homogenous entity, lusting after universal brands whose offerings and looks are impressively consistent around the globe. As Coca-Cola’s red and Nike’s swoosh (amongst many others) dominate across a borderless world of consumption, it is easy to believe that consumers around the world all want the same thing. Sure, McDonalds will have its burger on a pita bread in Greece and a McKebab in Israel, but consumers at large would still visit the chain for its global appeal, rooted in popular culture. The product customization here is rather aimed at absorbing knee-jerk cultural rejections, than at capturing an audience that is hungry for local tastes. So, do all consumers indeed want the same thing?
The glocal consumer today is a consumer with opportunities and choice. Opportunities to travel and consume globally, and choice to purchase domestic and international brands alike. With so much choice on their plate, consumers seek differentiation beyond the obvious and gravitate towards authenticity more skillfully than ever before. As in the case of McDonalds, adjusting the product offering so that it is culturally familiar, as opposed to entirely foreign, is used as a manifestation of legitimacy in entering a new market, rather than brand authenticity, and as such can do little to capture profound brand love.
Glocal consumers today seek exciting experiences and relatable narratives, they demand from brands to offer them cues for status, belonging and differentiation. Brands are authentic when they embody belonging not to the business entity behind them, but to the people that use them. Their authenticity is manifested when they provide consumers with cultural reference material which helps brand users create their unique identity narratives that differentiate them from the masses, whilst affording them belonging to desired groups of reference. Thus, to create a sense of identity through consumption is not only to distinguish the individual from the masses but perhaps also to lose a sense of difference and become like the others (1). An authentic brand would be a brand that facilitates the identity narratives of its glocal, fragmented consumers - consumers who are both self-centered and outwardly constructed.
Centuries of psychology science have proven that there is no better indication for authenticity than social proof. Consequentially, consumers naturally seek signals for brand endorsement from others like them – a notion skillfully employed by marketers for decades.
Human beings needs to belong, to share and to connect. When consumers gravitate towards an idea, a brand or value system that the brand embodies, a powerful entity emerges - that of the brand tribe. Prominent consumer groups signal brand authenticity and are a powerful tool for maintaining the aspirational attributes of a brand through appealing to those outside of the community and luring them into joining the tribe. The term “brand community”, first introduced by Muniz and O’Guinn in 2001 draws form classic and contemporary sociology and consumer behavior science, to denote a specialized, non‐geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relations among admirers of a brand (2).
It is important to remember that contrary to marketers’ assumptions, the needs that brand communities can satisfy are not just about gaining status or trying on a new identity through brand affiliation. People participate in communities for a wide variety of reasons—to find emotional support and encouragement, to explore ways to contribute to the greater good, and to cultivate interests and skills, to name a few. For members, brand communities are a means to an end, not an end in themselves (3). Take Facebook, Tesla, Harley Davidson, and Spotify for example, just to name a few.
Fournier and Lee for the Harvard Business Review offer an excellent overview of the three different forms of consumer affiliation in a brand community: pools, webs and hubs. Pool-type brand communities, such as communities of Apple devotees, are comprised of people who have strong associations with a shared activity or goal, or shared values, and loose associations with one another. In web-type communities, such as Facebook, personal relationships are key to community affiliation. Finally, hub-type brand communities are comprised of people who have strong connections to a central figure (Oprah, David Beckham etc. ) and weaker associations with one another.
Traditionally, managers have been trained to use a pool-based approach to brand building: Identify and consistently communicate a clear set of values that emotionally connect consumers with the brand. Unfortunately, pools deliver only limited community benefits—people share a set of abstract beliefs but build few interpersonal relationships. Further, the common meaning that holds members together often becomes diluted if the brand attempts to grow. Unless the affiliation to a brand idea is supplemented with human connections, community members are at risk of dropping out. The solution lies in using webs and hubs to strengthen and expand the community. (3)
Take Nike for example: not only does the brand cater to people with shared values and goals, but it prominently uses the appeal of idolized figures (Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods) and further bonds people with its Nike+ community allowing people to connect and relate to and another through fitness trackers, apps and online platforms.
How to appeal to the glocal masses?
The key to serving the glocal consumer is in finding a brand’s unique value proposition comparative not to how the brand outperforms the competition, but to what consumers need to maintain their in-group /out-group identity projects in a fragmented, global world. A few starting points to consider:
1. Avoid the obvious
Communities should not be used to market something where everyone belongs. It is difficult to build a brand community over personal hygiene or skin care for example, but not so implausible to do so over authentic values such as beauty at any age, for women of all shapes and colors. The case in point? Clearly, Dove who managed to juxtapose its offering to the global standards in the industry and tap into consumers’ needs for belonging in a different value system. The resulting “Campaign for Real Beauty” appeals equally strongly to consumers around the globe as it exploits both global (universal) and local tastes.
2. Create rituals
In the context of brand loyalty, there are few things more powerful than established consumption rituals. Rituals can span across borders and nationalities, giving consumers a shared point of reference that unites their experiences with a brand. There are over 7 million search results for “Apple unboxing” linking to videos of customers admiring the packaging, unwrapping the product, even smelling it, seeking the intoxicating for a fan “out-of-box” scent. What rituals can you add to your offering? If the product itself does not incite ritual behavior, the first place to look at is the product’s packaging. Take Coca-Cola for example – from personalized bottles, to heritage tattoo cans, the brand is one of the best examples of using packaging as powerful canvas for ritual creation.
3. Let go
At the end of the day, brand communities are independent entities outside of the brand’s control. In the recent years, social media has shifted our perceptions about brand communities, creating a false illusion that communities live and die through online channels. It is important to remember that platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and the likes are only few channels through which consumers engage with one another and with the brand. These channels are often misused by marketers who focus on pushing content about themselves and measure passive engagement such as likes, or shares at best, instead of fostering authentic social engagement and behaviors. In order to appeal to the glocal consumers, brands should focus on encouraging user-generated content, instead of engineering desired behaviors and measuring response. In a glocal world, brands will serve their communities better if they meet consumers where they truly are - not only in the social medasphere. Take Patagonia for example who features submissions from consumers online in “Stories We Wear,” a collection of personal narratives behind articles of well-worn Patagonia clothing and the moments that they represent. Or GoPro’s award-winning Instagram strategy which uses user-generated footage of awe-inspiring moments taken on GoPro cameras and rewards favorite submissions with cash prizes. The brands not only engages customers with a multimedia journey of epic adventures and immersive visuals from their loyal community, but also showcases the vast range of their products’ capabilities to inspire purchase-intent. (4)
Perhaps the most overarching approach for catering to brand communities in a glocalized world revolves around allowing consumers the flexibility to make use of the brand and its value offerings in varying contexts and situations. This variability directly corresponds with the fragmented, variable lives of modern consumers. If your brand manages to tap into authentic values of glocal relevance, creates strong anchor points of consumption through rituals and incites consumers to incorporate the brand within their own life narratives, your strategy is surely bound for resonating success with consumers wolrdwide.
PACKLAB helps outstanding brands world-wide to be more competitive on the shelf, connect better with their consumers and reach more markets across the globe.