Global brands’ most common mistakes

Understanding how the various facets of culture play into a brand’s or agency’s success, whether it’s a campaign targeted at a particular group of influencers or simply understanding the internal dynamics of one’s own team, is critical to success in today’s business climate.

If your company holds any of the following as truisms, be warned: they could be potentially damaging to the future of your brand.

  1. Global advertising is still core to a successful business model.

There was a time when global advertising worked, simply because it was the only model. But a diversification in brand identities, the emergence of digital and social marketing and the paramount importance of community in a brand have all upended traditional notions of marketing success.

Better advertising isn’t necessarily proportionate to effective marketing. Look for example at the U.S. presidential campaign, where a savvy use of social media from Donald Trump has upended tradition and, on many occasions, proved both pollsters and the media wrong. In the past, it was almost enough to throw more money at TV ads than your competitor in order to win. For the first time, in 2016, that tactic spectacularly failed.

  1. Some brands are too big to fail. 

Brands that once seemed to be unstoppable are now under enormous pressure to pivot. Denying that this pressure exists harms a brand because the individuals assigned with understanding this speed of change are given an insurmountable task.

Think of this new world in the context of culture shock: a phenomenon in which a person who moves to a country that is completely different from their own cannot adjust quickly enough, where there is too much new information and too many different ways of doing things.

The same can be said of brand culture that thinks it can survive the rapid pace of change in today’s business world simply because of its size or track record. A culture of curiosity, diversity and constant experimentation is the only way forward.

  1. If all else fails, data will save us.

Digital transformation is the revolution of our times. Marketers understand this and it is tempting to dub “big data” and corresponding “personalisation” as a brand saviour. But like science fiction, this idea has one foot rooted in reality and another floating in fantasy. Big data helps brands optimise sales and acquisition, and can lead to important insights, but the mistake is believing that data is an end in itself.

The question brands should be asking is given what we know about the customer and our communities around the world, are we giving them every opportunity to reinforce our brand in the long term? Are we treating them as living, breathing, sometimes culturally quirky humans or just as wallets?

  1. Efficiency is performance. 

Here’s a fascinating example that comes from arguably the world’s most data-obsessed company. Google spent years exploring what kind of team is the most efficient. What it found instead over the course of a two-year study was that the single biggest factor of team success lay in how much time each member spent talking. The theory had to do with how humans socialized, which is inherently inefficient.

When team members all feel they have something to contribute, where they feel confident and their ideas are met with empathy, the group does better. This is just as relevant in global marketing. What data will show in the end is that facilitating human sociability and empathy is the most powerful strategy of all. Understanding human culture in all its “messiness” is more important to success than pure efficiency-led approaches.

  1. We need maximum control. 

Harvard psychology professor Ellen Langer once explained that, “control is an illusion.” In reality, no one really has control over a brand; not the stakeholders, not the creative agencies, and not the customers.

But what brands can do is try and control what people say about it. Just imagine a brand as a member of a small dinner party who excuses themselves to leave. What do the remaining guests say about that person? The challenge for a brand: create a new environment where the customers are still empowered to speak. Heed the old adage, “know thyself” and brands will be able to understand their most important ally: the customer.

Elliot Polak is the founder and CEO of Textappeal, a leading cross-cultural marketing specialist for global brands and agencies. He is a frequent speaker at marketing events and the initiator of Newsroom, the first independent 24/7 Global Social Media Management facility in the world.