The Olympic Games isn’t just a showcase for sporting prowess. It’s also a platform for global marketing, providing a beacon of best practice to which ambitious international brands – irrespective of how big they are, or how long they’ve been established – can aspire.

At its best, the most successful Olympic-themed global marketing reaches and connects with a diverse audience across a wide array of different markets. Typically, this is achieved by having both a centralised marketing function and a commitment to flexing it.

Nike’s Olympic-themed ad ‘Best Day Ever’ is part of a powerful global strategy in which a universal truth – the power of play, embodied by the brand’s ‘Play New’ platform – is flexed around the world locally in a variety of different, culturally-specific ways.

Global marketing: The challenges

Yet for most brand owners one burning question remains: how to achieve this in a way that works best for the business and brand.

Then there is the need to overcome global marketing’s many challenges: how best to manage scale while maintaining excellence, for example. Or, how to execute locally while being consistent with a global plan. And, how to resist the temptation to standardise or automate everything – including storytelling – to achieve economies of scale.

The answer to all of this is: self-optimise.

At the end of the day, good intentions are not enough. Actions count most. Here are five pillars every brand must hone and perfect to maximise their global marketing’s impact.

Five pillars for harnessing localisation to power global growth

1. Organisational set-up

Irrespective of whether a brand’s marketing is centralised, run locally, or offshored to an external partner, a brand owner needs the right global to local market model.

Global marketing campaigns require close collaboration and clear lines of communication, so whatever the model, integration is key, as is timing. Your model should be optimised before or at the start of the campaign development process, not as an after-thought.

2. Cultural competence

This means ensuring you have deep understanding of the differences between different audiences in different markets – critical insight to feed in at the earliest stages of creative development to tailor creative accordingly.

It’s not just about language translation. It’s also about engaging with and adapting to socio-cultural differences; local sensitivities – such as customs or religious beliefs; cross-cultural aesthetics – the meaning conveyed by a colour, for example, can vary locally; local values and attitudes; and local lifestyles and cultural norms – both need to be understood to position a product appropriately.

Cultural competence is the key to establishing brand empathy and credibility. It also strengthens a brand’s ability to effectively tell an engaging brand story. Data-driven insights are essential for cultural competence, which ultimately is about listening.

Airbnb, for example, has built its business by transforming marketing into cultural conversations, aligning its advertising with social issues, and making local connections always relevant to its brand promise: creating a world in which people ‘belong anywhere’.

3. Brand governance

This means ensuring that no matter how localised a brand goes, it always delivers against its global strategy  while also being compliant to local regulations and other requirements – social norms, for example – in all markets.

It involves the need for the right safety mechanism to ensure consistency of story, tone and message and, also, balancing this against the need for bold, creative thinking local to each local market.

Fitbit demonstrates effective brand governance in action, with every piece of communication closely co-ordinated under a global strategy and carefully localised to each market. Apple’s ‘Behind the Mac’ is a powerful current example of a global campaign built on a universal insight – true creatives don’t wait for greatness, they make it – that is adapted locally, but always with 100 per cent consistency to the core brand theme.

4. Dynamic capability

This means how well a brand owner’s organisation is set up to deploy its marketing communications quickly, efficiently, and flexibly – changing it when need in response to shifting market conditions.

This involves identifying then reducing friction points in your processes – for example, streamlining sign-off procedures. It’s about building your capabilities to be competent across all markets.

5. Attribution

How you measure the impact your marketing communications have in each local market is critical. This means measuring local market impact on overall campaign KPIs and or measures of brand health. 

Mindfully global, selectively local

Every organisation should evaluate its capabilities against these five pillars and then work with partners to perfect their structures, systems and skillsets.

A brand owner’s ability to deliver against each – and what they need to self-optimise – will vary. Ambitious young start-ups may find themselves under pressure to retrofit capabilities quickly as international sales quickly grow.

Others may need to formalise and strengthen their skills to move to the next level. Meanwhile, for largest, more established brands, it may be more a question of staying ahead through continual self-improvement.

Whatever a brand’s position, however, the message is clear. The most successful global brand marketing comes when a brand owner has the mindset and skills to be mindfully global, selectively local.