Simon Gregory, Joint Chief Strategy Officer at BBH London and Dublin, offers an agency perspective on trends in brand governance.

Read the whitepaper 'Local, global or glocal: Effective brand governance in the age of marketing transformation' here.

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Simon Gregory, Joint Chief Strategy Officer, BBH London and Dublin

How much more complex has it become to manage and govern global brands and what’s been driving this?

Over the last few years, businesses have become increasingly multinational – so that’s the first factor. The channels we use have made it a bit more accessible too – if you're running programmatic, and you're used to being able to spit 1000s of different variants for Australia versus Nigeria versus Mexico, it isn't so much of a leap versus if you're making one TV ad to go everywhere.

The other factor is the pace of how things work and the speed at which we work globally – this changes how you work and what you produce. Some organisations manage this especially well. For example, certain finance brands operate in almost every country. From my experience the good ones really focus on bringing everyone together rather than having it feel like there was just a central team putting everything out.

Which models for global brand governance are in the ascendant these days, and why? E.g. centralisation vs. ‘glocalisation’ vs. localisation

I often find myself going to the same model, which is more of an idea and creative perspective – there are three things I always look for in terms of shared ownership. First is getting really close to local insights that represent the business and the customer in the local market. The second is working out what’s fixed and what’s flexible. So, for example, with ‘the Lynx effect’, you have some fixed things in there – such as showing how it makes you more successful in the mating game. But how that comes to life will be very different for the Middle East vs. Africa vs. America. So the flexible assets might be more: how the date happens, what happens at the end of the date and so on. The third piece is applying this central idea with local insight. For example, with Tesco Food Love Stories, we use that platform in all markets. The idea of creating foods you love for the people you love remains true. But the types of occasion, the types of food, and what food means to people varies market by market; and we encourage them to bring their own thinking into the executions.

From your experience, we’d love to hear about how global brand governance works in practice – the pros, cons, pitfalls and watchouts.

Everything's always about people – it always comes down to that. Spending time with people has always made the biggest difference and markets are always going to want to do their own thing. It's about being clear about the things that are fixed. What are the battles, what are the guidelines, what are the things you're willing to compromise on? And more often than not, the global materials are just really big things and the local markets are then free to run their own activations at that level. You build a toolkit and then the local market can just take it and work with it.

Often one of the tools used to help sell global work to markets is research. Numbers and some evidence helps counteract the people who will say they know their own market much better. Research often comes in at the early idea stage, or late, or both. For example, we were researching the idea of Johnnie Walker and progress. You can work out if people find that interesting, is it different? And then later on, you research when you get to the final asset, which can be harder – you have a script and you have to get all sorts of things right – balance of genders, ethnicities, would anyone actually do that in Ireland even vs. the UK. But then you have to achieve the right mix between not diluting the creative and getting it as right as possible for everyone.

What’s missing from the way global brands are currently managed, from an in-house and agency perspective?

I think it’s very hard to get work that is distinctive in a certain way – for example, in the use of humour. How many funny global ads have you ever seen? For example, we’re currently being asked to pitch for a German brand, which has never cracked the UK market, and their perception is that they need a UK agency to get the humour in there. Humour is so subjective in so many different ways, with so many rules, that the area you can play in becomes pretty small.

How could you create greater understanding to facilitate this more easily for people?

To be honest, I don’t think there’s an answer across the board. Orlando Woods’ book ‘Look Out’ is a great thesis on how advertising is all becoming too similar – every other ad becoming a person looking down the camera and being extremely rational. I’d love to see something like that from a global point of view. Often it’s really hard to find enough examples from a global perspective to truly inspire great global work. Snickers is a notable exception. Personally, I’d rather read a German, Mexican or Italian case study than a global one, as you can learn a lot more.

What trends do you think might affect global brand governance in the future?

First, the fact you can’t manage brands on a local level any more. You see something on your Twitter feed from Ford – it could be Ford in the States, Ford in India, Ford in South Africa. You have to think about every market you’re in.

The second thing is about the area of trust – as measured by the Edelman Trust Barometer. People are looking for brands to be more trustable than even governments and NGOs. And that’s often about action at a global level. As we’ve seen in the UK, we made really good advances around plastic, recycling, being good to the Earth, and now it’s under threat from the cost of living crisis. So we need to think about how to modulate our response globally.

Then there’s the metaverse – the challenge for this is around access – we need to be careful it doesn't become just a western thing because of our cultural biases and rules around censorship. So how do you ensure the maximum number of people can access it across the world?