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How you calibrate your brand’s globality is important: McCann Global CSO Suzanne Powers

Powers and Jitender Dabas, EVP - Planning, McCann India, share insights on how global brands navigate the world today

How you calibrate your brand’s globality is important: McCann Global CSO Suzanne Powers

Powers and Jitender Dabas, EVP - Planning, McCann India, share insights on how global brands navigate the world today

Shanta Saikia | Delhi | May 26, 2015

Suzanne-Powers-and-Jitender-Dabas Suzanne Powers and Jitender Dabas

‘The Truth About Global Brands’ is an extensive study by McCann Worldgroup that reveals new insights about how global brands navigate the world today and help to illuminate a clear path forward for marketers.

The India edition of the study was unveiled by Suzanne Powers, Global Chief Strategy Officer, McCann Worldgroup, and Jitender Dabas, EVP - Planning, McCann India, on May 21, 2015.

In an exclusive conversation with BestMediaInfo, Powers and Dabas talk about what it takes for global brands to continue being relevant as they travel to different markets and how local brands can successfully fulfil their global ambitions. Excerpts:

What are the findings in this report that have particularly surprised you?

Suzanne Powers: India is one of our best examples of one of the key tensions and opportunities that the study brings out, which is around extreme local pride, very rich local culture and also openness to learning from global. In India, it is less about embracing global brands and more about learning from global cultural pieces, people, etc. We have that in several of the markets, but India is the best example of that. One of the main findings of the study is how you balance those two things.

With the Modi Government, the stress has been on ‘Make in India’ and bringing back the national pride. Do you think this is in some way influencing the way brands are communicating to other markets?

Suzanne Powers: Yes, it’s interesting. The other thing that the study tracks are cultural influences – what markets have influence on other markets. And India is one of those markets that have incredible influence on China, for example. So we map these in cultural waves, you can see what markets influence other markets and you can start to decode why that is the case. We did another study called ‘Truth About Wellness’, where we of course saw the influence of India on other cultures because of all the aspects of wellness, but in this particular study we are seeing beyond that – it’s about brands, even the spirit and attitude, there is entrepreneurialism , innovation, etc.

We also did a really fun bit where we tracked different pieces of pop culture. Obviously, Bollywood is one of the things that travels beautifully. The inverse of that is a franchise called ‘The Walking Dead’, which is basically a zombie apocalypse type programming that travels almost as quickly as Bollywood. We’ve also looked at pop culture, books, movies, music just to understand where the local spots are but also what things travel outside of countries and why.

Have you also woven cricket into the study?

Suzanne Powers: We haven’t done sports and that’s something that we have missed. We should have done sports because it is very interesting and very huge.

How are the dynamics of brand communication changing in the digital era?

Suzanne Powers: Media has had a massive influence on how brand communication can change as has technology, so I bucket media and technology together. Even when a brand feels it is doing something local, it’s very quickly global with a quick little click. We talk to our clients a lot about truely understanding even if you think you are not a global brand, you probably are to a certain extent and how you calibrate that globality; how you go to market is very important. We have all types of brands, we have global brands that are in 60+ countries, we have local brands that have a desire to go to other markets. We have also looked through the study at the power of the country of origin. For example, beauty brands from Korea are doing amazingly well. Also, beauty brands from India are starting to have a real uprising. The push for more natural and organic beauty products is really a global phenomenon, so wherever people can get that from they are happy. And it takes away some of the old rules which were around facts like people trusted French beauty brands or they trusted fashion from different parts of the world. It’s a very different environment now, very open.

Jitender Dabas: Whether you look at how Marico is doing, they are going up the value chain. Then you have Dabur with brands like Dabur Vatika, then there is Himalaya, apart from that you also have Shahnaz Hussain and Kaya – all of them are on the rise when you look at the scores. While globally more than half the people prefer global brands, in India we are under-indexed as far as global brands are concerned; the local brands do better. This is not just a trend in India, it is also a trend in Korea. Normally we would expect global beauty brands to just walk in and take over the market, but that’s not true.

Is there any specific reason why Indian brands are doing better in beauty products?

Jitender Dabas: In beauty, we have indigenous beauty solutions and these had always existed. What has happened is that some of the local brands have collected that knowledge and learnt from global brands how to package it well. There is the local knowledge that resides in a particular category, for example food, beauty also has some strong local code.

When it comes to beauty brands, it is not so much about local company versus global company, but more about what is right for me. In case of food, there is a source code that operates from the culture. Beauty also is somewhere embedded in culture. Because the category is coded in that, in different categories there are different needs that are rooted in culture. Technology perhaps is outside the culture as of now, therefore you will have higher need for global brands.

When you take these indigenous brands global, what are the challenges in communicating that to a global audience?

Jitender Dabas: It’s the inverse. If a Dabur has to go to Korea, it has to understand the skin texture there, what will work for them, what is right for them.

Suzanne Powers: It is interesting because when we did the Truth About Wellness study, one of the biggest findings that we had was that wellness is physical, emotional, mental, financial – the entire gamut which we in Asia had known for many years, but for the rest of the world was very one dimensional. So as that definition has spread, there are people building their own wellness system. So it might mean that they are using a local brand that is not well known, in addition to the big trusted brand that they have always used and grown up with. It’s about creating these systems a little bit and it’s a bigger open world for them to do that now, which is very exciting.

We have global brands and local brands with global aspirations. In such a scenario will we see the emergence of a more universal brand that is toning down its localised flavour?

Suzanne Powers: It’s a very big challenge because one of the things that we have learnt in this study – which shouldn’t be that surprising but sometimes we need data to point to the obvious – is that the real global or local brand has to be true to itself no matter where it goes. The way it does that is where the difference is and where the nuance comes in. The way it expresses itself – it be the same core, it might be on the same mission that it should be – but the way it delivers that in market by market has to be very true to that local culture or else you get to something that is completely vanilla, completely benign, lowest common denominator when it comes to a marketing perspective or which is not helping anybody. You can do that in this environment, but nobody will pay any attention to you.

In a world of merging cultural boundaries, what are the challenges for creative ad professionals? How do they maintain the uniqueness of the communication as well as address a much wider audience base?

Suzanne Powers: Many of the CMOs whom we talked to as part of our study talked exactly about that because it’s that balance of being true to who you are as a global brand, true to that mission that you are putting forward, but also having the precision with which you are bringing that to life, the cultural nuance. So the challenge is to almost be everywhere because you can’t really pick up that cultural nuance if you are not in the market. For us as a company, it’s made our size a real benefit, the fact that we have offices in all of these markets helps incredibly. So you still need the brand building expertise that one has – proper brand positioning, proper brand identity, the look, the feel, all the different assets that you need to be a brand – that are then used in very locally relevant ways.

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