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From globalization to hyper-local, how can brands and creative teams adapt?

With the ever-evolving ecosystem of communication channels and a shift to a more experience-driven way of engaging with consumers, brands are facing several complex challenges that put their creative partners into a quandary. As part of The Drum’s Globalization Deep Dive, Tom Gilbert, Executive Creative Director at Design Bridge Shanghai, explains how best to solve these dilemmas.

Globalization isn’t something new, it’s been ‘happening’ for centuries; for the last couple of decades, as designers, our idea of what it meant to be global was that we shaped brands, both physically and how they internationalize to meet demand. Since Brexit, Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’, and the rise in power and national pride within China, coupled with the pandemic and subsequent economic downturns, we’ve seen governments turning inward, caring for their own before looking beyond.

Subsequently, in the last five years, we’ve been witnessing a trend of nationalism, and as it continues to evolve, we’re having to re-evaluate how this will not only shape the work that we create but our industry and its future.

The basics of branding principles, consistency, frequency and emotional connection play well with globalization. Multinational brands and their creative teams can create one solution for all that can be easily distributed for maximum frequency and availability. There are common global insights that are used to emotionally connect consumers with brands; however, much like the global supply chains, nationalism is starting to break that system and, as such, things are becoming much more complex for global brands to manage.

Added to that the ever-evolving ecosystem of communication channels and a shift to a more experience-driven way of engaging with consumers, brands are facing several complex challenges that put their creative partners into a quandary – how best to solve these dilemmas?

Do we still need global guidelines?

Brand guardianship is important to ensure the brand value and recognition is not eroded through too much flexibility and inconsistency, yet a monolithic approach to global branding may become less common when it fails to land in a period of nationalism. So, the more effective approach might be to still have global brand guidelines, but with local playbooks.

A global standard and expectation to set rules and boundaries, but a regional inspiration to help brands flex accordingly in different markets. Or a better option would be (even though it would require scale) a creative team capable of delivering the brand’s needs from global right through to local execution.

Should multinational brands just use smaller, local creative teams who understand the market better?

This can work, but it requires a lot of communication and a brand team that would be responsible for brand consistency. A more suitable solution to this issue could be an international team that understands the brand, but with strategically-positioned studios in the biggest markets so they can go hyper-local when required.

This would still mean you would have strong connectivity and frequent communication across the network; knowledge would be shared, and creative benchmarking would occur to ensure quality standards are still achieved, with brand value and salience remaining.

If countries are becoming more nationalistic, should creative teams follow and mirror the trend?

Creative studios will be adapting to legislation to boost the employment opportunities for those of their local populations. Hand-in-hand with this need is the importance of diversity; diverse thinking helps reach stronger creative solutions, and also means having more people who can connect with the fragmenting demographics or team members who can communicate within that market; either to understand the insights better or to help execute the vision as close as possible to the creative intent.

If employment laws make this hard to achieve, then we must be on the lookout for well-traveled potential candidates. Through the last period of globalization and pre-pandemic, travel opportunities were easy and frequent, and many of us capitalized on this and traveled the globe. In the coming years, those opportunities are going to remain limited, so those people who already have first-hand experiences of different markets and consumers, or that are at least culturally sensitive due to their high exposure to diverse cultures and diverse ways of thinking, will probably be likely to thrive in this period of change.

A nationalistic trend feels like less opportunity for multinational creative teams to help with global brands, so should we just double down and be specialists? Focus on our discipline and leave the brand teams to connect the rest?

For global brands, there will still be a need for a level of consistency. The more time a brand changes hands to a different creative team because that team lacks certain capabilities, the more risk there is that work will become inconsistent and that the workload will increase for brand teams. In a time where there is a need for more purposeful inconsistencies to help brands adapt to local nuances, there might be an argument for larger multidisciplinary teams to help international brands implement their strategic vision in the multiple diverse ways of creating a branded experience with their consumer.

Having a connected team of strategists, copywriters, art directors, graphic designers, industrial designers, CGI artists, UX/UI designers, coders and production team experts will give brands ultimate flexibility to adapt their message and assets to different channels and touchpoints accurately and efficiently.

Although nations of the world may be turning inward and global brands will have to adapt accordingly, creative teams can do the opposite by embracing more multinational, multicultural and multidisciplined talent so that they may have more diversity and abilities, in-house, to ensure brands remain globally consistent, yet locally relevant.

This article was originally published on The Drum

by Amanda Li

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