Strategy : Going Global (Branding)

Tom Simons is President and Creative Director at PARTNERS+simons a Boston-based, full-service marketing communications agency.

Tom graduated from Harvard College in 1975 (with an honors degree in Visual and Environmental Studies), educated far beyond his actual intellect. His advertising career began with his hire at Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos as a “potentially useful person.” Three years later he left as an Art Director and moved to Arnold & Company, where he was named Associate Creative Director. In 1981, he co-founded Rizzo, Simons, Cohn, and in 1989, PARTNERS+simons, now one of the largest independent advertising communications firms in New England, depending on who’s counting.

On the business side of things, Tom’s success with the “Hollywood Model” has attracted the attention of regional and national media, resulting in an appearance on the cover of Inc. Magazine and the Wall Street Journal. He has published articles in The Boston Business Journal, The Advertiser, Inc. Magazine, B-to-B Magazine, and Mass High Tech. He has authored or co-authored six different eBooks — all available on — on how to work collaboratively to build successful brands, identities, content delivery systems and relationships in these very dynamic times. In addition to serving on the board of directors of The Home for Little Wanderers, Tom is also an active participant in the Mayor’s Digital Bridge Foundation and the Young Graffiti Masters.

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A global brand building communications program - consistent across media, channels and borders - is nothing less than the holy grail of technology marketing. Yet the degree of difficulty in building and implementing a global campaign is extreme. It requires patience, purpose, diplomacy, creativity, energy and athleticism. Heck it would try all of the skills of Indiana Jones, just as his own search for holy grail did.

There are extraordinary obstacles that must be overcome, or alternatively, safely navigated.

The fact of the matter is, a strong, centralized marketing function that legislates and polices brand standards and guidelines with a firm hand is not at all a guarantee of success. That would be much too easy. Our experience suggests that this form of functional fascism discourages cooperation and stokes the embers of dissent.

A centralized marketing function with comprehensive brand standards and guidelines is a given, of course. But it must be viewed as only the platform upon which a program can be built, an enabler in the rigging, staging and merchandising of the effort.

Engineering a global campaign with a brand integrity requires a careful chemistry of tools, strategies and behaviors. The key elements follow.

A global marketing effort must realize, embrace and accommodate regional and cultural differences. If there is inadequate flexibility, there will not be consistent implementation. A positioning in one part of the world may not have currency in another. A visual strategy that is particularly effective on one continent may be culturally insensitive on another. A palette that offers differentiation in one geography may be the national colors in yet another. We have experienced the irony many times - ultimately a global brand building program will enjoy more consistency (and success) if there is careful, considered accommodation of differences.

The global effort must be "owned" by a multinational team -- as opposed to an elite cadre within central corporate management. This team must meet regularly and openly discuss program obstacles, challenges and successes. The program will only benefit from inclusive representation and consensus among regional sensitivities, cultural issues, and tribal mores.

Comprehensive brand standards and guidelines must be authored and published in a variety of formats - in ink and paper and digitally. These guidelines must take every conceivable application and question into account - from identity usage, to positioning, tone, brand hierarchies, colors, and templates for every communication channel. Leave nothing up to chance. And make sure that this information is available to everyone - globally - in a format that is most useful to them, not the method that is easiest for you.

A fully functional, interactive extranet is an increasingly necessary tool in the building of a global communications program. In addition to hosting brand standards and guidelines, it can provide a very efficient venue for the global team's communications. What's more, a well conceived extranet can library imagery for use around the world, downloadable type fonts and templates, and it can network global team members together for the purpose of sharing experiences, posing questions and celebrating successes.

Design processes to accomplish the overall objective. For example, generating effective and accurate translations -- especially in regard to technical products and services - is an objective for which the strategy might vary from country to country. In some instances translations might best be generated in-country, while in other instances translations from a centralized service might be more practical and preferable. It is critical to be open and accommodating - remember to reconcile the overall objectives with the consequent strategies.

Always keep in mind that while it may be seductive to believe that a global brand building communications program is an outcome, it is in reality a process. If you happen to be very good (and very lucky!), you will see many signs of success along the way. But the kind of effort that is most effective requires constant attention, nourishment and improvement - don't lose your focus. Building on both modest successes and program milestones demands a long-term process outlook, not a project orientation.

Ó Copyright Tom Simons 2004

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