According to our Marketing Zoom on the way marketing is organized, Belgian marketing branches often hold more of an executional role, while strategic decisions are taken on a global level. 67% of marketers indicate that marketing decisions on brand execution and communication are made locally and only 42% have a say in the brand strategy. Furthermore, 48% of respondents predicted that there will be more centralized marketing-related decisions in the coming years. Although these findings seem logical, it made me think about the interesting role that local marketing managers can play within international companies that centralize. I believe local marketers, even those with less decision-making power, should still pursue their role of driving growth by generating innovative ideas (1) and testing them locally with the support of the global team and/or other local teams (2).
1. The local generator of innovative ideas
Local marketers are close to local consumers and they also have knowledge of the local environment and culture. At The House of Marketing, we have had projects in the past where cultural differences were important. For example, when a Dutch bank wanted to launch in Belgium, its first idea was simply to use the bank’s commercials from the Netherlands. Although Flemish Belgians and Dutch speak the same language, there are many cultural differences (just as there are both cultural similarities and differences between the Flemish and the Walloons). Take McDonald’s, for instance: in the Netherlands their portfolio is not the same as it is in Belgium. They have extras compared to Belgium, such as breakfast with the “McKroket” or “Veggie burger”, based on culinary preferences in Holland (where they all often eat a “broodje kroket”, whereas this is not done in Belgium). But there are also differences on product level: a European BigMac is different to an American BigMac (as also Coke or Fanta are different in Belgium compared with other countries).
Because of this knowledge, local marketers make the ideal local ‘investigators’ of consumer habits, consumer expectations and functional, emotional or social benefits linked to the product or service. Inquisitive local marketers who set up small experiments will find useful insights about specific customer segments and their consumer behaviours. In some companies this is already structured through internal innovation challenges or even in a co-creation approach involving consumers. For instance, P&G recently leveraged consumer ideas for its new Oral-B SmartSeries interactive electric toothbrush.
Consumer insights can inspire incremental or even disruptive product/service innovation, relevant to (at least) the local market. Successful local products/services will be very relevant to similar consumers in other geographical markets and will become the next big thing. Local marketers should therefore involve their global and local colleagues in the development of insights from experiments and in the generation of new ideas for innovation. This will not only allow the local intrapreneur to strengthen the idea, but submitting an idea with global relevance will also have a better chance of gaining approval and obtaining funds for development.
2. The local tester of these ideas
Local marketers can also make a difference in the subsequent steps of the innovation process, such as early market testing of the product/service. When local marketers test newly developed products/services, they can experiment faster, more cheaply and with less risk. Because Belgium has 3 “cultural & linguistic communities” (NL, FR and DE) within a small geographical area, plus many different nationalities (e.g. because of the European Commission offices in Brussels), it is often seen as a good test country for a new product or service. Take for example the case of Chiquita. Back in 2006, they launched “Fruit in a Bottle”, now called Chiquita Smoothies, in Belgium as a test country. Another innovation was to sell bananas per unit in outlets such as service stations. This was based on the knowledge of the local market, whereby Chiquita is a well-known brand in Belgium (yet totally unknown in France) and the fact that Belgians are often in a hurry looking for a (healthy) snack.
In conclusion, I believe that local marketers with a curious and action-driven mindset can be the intrapreneurs all international companies are (or should be) waiting for. Giving them the opportunity to experiment will bring insights, new product development ideas and test results that can also be valuable to other markets or even to the global strategy as long as they ask for feedback and input from their global and local colleagues.
At The House of Marketing, we also believe Belgium is a good test market for companies wanting to grow outside their home country. In order to support this, we have the specific offering of askMARK.
Want to read more insights about local vs. global marketing? Read our Marketing Zoom on the way marketing is organized.