"Brands should be viewed as markers in a global system of symbolic differences" (Cayla, 2008, p. 106). Julien Cayla and Eric. J. Arnould assert in their Abstract that scholars in the field of international marketing need to "revise some key premises and foundations" and think more along the lines of the being "culturally relative" and "contextually sensitive" when approaching global branding (Cayla, et al., 2008, p. 86). The Nike and Coca-Cola logos are "brand symbols that trigger myriad responses," Cayla explains, and when it comes to protests against globalization demonstrators use the Nike logo, the McDonald's logo (and Coca-Cola too) as "symbols of corporate excess" (p. 86). Obviously, to a demonstrator from Asia, the Nike logo brings to mind America, the culture of the West, and if that demonstrator has built up a hate for the U.S. interference in Iraq, for instance, any culturally identifiable brand logo is a perfect target for his hate and rage.
The point of opening with this thought is that Cayla suggests the approach of global branding should take into account "the consumer culture theory" (p. 86). Brands all over the world are not evolving in the same way and are not becoming "more like Western brands" but rather they are emerging as culturally identifiable brands (p. 87). The article urges international marketing scholars to "go beyond a purely managerial perspective on international branding issues" and start thinking about global branding as a process of taking into account "sociocultural entities" -- in other words, embracing the cultural dimension of branding. The principals of building a strong grand are not the same across cultures, Cayla asserts. A cultural approach to branding involves recognizing that global branding embraces a "constellation of understandings" such as the relationship between individuals and the society they thrive in.
Marketing scholars have not studied branding thoroughly in a global cultural context, Cayla goes on; scholars have tended to zero in on "managerial problems" and that has hindered their understanding of what branding means on a global level (p. 89). Scholars and marketing gurus have also tended to use nations as "the only frame of analysis in international marketing" but in fact there are "local cultural roots and identity systems" within nations -- again, referring to the consumer culture theory -- that cannot be ignored. There should be interest in developing strategies for the branding of Catalonia and Eukal Herria (Basque country) rather than just branding Spain, for example. The regional cultural differences between the Basque country in the north of Spain and the Costa Del Sol in the south are vast and dramatic.
Cayla's article basically takes to task the writings of "branding consultants" that consistently assert, "…to develop strong brands, firms must follow the models developed by Western companies…Apple, Harley-Davidson, or Coca-Cola" (p. 93). There is some implied arrogance in this approach to global branding, Cayla goes on; marketing practitioners suggest that "Asian brands lack the emotional connection that Western brands have established," and hence because of the "supposed inferiority of Asian brands," these same consultants believe marketing Western branding models to Asian markets is more effective than Asian brands in their own marketplace (p. 94). The bottom line in this piece is that global marketers have approached culture "from the outside" but now is the time to move from the standardization of branding to a view of "branding practices themselves as cultural" (p. 96).
One poignant example of how culture can affect the success of a brand in an international context is the brand "Mecca Cola" -- produced by a French-Tunisian businessman -- that has a slogan, "Shake your conscience" (p. 101). This brand capitalizes on a wave of anti-American attitudes in the Arab world and while taking a bit out of Coca-Cola's market share, "evokes the most powerful symbol in the Muslim cultural landscape, Mecca. Again, Cayla finds an angle to promote the idea that cultural should be a driver for brands as global marketers retreat from the narrow view that only Western branding strategies are workable and successful (p. 101).
Branding in Bangladesh
The importance of branding to a company's image and sales success is not limited to big Madison Avenue companies, or fashion industry icons like Gucci, Estee Lauder, or Chanel. Brand communication is also vitally important in "media poor" places like the rural and semi-urban regions of Bangladesh, according to Moslehuddin Khaled writing in the International Management Review. But the use of a branding strategy in any marketing campaign in Bangladesh cannot utilize traditional media (television, radio, the Internet, print newspapers and magazines). This is a low-lying Third World country that is frequently hammered by cyclones that cause death, flooding and that destroy villages and homes. Hence, Khaled -- who explains that "mass media" just isn't applicable -- proposes a different approach to branding in rural Bangladesh (Kahled, 2010, p. 85).
In working with Bangladeshi retailers in remote villages, Khaled, along with a distributor sales representative (DSR) from Gray Advertising, found that retailers were slow in determining which brands they wanted to have in the store. Customers too, were confused as to brand they wanted, and didn't have a list of their needs before coming into the store. The customer stands at the counter while the clerk -- and a line of customers -- waits patiently for that customer to make up her or his mind. One solution to this slow-moving chain of retail events is to print a card with color photos of all the brands available, and give it to the customer as she or he enters the store. "Many of the retailers are not that literate" and the ones that are literate are still not totally competent in terms of knowing what to order from the DSR (Khaled, p. 86). .
Khaled offers a number of solutions and suggestions to move the branding / marketing changes along and help the DSR and the retailers in rural Bangladesh. Those suggestions include: a) building trust with retailers (who often complain product availability changes to quickly) and increasing the credibility through the DSR; b) provide free hefty shopping bags for customers, many of whom come in without bags; make the shopping bag a brand promotion; c) use better strategies to help the retailer position brands on shelves more visibly; and d) convince companies to provide shelves for their brands, like Nestle and Unilever do (Khaled, pp. 87-88).
Corporate branding requires strong communication inside and out
Don. E. Schultz and Philip J. Kitchen take the not surprising position that a "strong, consistent and cohesive corporate brand and communication program" is necessary to beef up cash flow and "increase shareholder value" (Schultz, 2004, p. 347). But how can corporations firm up their brand's status in the eyes of consumers if there is a "…lack of established and implemented internal communication processes and systems"? (Schultz, p. 348). There is "substantial and growing evidence" that managers within organizations are "miscommunicating with the very people and firms who hold the key to their corporate future," Schultz asserts (p. 348).
The authors believe that using the metaphor of the "corporate umbrella" companies can improve their "brand communication" and help drive their sales and their brand image. First, Schultz explains that "traditional corporate communication" are fading away, or "sinking into the sedimentary strata of economic and social history" (p. 348). The corporation as a brand needs to be marketed, or communicated ("all marketing is communication and all communication is essentially marketing"), and Schultz doesn't mean buying ads in the Wall Street Journal. Rather, because of the "emerging, interactive and networked marketplace" there must be a "raising of the corporate umbrella." That corporate umbrella should be used not only to "…protect and nurture all the individual brands…but [it] confirms to all stakeholders that the organization itself stands for something other than an anonymous, faceless, profit-taking corporate entity" (Schultz, p. 349). The communication of the brand's mission must be conveyed internally (throughout the layers of management, business partners, employees, channels and affiliates) so that when the company announces its' values, vision, and commitment "internally and externally" those communications will put "flesh on the bones of the corporation" (Schultz, p. 350).
Empty platitudes and typically predictable corporate branding programs won't succeed in the new global marketplace anymore, Schultz strongly insists. The company must pursue "Reality and realism," and that means utilizing a corporate umbrella in such a way that: a) it nurtures, protects, and provides the "resource-fertile environment" to grow the entire entity, including brands and stakeholder relationships; and b) it becomes a fully integrated, "process-driven corporate communication program" and its activities act like the "ribs of an umbrella"; when one of those ribs is lost (crisis…