The argument of one-size-fits-all branding fits with institutionally-based branding strategies (Harris, Attour, 2003) yet on a product or service-specific basis the need for having highly specific, targeted, localized branding strategy that aligns with the cultural norms, values and expectations of potential customers is crucial for trust to be created and sustained (Cayla, Arnould, 2008). In many Islamic nations there is a strict code of dress and adherence to religious more and values. The world-0famous singer Madonna during her tour this year of Indonesia, an Islamic nation that required the singer to wear long sleeves on stage and delete the more provocative dance routines from her show as religious and government officials said they were too offensive to the Islamic people of the country. This is one of the better known examples of just how sensitive and aware marketers need to be regarding the cultural and religious norms, values and perceptions of their international target markets. Madonna, who is a global brand due to her extensive touring, has had to continually focus on aligning with cultural norms and values on tour, even down to what she eats in public, so that her brand in any given Islamic nation is not damaged. The same precepts and lessons learned apply to products and services as well. Cultivating this sensitivity to cultural differences often means the differences between success or failure of an international advertising and broader branding strategy (Melewar, Vemmervik, 2004).
This is particularly difficult for companies who have in the past relied on their branding strategy defining to a large extent their globalization strategies. In effect managing globalization through their advertising strategies first to attract new customers in nations that seek to emulate western values including those of the U.K., the U.S. And other nations, advertisers were able at one point to get away with not doing the hard work of being culturally aware, sensitive and targeted in their advertising (Backhaus, van Doorn, 2007). Standardization of advertising provided companies with a rapid definition of their Return on Investment (ROI) as well (Fastoso, Whitelock, 2007) further leading to this practice which left many consumers in highly differentiated cultural markets, both from a social, political and religious perspective, confused as to what the brands being promoted to them meant.
From the decidedly ethnocentric view of one-size-fits-all branding being sufficient to the more accurate contemporary view of the localization of advertising with a specific focus on cultural differences and variation being taken into account, marketers are beginning to shift their strategies in this area. Compare the failure of U.S.-based Wal-mart to move into cultures vastly different than their own and one can see how a lack of cultural insight into branding can bring international expansion strategies to a grinding halt. Wal-Mart failed to gain significant market share in Germany because it ignored that from a branding standpoint, Germans want to buy from the smaller community stores in their cities and villages. They do not shop at large stores. Further, down to the greeter at Wal-marts, Germans felt offended as they do not want to have a personal interaction with the retailer to that level. Wal-mart also failed in Korea for the same reasons, a lack of cultural sensitivity and focus. Contrast this with the expansion strategies of Tesco which moves into a specific regional area and studies the community and then defines the branding, advertising and product mix to be aligned with the unique needs of these specific industries. Tesco will take years to launch a store in any given U.S. city for example yet their success rates are vastly superior to Wal-mart precisely due to their practice of concentrating on the unique cultural needs of the communities they serve. These examples dramatically illustrate the immediate impact of branding on the ability of companies to gain access to new markets. The role of branding across cultures is to infuse the specific brand with credibility and authenticity of the given local area, so much so that consumers interact with the brand and find significant value in its offerings (Bulmer, Buchanan-Oliver, 2006). Supporting the immediate impact of branding strategies of companies seeking to grow globally are studies of cross-cultural analysis of television viewership throughout Europe and the major variations in how brands are perceived in adjoining countries (Koudelova, Whitelock, 2001). Additional research into branding effectiveness shows that to the extent marketers rely on the international advertising planning process to define branding messages specific to the cultural norms and values of a given region (Onkvisit, John J. Shaw, 1999) is the extent which credibility and trust are created. The role of the international advertising planning process needs to be on using it as a framework for first understanding what are the value set and preference points of the specific local markets to be served. The use of primary research methodologies to ascertain how brands are perceived is accomplished through the use of focus groups within the nations and regions of interest, in addition to in-depth interviews with branding experts within each of the countries of interest. Only by using the international advertising planning process as a framework to define the critical success factors for entering a new region can a marketer be successful in positioning their brand. The role of international market research in this regard is to continually monitor and evaluate if the brand is aligned with the unique cultural, economic, political and religious unique constraints of each country, region or community. Branding then becomes iterative and more focused on continual alignment to the unique cultural attributes of a given region, all underscored by continual customer listening and research (Taylor, 2002).
The paradox of international marketing and the commonly held perception that a one-size-fits-all branding strategy is sufficient is wrong. The examples of Madonna, a symbol of western culture being required to cover up for her performance in Muslim-dominated nations, the failures of Wal-mart to expand yet the successes of Tesco underscore how essential and critical it is for marketers to realize that the perception of brands have an immediate impact on the performance of the entire enterprise. Tesco's success in the U.S. And Wal-Mart's struggles in Germany and South Korea are a case in point. What is critical for every marketer to take into account is the iterative nature of brands and the continual effort required to ensure they stay aligned with the unique localization requirements of specific communities, which requires the development of branding research and customer listening systems (Mooij, 2003). The use of customer listening systems to create more value and better aligned brands are critical given the fragmentation of markets based on the emergence of cultural and religious values over emulation of western nations' composition and values (Okazaki, Mueller, 2007). The bottom line of using the international advertising planning process is that it is very effective in creating more relevant and valuable branding messages when used as the basis of tailoring key benefits to foreign communities. The fact is branding must stay aligned with how consumers in these vastly different cultures choose to learn about new products and service, fitting into their perceptual framework of what is acceptable in their specific cultural and religious groups. Branding must align to these constraints if it is to be seen as credible, trustworthy and providing products and services of value (Garrett, Zou, Taylor, 2003).
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