Customer-obsessed marketing

The Global Digital Marketing Gap

Thomas Husson
Vice President, Principal Analyst
September 6, 2017

Over the past few years, I was lucky enough to travel to many different places: in most European countries, in the US, in Brazil, in the Middle East, in India, in Indonesia or very recently in Japan and Thailand. The digital revolution is happening all over the place and it is fascinating to see how it is changing people’s habits. In particular, mobile is a game changer in most economies and this will only accelerate. According to Forrester data, the smartphone unique subscriber base will pass the 3 billion mark for the first time ever in 2018, representing 54% of the total population!

When travelling abroad, you will easily recognize brands’ logos and feel a bit more at home. Some brands like Apple, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s or Nike have been successful at global expansion while maintaining brand consistency. However, most brands struggle to localize their marketing.

I first found out that digital platforms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon) are among the Top 15 most valuable brands worldwide. If you look at the top 30 most valuable brands globally you mostly see companies that have embarked on a significant digital transformation journey. See below a video of my keynote speech at Forrester’s Digital Transformation forum in London last June.

Several months ago, I started looking more specifically into the role of digital in balancing global and local needs.

I expected global digital platforms to simplify the job for marketers. However, and counter intuitively, digital complicates global marketing. In fact, digital increases customer expectations for relevance, giving local brands the edge. Such competition exposes global brands’ digital marketing gap, forcing them to localize their digital approach. Significant economic, political, and technology trends will strain global digital strategies further by elevating the importance of local relevance. Over the next few years, we expect the following trends:

  • Geopolitical shifts drive global fragmentation. In the next 20 years, experts agree that we are likely to see more protectionism and local regulation. To know more about this, I’d strongly recommend you read this fascinating report from the US National Intelligence Council. The impact for brands and marketers is obvious. Danone – the global dairy CPG company – recently made a strategic shift to reinvent itself towards a more regional model acknowledging that the “world is getting more fragmented and that consumers will think more and more locally” according to its CEO Emmanuel Faber.
  • Empowered consumers seek brands who reflect their local values. Consumers are increasingly demanding that brands align with their personal values, a complex system highly reliant on local beliefs in social issues, politics, and causes.
  • Innovative local competitors emerge. Western brands selling in emerging markets once benefited from the lack of local competition. But that advantage is diminishing as local economies spur local enterprises that leverage their deeper understanding of home audiences for more relevant marketing. Huawei, Oppo and Vivo are perfect examples of such a trend in the Chinese smartphone market.
  • Mobile’s primacy forces a re-evaluation of local offline marketing. Many brands start their global digital marketing journey with a locally-supported website, instead of leapfrogging to a mobile-centric approach that reflects consumer device usage trends. Marketers think of mobile as a sub-channel instead of a dramatic way to improve the local offline experience. WeChat, anyone?
  • Rise of conversational interfaces reward local knowledge. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and intelligent agents like Alexa or the Google Assistant promise to revolutionize marketing. However, AI’s lack of specialized language and semantic analysis for smaller speaking populations means it won’t be a silver bullet anytime soon for global marketers looking to AI to help localize in a way that reflects native language, culture, and contextual nuance. As a result, local players with local semantic skills will be best positioned to take advantage of the sky-rocketing increase in demand for conversational interfaces delivered in the mother tongue.

To close this capability gap, marketers must evolve their cultural mindset, adapt their organization to share more responsibilities with local teams, implement an insights-driven approach to personalize experiences, and upgrade their global technology infrastructure.

To know more about this and access Forrester’s data, examples and recommendations, clients can read our new report “Close The Global Digital Marketing Gap”.

Related Forrester Content (For clients or purchase)

Close The Global Digital Marketing Gap
Webinar: The Global Digital Gap
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