Global versus local - the fight for autonomy in digital marketing activities
23rd May 2017

We recently met with a global company which has a significant presence in India. The discussion focused on the fact that the local subsidiary were not happy with the resources provided to them for digital marketing, primarily their corporate website.

The company employs a centralized website management CMS for all their global websites with limited access to the local units to update information, news and content. This has locked them into a rigid structure for each of their local websites.

The challenges the local units are facing include

  • The website design is not attractive but they have no power to change it.
  • The central CMS system lacks a lot of tools necessary for active promotion, SEO and SEM.
  • Changes requested by local units take long time to implement and go through several layers.
  • Promotions on the website cannot be tailored for local audiences.

Since the local unit is a significant contributor to the overall profits of the company, the marketing chief of the local unit was demanding autonomy to conduct digital marketing activities, starting with an independent website and other similar freedoms.

Predictably there was push back from the global representative of the company who felt that such autonomy could not be given.

The reasons given were:

  • Maintenance of uniformity in branding and messaging across the globe.
  • Previous attempts at autonomy did not result in significant gains.
  • A central approach can utilize the best practices learnt from different regions.

How do you reconcile the need for centralized branding control with the need for local marketing autonomy?

The short answer - you cannot. Many companies try to make the best of both and end up doing neither well. The solution is to give each region or country freedom to shape their digital requirements but under strict quality control and oversight.

This will allow the local unit to be more nimble in their marketing efforts, tailor the activity to changing market needs and also add a local flavor to the content and design. Let them hire local agencies to customize their digital assets within the company's branding parameters. Let the local marketing managers take the risk and the rewards for a digital strategy.

The need is for oversight and quality control, not centralized control over assets.

But strict quality control must be implemented and guidelines must be laid out with clear do's and don'ts. A monitoring and reporting mechanism must be put in place to check on the local activity and also provide advice and support.

Company branding is sacrosanct. Periodic training or online training courses on brand awareness can go a long way to instill the brand sensitivities into the local marketing team while allowing for creativity based on local needs.

The innovation and creativity from local marketing teams can be leveraged across the company

When local marketing teams are given creative freedom they might come up with innovative ideas and concepts that with a little effort can easily be translated into other regions. The potential for learning and innovation is tremendous.

Period conclaves where each local marketing team shares their creativity and work can cross pollinate ideas and inspire other regions to up their game. The best ideas can be picked up and globally implemented under central supervision.

A deft touch, a bit of trust and some benign oversight can transform a company's marketing activity into vibrant cross cultural mélange with enormous potential for creativity and growth.

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