While global branding is commonplace in pharmaceutical marketing today, that wasn’t the case when I started BrandEdge in 2003. At that time, the industry had embraced the notion that a global trademark and logo were desirable, but not much more. We’ve come a long way, but I would argue, not far enough. At most companies, global branding now also includes a universal positioning; branding elements with a common look and feel, and an advertising campaign that is fundamentally the same in key markets around the world. Often the lead agency, usually out of New York or London, also develops a few core pieces. This package is handed off to local affiliates and their agencies, along with a brand book. At that point, adaptation and translation begin – and I would argue, at some point very soon thereafter, the whole process is at risk of going off the rails. The reason is – local marketers want to have more control over local marketing than global branding affords them and local agencies need to do more than true adaptation and translation in order to stay in business. While I know this is going to be controversial (or maybe sensible for those who have lived through the global branding process), I am proposing a whole new model. This one is borrowed from the consumer marketing world where, in my opinion, many of the best models originate. I am proposing that:
- Global branding is truly developed by a global team – from the start. There would still be a lead agency – likely New York or London – but the decision-makers would be a core group that is multi-cultural and multi-lingual. This would ensure that very little adaptation is needed and that translation issues are averted upfront. Importantly, legal/regulatory differences by country that are unique to the pharma world would be considered at this point and factored in.
- Universal insights are sought, using market research that goes beyond the U.S. and 4-5 European markets. The good news is that social intelligence gathering that mines the digital landscape can deliver robust insights into as many countries as desired for a fraction of what is spent on qualitative research today. It is even affordable as an add-on, so that the large countries can still have the benefit of hearing from potential customer first-hand and digital can fill in the rest.
- Adaptation and translation are done in a central place rather than in the local offices of a large conglomerate. This requires a production studio overseen by a few senior multi-lingual agency people and a corporate commitment to spend enough money upfront to make sure that the core ideas developed are right, so that what is needed on the back-end is minimal and turnkey.
I truly believe this process puts the emphasis where it should be – on strategic rigor, universal insights and the development of creative and global resonance. Admittedly, it will require spending more upfront for global team meetings and research that has more breadth. But more importantly, it will minimize costly and extensive re-work on the back end under the guise of adaptation and translation, which will quickly dilute the integrity of what originally was intended to be a global brand.
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