Although noticeably only a recent trend, I’m pleasantly surprised at the number of SME’s either exporting or planning on doing so in the near future. It could be a coincidence that nearly half the prospective clients we’ve spoken to in the last few months have asked about international marketing and our specific capabilities, but I believe it is more than this and is, instead, a growing trend.
A number of dynamics could be in play here. As we gradually move out of recession, SME’s are clearly more confident about their futures. They’ve survived one of the longest downturns ever experienced so by definition, they’re the fit and strong ones. Now, the rightful pride in this achievement is leading to a more positive outlook and thus a more bullish attitude toward growth. With this comes a higher propensity for risk, so a greater willingness to take bolder steps such as exporting and marketing abroad. But it is not without risk and needs to be done correctly. Using agents to sell into new territories is one thing, but how to market to new audiences is potentially fraught with danger.
For example, a manufacturer of life-saving defibrillators chose to use purple material as a photography backdrop for their white coloured machines. They then subsequently discovered their globally produced literature had to be recalled because, in certain countries and to certain religions, purple was the colour of death! Another example was a firm looking to launch a hand-wipe using an image of a hand with a thumbs-up, then found out this is an exceptionally rude gesture in Italy! It’s not difficult to make major blunders like this. Even a brand name can turn out to be insulting in various cultures, hence the reason Xerox came up with their brand name. The brief was purely and simply to come up with a name that couldn’t offend or mean anything in any country, to anyone!
Global businesses will frequently employ the services of a global creative agency to help with their marketing campaigns but, whilst they’ll tick the box of having agencies in each relevant country, there can be a significant downside to working this way. Without a doubt, the largest concern is that global agencies have offices in various countries but they won’t necessarily all be good agencies with strong creative, sound thinking or professional, caring client servicing. The client will no doubt have bought into the agency local to their head office, so respect their thinking and global campaign concepts, but will then have to endure all manner of problems with the agency in, say, France, Greece or the USA. There is no choice though – they’re stuck with them and have to cross their fingers and hope the end result works.
I know – I’ve experienced it from the agency perspective in both the global agencies I’ve worked in over the years and it was fraught. On one occasion, when in the boardroom of the Dutch agency, the client pulled me to one side to express his frustration. I was calmly ‘told’ that, if the local MD didn’t stop trying to force his changes on the global campaign concept, the client was going to leave the meeting, catch the next plane home and find another agency group to do the job! On another occasion, every country in Europe loved the Pan-European concept except the French, who insisted their creative team could do better. A clash of creative egos followed whilst the client looked on in dismay. Much time and money was wasted!
Such global groups will also be highly expensive because of their perceived strong position, saying
“if you want global, you have to use global, and that’ll cost you!”
They are certainly unlikely to view small to medium sized businesses or challenger brands as worthy of major effort.
So how can SMEs keen to expand into pastures new, actually do so whilst avoiding the potential dangers and pitfalls of using both global agencies and culture differences in each country?
SME’s, Chalk & Ward Advertising and TAAN
Well, there is an option. At Chalk & Ward, we were fortunate to be deemed big enough and good enough to be appointed as THE UK agency within TAAN – the oldest and one of the largest global agency networks of, and this is the important bit, the best independent agencies around the world. Size isn’t everything. We had to be accepted which involved complying with the most stringent of approval processes, and rightly so. Only agencies with proven strategic marketing and creative communications skills, with strong resources, who can demonstrate financial stability and also have the right ethos of care and client servicing, are allowed to join. The end result is a collection of first class and consistently outstanding agencies around the world – 52 agencies, to be precise, operating in 32 countries, all of whom have to prove they will continually meet the required standard, or risk being kicked out! So basically, no rotten apples!
We have SME clients requiring global branding, websites, literature, communications, online PR, digital marketing and SEO, and they need to be confident we have the resources to do the job both in the UK and abroad. All our partner agencies around the world are still owned and run by the people who set them up. Not by people who have sold the agency, made their money and thus lost the hunger to be excellent. So our clients benefit from a lead agency local to their head office that can globalise and also localise campaigns in a totally effective way. The end result …… a global campaign that works, everywhere.
– Robert Chalk, MD