Global brand management: head, heart and hands

The global marketer’s role is tough – made harder by the knowledge that some of the most powerful people in the organisation would prefer it didn’t exist at all,” suggests Helen Edwards in her recent Marketing column. I’ve seen how tough the challenge of global brand management can be, when working at P&G as a brand manager and on numerous global branding projects at the brandgym. But I’ve also seen the huge benefits of global branding when done well.

Below I share a framework we use to help global brand directors rise to the challenge Helen lays out and make the biggest impact possible. This is based on research with global marketing teams and our project experience. The four key parts to the framework are ‘Organisational Structure’, ‘Head’ (results-focus, follow the money), ‘Heart’ (inspiring vision) and ‘Hands’ (creating global ‘assets’).

Head hand heart

1. Organisational structure

Helen suggests that global brand management teams lack ‘clout’ (power to influence people) and ‘sanctions’ to use when regions don’t stick to the global strategy. This is why the most effective global brand directors work closely with senior management up to CEO level to get their backing and support. Carol Welch, formerly Global Marketing Director of Costa Coffee, talked about the critical role of the CEO in pushing regional directors to implement global initiatives and not ‘back out’.

In addition, we recommend that people taking on global roles campaign to get as much resource as possible in three areas:

Global brand management budget

Push to secure as much funding as possible, to be able to carry out some sort of global activity or at least global research

Global brand management team

Push to get a proper team. Work on expanding this to fill in key roles as you demonstrate results.

Global brand management unique tools

Design and create unique tools or processes that are important to the organisation. For example, this could be a creating a global brand equity tracking tool that is used across regions and used to identify issues and opportunities

2. Head = show them the money

One risk with global branding is to fall into the trap of ‘brand bureaucracy’, where the emphasis is on ‘policing’ regions to comply to a set of global brand guidelines. Instead, global brand directors should anchor their work on driving growth in the regions. The ambition should be to demonstrate how global branding can deliver growth that the regions couldn’t create by working alone. For example, when Sue Allchurch led the global Surf brand her team created a new global fragrance that was a blind-test winner AND delivered cost savings. The regional teams got a ‘double whammy’ of a better product at a lower cost.

A consistent way of measuring global brand and marketing initiatives is key to this approach. Having different research methods in different regions is a way to maintain ‘brand anarchy’, where local teams do their own testing with a different methodology and say, ‘Look, it doesn’t work here!” Back to Surf again, the global and regional teams agreed a set of action standards for centrally developed activity to achieve in order to be run locally. For example, on communication, Preview Testing was used in 3 key markets to test new campaigns with agreed ‘hurdle’ scores to be used in market.

3. Heart = inspiring vision

The most effective global brand directors create an inspiring brand vision that regions want to sign up to, rather than being forced to accept. Of course, the initial reaction of regional teams at the start of a global branding project may be  ‘sighs and regrettable doubts concerning its suitability “for here”‘, as Helen suggests. But we have seen first hand how a carefully designed project can take a global team on a ‘journey’ to co-create a compelling global brand vision.

For example, we worked with the global brand director of Unilever’s ‘Top Clean’ brands to help on a new global brand vision. Top Clean was the internal name for a group of laundry cleaning brands including Skip, Persil and Omo. This set of brands had a hitch-potch of different product formulas, pack designs and ad campaigns. Immersive insight into consumer needs across the world threw up a powerful insight that was to be the catalyst for a successful and long running campaign you may have heard of: ‘dirt is good’ (DIG). Our approach was not to try and ‘patch together’ the multiple local positionings; this risked ending up with a ‘lowest common denominator’ solution. Rather, we projected the team into a future and then worked back to the ‘transition path’ for each region. The brand is now called internally ‘DIG’. The global brand vision led to harmonised and more effective pack design, product formulations, communication and activation (see below).

4. Hands = global assets

The final and perhaps most important success factor for global brand management is to go beyond brand positioning to create ‘assets’ that can be amplified regionally. These are tangible marketing mix ideas that local markets can adapt locally. For example, WD40 centrally created an activation campaign called ‘Mythical Road Trips’ with input from local marketing directors. The artwork, displays and pack design were all created centrally, producing economies of scale: costs were cut by 65% and the number of man days used by 75%. But the campaign also created economies of ideas, by  spreading an effective campaign across markets to boost local business performance. We call this approach of creating and housing brand assets for local team to adapt ‘The Marketing Shop’, as covered in this post here.


In conclusion, I agree with Helen when she says, “Global marketing is a thing of beauty when it’s done right: unified brand meaning, universal fame, more inspiration on less budget.”

An approach covering head, heart and hands increases the chances of achieving this sort of success and overcoming the challenges Helen highlights. It’s not an overnight job. It takes several years to move regional teams from agreeing rationally, to buying in emotionally and finally changing behaviour. But the benefits of persisting are huge, both for the company and the global brand director.

For a great example of global brand management in action, see this other brandgym blog post: