Today I will debunk the myth of global success. We are obsessed with making our brand a worldwide phenomenon. This affects small and big brands alike. 99% of brands I speak to mention in the first 5 minutes of conversation the number of markets they are sold in. I usually challenge them: how many of those 15-30-50 markets bring in 80% of your turnover? Usually, the answer is between 1 and 5.
We consider big brands global successes, thinking they are successful in all markets. In reality, most famous brands have a handful of markets from which they get most of their sales. Imagine the 80-20 Pareto principle on steroids.
Having worked with more than 30 markets worldwide, I've often noticed even major brands have a tiny market share in some countries. Why?
I've reached my conclusion. Big brands usually inherit a market position from previous generations of management teams and don't know anymore what made that brand a local success in the first place. Sometimes they were just the first brand in that category. As simple as that.
Companies try to replicate those successes blindfolded, as most people responsible for those successes have probably left the company. The information left is usually sugar-coated presentations that omit mistakes and the granular details of the hard work done. They focus on nice pictures instead.
Imagine if you manage to get a six-pack after two years of hard work in the gym. You don't talk about sweat and tears; instead, you show people photos of you at the beach showing your muscles as if you have always been in shape.
Beautiful images from the brand in the top global cities start to pop up in every branch office, creating a dangerous echo chamber. The more the company thinks the brand is a big global success, the more it focuses only on the top-selling markets, forgetting the smaller ones.
In a spiral, global strategies focus on supporting the handful of markets in which the brand is already successful rather than showing small markets how to reach that success.
Brand teams fail to explain to small markets what to focus on to make the brand big in their market. Instead, they show them (alleged) best practices from the most successful markets to "inspire" them.
The problem with "inspiring" is that it leads to cherry-picking like an IKEA catalog. You pick random stuff you like vs. what you need. Small teams dream about being big. They don't read the small text. Instead, they rush into the colorful pictures of beautiful events, great activations, and expensive campaigns. They think their brand is a global success and think everything is possible.
They focus on the fancy stuff, forgetting the boring stuff. They forget that those boring things such as a garnish, a special ritual, and a perfect serve are the things that made it a success in those best markets years before those nice pictures were taken. No, it wasn't those Super Bowl ads that built the brand.
They fail to create solid foundations for their brand. The result is that small brands with much lower budgets end up building sales much faster than them. To catch up, they have to run into retail (modern off-trade), building their brand on price promotion rather than on liquid-on-lips in bars. They find themselves with a brand that sells big volumes of paper, but nobody wants to buy if it's not at a discount.
They then try to go back and build the basics bottom-up.
So how to avoid those mistakes and build a brand bottom-up: