Empowerment and co-creation – Entering new markets

…analysts say the company must overcome obstacles that typically
accompany entering a new market, such as a lack of name recognition and
nuances in customer preference.

This sentence in a LA Times article about the entry of Japanese convenience stores to the Los Angeles area caught my attention. The two points are obvious, but it took their articulation to make me think. I felt that I could see some correlation between them and entering the blogosphere, for example. A new blog lacks name recognition, and has yet to discover what it’s customers (readers) preferences are. Though if truth be told, blogs aren’t quite the right analogy here since in their case, their material is distinct from their readers preferences – one reads what one likes, but one writes what one likes as well. So, I sat down to ponder what was tickling my brain?

Next, I thought perhaps it could correlate to the open source model described recently by Stephen Baker – but it didn’t quite sit right, when I recalled Peterme’s words in a recent post where he wrote,

but web 2.0 is about relinquishing control, embracing openness and
transparency, demonstrating actual authenticity, and empowering your
customers to create, and leveraging that creativity to make better
experiences for everyone
. As the LEGO Mindstorms
article in Wired discussed, this isn’t simply about web sites — it’s
about introducing new paradigms to improve businesses’ chance of
success
.

Now I’m not going to go into a discussion on web 2.0 or online presence et al in this post – my focus is on the new paradigm that could improve a business’s chance of success, or in this case, a global brand contemplating entering a new market, say India or the US or even Oman.

IMHO, from personal experience, the biggest frustration with being the cog in the remote outpost of a global behemoth that actually has to implement or execute the marketing, advertising or branding strategy in the field is tussling with the brand’s identity. Clausewitz has said,

It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans.

When I was a member of the Asia Pacific new products introduction (NPI) Dsc00506team for India at Hewlett Packard, we had themes that were developed by HQ for each region that would then be used in each country. That year’s theme was "HP Rocks the World". Here is a bad photo of the logo we received [I’ll try to get some better quality ones up soon, all I have are decade old hard copies] – we received high quality TIFF files and sample marketing collateral designed and sent to us in the field. ‘In the field’ for a company the size of HP meant the various countries in the APAC region.

From regional MarCom HQ in Singapore, I received implementation ideas through the listserv for country NPI coordinators, for example Malaysia had the speakers drive onto the stage on Harley Davidson’s wearing black leather jackets with the logo emblazoned in living colour across the back and other such dramatic concepts. I was horrified. I knew it wouldn’t work at all in India. Here, HP was perceived as a corporate MNC – a global brandname, a Fortune 100, a ’10 Most admired companies to work for’ (in 1996) with all that that entailed in the Indian corporate environment. Our audience of VARs, dealers and distributors just wouldn’t get it if I did something along the same vein, they’d think HP had lost it’s mind. It just wasn’t done.

So my compromise solution (I would have preferred a more appropriate theme altogether) was the most sober implementation of the theme that I could conceive – to create a 3D representation of the logo, using a real electric guitar as the main focal point and echo the rainbow colours along specially made table cloths. I’ll write again on the design brief because that was an exercise in tight budgetary control, widely divergent venues and maximum flexibility in itself.

Coming back to the point, I’d like to put forth the concept that when entering a new market, especially one in another culture, it makes more sense to empower the executors of your brand and messaging strategy to adapt to the nuances of the customer’s preferences than to enforce strictly the corporate identity guidelines traditionally used to protect the brand’s identity.

And this where the concepts derived from the blogosphere – that markets are conversations become important – ask your cogs in the field about their specific markets, they talk to your customers, they know what would work there. Co-create with them your strategies, adapt and tweak them for each market, within the umbrella identity of your global brand. Maintain the flexibility to localize, be willing to let go absolute control to allow your audience to create their own brand experience. All of these things are not new ideas anymore, they’ve been brought up in so many ways in the news, in blogs, in conversations. If products can be designed to enable the users to create their own experience, can’t the message/brand identity be designed to evolve into each market’s experience?

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