Balancing global B2B messaging consistency and local relevance
Global B2B brands are facing ever stronger competition, both locally and across markets. As a result, it is becoming more difficult to win the attention, trust, and preference of target audiences.
To provide fresh inspiration on how international B2B marketers can refocus their efforts for better results, Cross-Border Communications has teamed up with TriComB2B to create a series of blogs that address the most important marketing and branding issues they face – and how to overcome them.
As with most marketing challenges, there usually isn’t a single ‘best practice’ to simply adopt and use. Instead, we’ve combined the advice of savvy global experts from our clientele to provide you with a range of opinions and advice.
In this first blog, we’re addressing the challenge of global messaging.
Does your message travel well?
As a steward for a global brand, the average B2B marketer spends significant time and effort defining market positioning and messaging guidelines at all levels of the business: corporate, platform, product portfolio, and more. And for good reason. Ensuring a unique, defendable market position is the foundational requirement upon which an engaging, high-performing global communications platform is built. Teams are dedicated to defining and managing messaging across the business, and then ensuring the brand message is consistently deployed.
But just as a successful global businessperson must adapt as they cross into different markets — exchanging currencies and adapting language — your messaging needs to be adaptable to be effective.
Facts, emotion and storytelling — what works?
Plenty of research shows B2B businesspeople in many parts of the world make decisions based on emotion. As a result, marketers work hard to inject personal value into their messaging to connect with decision-makers at a higher level. But think twice before applying this principle universally.
Shea Vincent, Senior Marketing Director for BioLife Solutions, offered this perspective: “Many of the stereotypes about marketing to various geographies have held true. The U.S. is a market driven on emotion. Buyers want to personally connect with a brand. Many European and Asian countries are more fact-based and technically product-driven, at least initially. But all customers want to feel confident and assured they are making the right decisions. Tailoring a company value proposition to have an emotive connection to customer assurance, user success and brand confidence has been very helpful.”
Deepak Sivanandan, Head of Global Marketing for Flowserve, noted specific tendencies from customers in the Asia-Pacific region. “The evaluation of our offering is much more detailed in APAC. The sourcing teams have a lot of influence, and most of them come from technical backgrounds. The depth of technical detail we must provide to accommodate their methodical evaluations is more extensive than we see in Western cultures.”
Esther Oon-Bybjerg, former Group Director, Corporate Communications for GAC Group, concurs: “In many Western markets, the trend for communicating is now ‘less is more’. But you cannot apply that philosophy universally. In Asia, it’s quite the opposite. We need to adapt to these differences while being true to the brand.”
And while the differences between emotive and fact-based approaches are important to understand, there are also other nuances that marketers may not be aware of when it comes to execution. For example, Monica Arroyave, Senior Director of Consumer Solutions at Gilbarco Veeder-Root, shared that North American marketers will need to flip their story-telling approach. “Very few marketers realize that in Spanish-speaking cultures, you build the story gradually, starting with the details and culminating on your most important message. In English-speaking cultures, readers are more inclined to want the key message or takeaway first, then understand the details from there. Cultures express ideas differently. You must be careful to understand the nuances to be effective.”
Product availability, audience and business dynamics — get these right
Sometimes message relevancy comes down to an evaluation of a more basic set of criteria. It could be as simple as making sure information is accurate and appropriate for your audience. Is the product you’re featuring available in the target market? Is your target persona the most relevant in that region? And what about industry regulations?
Sivanandan pointed out: “Considerations such as product availability or differences in model types or configurations must be accounted for. Providing generic information globally when in fact your offering varies regionally puts the onus on the customer to figure things out. Your marketing resources should reflect these differences, and your customer-facing teams must be equipped accordingly.”
Two other basic marketing fundamentals are also critical: audience and competition. While it can be risky to generalize about which audiences are most influential in targeted markets, there are some notable tendencies.
“We see big differences in the ‘care abouts’ by region. For example, we find that capital investmentdecisions are mostly driven by procurement in the Middle East. It is a price-dominated discussion,” noted Vijith Basheer, Global Marketing Leader for valves, actuators, and positioners for Flowserve. “In Europe and North America, however, we see heavier influence from in-house and consulting engineers. As marketers, we must be able to support our sales channels effectively and be aware of how the customer decision journeys vary by audience influence.”
Thomas Heide Jørgensen, former Head of Marketing Communication at Danfoss Heating segment, pays careful attention to audience nuances. “The go-to-market setup can vary significantly from geo to geo. In some markets, we sell directly to end customers, whereas in others our go-to-market might be through OEMs or third-party representatives. As such, we’re careful to tailor and optimize messages based on these differences.”
Regional adaptations can be even more complex, but many companies are willing to put in the effort to ensure maximum relevance. Mike Bell, Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at TriComB2B, shares his experience with a client who broke down messaging approaches not just by role and title, but by several other factors:
“In the Americas, our client’s technology was ideal for facilities larger than one million square feet. In the EU, their target facility was only 10 to 20 percent that size. Furthermore, factors such as pace of work, workforce stress and working conditions varied by geography, causing us to make even more granular messaging adaptations based on regional factors.”
External factors must also be accounted for to ensure maximum relevance. A one-size-fits-all approach to technical designations, certifications and approvals can mean a straight line to irrelevance with savvy buyers. One area that technical and industrial B2B companies must deal with is the regulatory environment. Complying with energy efficiency, environmental accessibility and other standards on a region-to-region, country-to-country basis is very complex and can affect which products are relevant.
Jørgensen says these types of factors are prevalent at Danfoss. “In our business, local and national regulatory requirements can be quite varied. We are diligent about ensuring communications are adapted and delivered accordingly to ensure relevancy.”
Monica Arroyave, Senior Director of Gilbarco Veeder-Root, pointed out, “For one product we developed, ergonomic features that helped customers comply with disability requirements were very important. In other countries, these attributes were non-factors. In another case, our ability to help customers achieve environmental compliance in the U.S. was paramount, whereas in other countries this consideration was still a moving target. We have to be very careful to adapt materials accordingly and be ready to make changes as new standards emerge.”
Tips for ensuring global relevance
So, what does it take to ensure your marketing messages are relevant globally? Time, money, and resources, of course. And the foresight to get the essential human resources involved from the outset. Adam Sidders, Marketing Communications Leader for Cummins, offered this advice:
“Be inclusive in terms of who you get involved — not just regionally but also from the point of view of true diversity. If your campaigns and programs express a homogenous, single idea of your view of the world, you’re missing an opportunity.”
Sidders went on to share that he is lucky to work at a company that emphasizes the value of incorporating diverse, inclusive points of view. So, expressing diversity in marketing programs at Cummins is not only natural and the right thing to do, but also an expectation everyone on his team is challenged to meet.
Another practice that will help is moving from being reactive to proactive as it relates to obtaining feedback. Too often, marketing teams are insulated from customer interactions, which can lead to ineffectual approaches conceived in a vacuum.
Vincent commented, “Your marketing team needs to be active globally. Connect with global customers through your sales team and learn what works for them and what attracts them to brands. Build relationships with distributor leaders to find out what will help them. These customer-facing resources are full of useful insights that will make your marketing better.”
It’s still B2B marketing
Ultimately, our client experts point to consistent advice for messaging your business across borders:
- Adjust for differences in audience influence and information style preferences
- Be diligent about product availability by region
- Adapt for region-specific competitive and external factors
- Be active in getting global stakeholders involved in your messaging
Underpinning these recommendations are well-understood principles any B2B marketer can relate to. Basheer stated it best: “The basics of B2B marketing always hold true, regardless of where you are. What customer type are you targeting, who are the audiences, what matters to them, and on what platforms are they seeking information? It’s a matter of making the effort and investments to apply this discipline on a local level.”