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How to develop B2B creative that can go the distance

October 3, 2022

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This is the second blog in our series addressing the key issues B2B marketers face when targeting global markets. 

Together with our partner, TriComB2B, Cross-Border Communications reached out to clients and other savvy global marketing experts to gather a range of opinions and advice.

In our first blog, we addressed the challenge of messaging. In this second blog, we tackle the challenge of producing globally relevant creative.

You’ve heard it before – consistency is key when it comes to creating a strong brand. Consistently marketed brands build relationships, trust, and credibility across markets. Expressing your brand in relevant and creative ways — whether through words, imagery, or color — can be a challenge as you extend your brand geographically. According to our panel of global B2B experts, there isn’t a playbook for how best to do this, and what works for one company might differ for another based on a variety of factors.

The brand is the brand

Many B2B marketers favor approaches that keep the need for local adaptations and other changes to a minimum, especially when it comes to their branding.

“When it comes to the brand, we focus on global consistency over local adaption. We only adjust how we communicate about our brand if it’s really necessary or legally required. Otherwise, we stay true to the global brand,” said Klaus Sejr, Brand Manager at Hottinger Brüel & Kjær.

“With regards to brand treatment globally, the brand is the brand,” stated Adam Sidders, Marketing Communications Leader for Cummins. “We don’t allow a lot of flexibility, except in a few cases where local or regional influences are very significant.”

Madsen’s and Sidders’ declarations reflect most opinions related to high-level expressions of corporate brands. But that doesn’t mean global companies want to be inflexible as they consider how to be relevant and compelling in different geographic regions. They just go about it in different ways.

Keeping things simple 

When the overall aims are global consistency and budget conservation, B2B marketers find simple ways to ensure brand rigor doesn’t create local relevancy hurdles.

Esther Oon-Bybjerg, former Group Director, Corporate Communications for GAC Group, stated, “Our overall aim is to ensure the corporate brand is consistent. We understand it’s a global business world, but that doesn’t mean we need to make radical changes that create complexity and cost. For example, we try to avoid extensive use of human imagery. We also standardized a simple set of business languages for translations that support the majority of our business.”

“Budgets don’t always allow for extensive localization,” said Shea Vincent, Senior Marketing Director for BioLife Solutions. “Some of the most effective marketing assets we create are simple 2D animations and videos that require very little translations and no voice-over. These media are versatile and international and give customers something they can connect to without concern for language barriers. Keeping your visuals simple and universal minimizes the number of adaptations you need to make.”

Saving room for adaptability

For some, being globally relevant and effective means being highly adaptable.

“An important aspect of local adaptations is leaving room for markets to address specific market demands, regulations, trends, etc. which will help your brand stay tuned with the audience and ensure optimal relevance for the local stakeholders’ challenges and value drivers,” comments Ralph Krøyer, Managing Director of Cross-Border Communications. “Through co-creation across markets, you may discover rising trends and drivers which you could explore in other key areas.”

Vijith Basheer, Global Marketing Leader at Flowserve, adds another perspective: “A rigid set of brand standards isn’t always the answer. Allowances for color, image and other adaptations that may be more appropriate for your regional strategy are really a must.” He noted that red is the predominant feature of the Flowserve brand, but that the industrial machinery manufacturer adjusts its color palette for certain global initiatives. In one case, they shifted from their familiar red to more neutral tones to communicate a different feel to customers in geo markets where the green economy and decarbonizing are prominent concerns.

Color seems to be the one area where marketing leaders offer the most flexibility to their regional marketing teams.

“We try very hard to build some flexibility into the brand to meet local requirements. We need to leave some freedom that allows a good amount of creativity. This motivates our team and builds marketing momentum,” said Jessica Svahn, Global Brand Manager at AAK. “One area that is key is that we included more colors in our brand guidelines to be able to better bring our brand to life across communications globally. The same goes for the imagery where we need to reflect the cultures of our served markets.”

But before you start expanding your brand guidelines to allow more freedom, be sure to build in safeguards against tricky cultural missteps.

Don't assume anything 

Mike Bell, Vice President and Chief Creative Officer at TriComB2B, has spent decades carefully adapting creative to global markets. And he’s seen a lot of near misses. He shared five of them with us, under the collective advice of “Don’t assume anything”.

    • Eastern cultures have nearly the opposite interpretations of the colors black and white. In many cultures, white is worn at funerals and black at weddings, for instance
    • Different colors have political implications and associations in many regions
    • In some Asia-Pacific countries, campy and outrageous creative — ideas we might consider weird in Western cultures — may be effective
    • Doing a sports-related campaign? Watch out for football (soccer) uniforms that feature rival colors
    • Logos and icons that incorporate symbols as simple as a plus sign may be poorly received in certain regions for religious reasons

Bell’s advice? No matter how much experience you have, make sure you conduct thorough local reviews before implementing a costly execution and launch.

The power of co-creation

While after-the-fact reviews can help to mitigate embarrassing or costly errors, many of our experts noted that getting people involved up front is the most powerful way to ensure your creative hits the mark.

Svahn offered this advice: “Build more co-creation into your branding and campaigns to ensure buy-in from all parts of the organization. Not only does this assure a globally applicable approach, the buy-in also leads to consistent execution globally as you move forward.”

“By proactively collaborating with colleagues and customers in other regions on the front end of brand conceptualization and development, companies can ensure that campaigns make sense globally from the outset,” said Sidders. “That’s where transcreation comes in: the concept and practice of creating ideas that are adaptive across languages, while still maintaining the intended context, style, and tone.” He noted that it is not uncommon for Cummins to involve dozens of go-to-market stakeholders during the early planning stages for launches and campaigns.

And while this final tip might sound self-serving, the right agency partner can also make a difference. “It is helpful to partner with a creative agency that has a global team,” said Vincent. “They know what is trending and popular in their region and can give guidance on what you should be doing.”

Global creative isn't just a marketing opportunity

For many, the idea of developing globally relevant creative goes beyond simply doing an effective job for business reasons. Being thoughtful about inclusivity and diversity is a principle that is more prevalent today than at any other time in B2B. And that’s a good thing. Perhaps Sidders said it best:

“If your campaigns and programs express a homogenous, single idea of your view of the world, you’re missing an opportunity. Not to mention, incorporating diversity into your work is the right thing to do as a human. This is a huge part of our company values, so it naturally bleeds into our work. I hope these beliefs are prevalent throughout more and more companies like ours.”

Topics: Building B2B brands across borders