Over at Mindspace, Charu has an interesting post on how local should global brands get. Should they completely adapt themselves to local tastes, or retain certain attributes consistently, regardless of each audience’s tastes?
My take on this, is that, a brand exists in the mind of its audience only. Beyond that, there really is no ‘brand’, only a product or a service. That means McDonalds in India is not the evil contributor to childhood obesity (not as yet!), or a cheap-and-fast eating joint but a fun ‘family’ place. Does it detract from McDonalds brand image globally? It detracts only if we assume that McDonalds has a primary duty to its Western audience to be perceived in a certain way. The moment it is a global brand, and starts building a sizeable audience across different cultures, it doesn’t then matter, if its ‘western’ brand image doesn’t translate into India. The company is then acknowledging that its Indian audience (or Chinese, as the case may be) is equally if not more important. Yes, there will be some well-travelled Indians who may perceive the disparity between the brand’s appearance in two different cultures, but they are likely to be a minority currently. So mass-market brands, in my opinion, can definitely get away with, and even gain from having a different image that appeals to different cultures.
However, if a brand has a culture itself as one of the core values, then I as a consumer, am unlikely to appreciate localization. Sony, for example, may be subconsciously associated with many of us with a high quality, Japanese culture. Consumers are likely to be taken aback at a budget-version, low-feature music system from Sony, if the company brings out a really low-cost version to appeal to the mass market. They may even wonder if Sony is losing its reputation for quality. In this case, Sony risks losing its core audience, the more affluent consumers.
Again, if Paris for me means experiencing fine French cuisine and sampling the cafe culture, I am unlikely to enjoy a travel service that brands itself as offering an ‘Indian’ travel experience complete with Jain food ! But if Paris to me is seeing the eiffel tower and notre dame, it doesn’t matter. The tourism market has developed interestingly in this aspect, with companies now offering completely packaged, semi-packaged and totally customised options, depending on which slice of Paris you want!
This is ofcourse a common practice across industries, where companies offer different sub-brands to appeal to distinct audiences. The challenge ofcourse, will be in cases where quality or cost differs significantly – especially in high-involvement, or any high-tech products/services, how can a brand maintain any distinctions at all, in an age where the internet has eroded all such distinctions between geographies?