Interview with Interbrand's Andrea Sullivan


Q: What strategies are working for leading global brands now?

A. Not only will leading brands have to be sure that they are targeting the right audiences with relevant messages, they will also have to innovate. Those who will be most successful, will truly differentiate from the competition, invest and stay true to the core of their identity. That entails focusing and prioritizing efforts to keep current customers while looking to engage new audiences.

Analysis of data and metrics about what is working specifically to drive purchases is essential. A lot of research about attitudes and preferences does not look at how people are opening their wallets and spending.

Mass market brands like Walmart and McDonald's are doing well, not only because they offer value pricing, but because they have stayed committed to reignite their brands and fulfill their value propositions. They appear to be listening more to their customers and the marketplace to offer the right product mix and actively engage in global sustainability.

IBM was able take market leadership using a deliberate focus away from hardware to professional services - a higher margin, higher touch business. IBM's brand transformation involved looking at which product brands to shed and where to focus. Today, their brand is much more clearly defined than the competition.

Nintendo's Wii brand team has realized that their target shopper and user has changed; it isn't just the teen boy gamer anymore. In fact parents, grandparents, and kids can all enjoy gaming. Nintendo has been redefining gaming, which has been found to help strengthen memory, be educational, fun and interactive.

Q: Is "green" still relevant to top global brands?

A. People are tired of being "green washed." A lot of green marketing is fake and some who have repackaged their marketing campaigns with a green bow are not attentive to the reality that consumers are not going to pay more or make a decision solely based on environmental benefit.

While according to a McKinsey study, more than 100 million consumers globally want to participate in purchasing a green life style, they don't know where to go and how to start. Brands need to effectively blend their messages so there is a unique value proposition and that green benefits are the icing to put the decision over the top.

These days, there is a lot of cynicism about big companies, so there is an opportunity for smaller brands. It is hard to say what the interest is categorically, but people have a heart for the little guys and there is potential for more of their dollars to be spent there.


McBranding around the World


McDonald's is no longer driving menu, product, store and signage consistency "for consistency sake". The company worked with its branding agency, Interbrand, to conduct a global audit of its locations to experience how a customer would experience communications in-store, drive thru, packaging, etc.

The McDonald's organization celebrates its decentralization to stimulate entrepreneurial thinking within its regions around the world. While its central global marketing group is based in the US, the Chief Marketing Officers around the world, who report to their regional presidents, determine the relevance of headquarters generated plans and ideas and can accept, adapt or reject them.

Interbrand is working with McDonald's to evolve its brand around a concept of simple, easy, enjoyment. They are looking for packaging consistency globally around a more wholesome image that factors in nutritional value, freshness and sustainability. And, McDonald's is committed to making the entire end-to-end experience feel like that.

In the US, the brand identity strives to become edgier, more youthful and cool, and there are sweeping initiatives targeting ethnic and cultural communities across the US. Just a quick review of presents a life style-focused brand with the first three sections of the brand navigation: "Havin' Fun; Food, Nutrition & Fitness; Sports." Wi-fi connections at store locations are heavily promoted.

From a global perspective, each region and market is looking to identify behaviors that can deliver on the brand identity at many touch points. Brand imagery and menus no longer have to be globally consistent with the realization that a lot of their customers don't travel across continents and countries a lot. The most important brand adaptation is based on the understanding of local market purchase drivers.

Today a consumer traveling around the world would notice a drastically different experience from Spain to Asia, especially a massive reinvigoration of the menu boards. In emerging markets, people are eager to embrace western trends, but the restaurants still need to stay true to cultural norms. In many Asian countries, fast food was not embraced by older generations, so incorporating local foods and cultural characteristics is important.

Throughout Europe, the brand image is edgier and even more health conscious. While in the US, McDonald's target customers have been moms and kids, in France, McDonald's is much more of a university and teen brand. To compete and expand market appeal, McCafés are rolling out in France and other targeted markets globally. They began as an add-on structure to existing franchises, but are changing to another structural design. This is a competitive offering to Starbucks that is intimate and serves pastries designed for the local palate.


Microsoft Reinvigorates Global Brand


Microsoft seeks global consistency and a fresh youthful appeal as key to its brand building success in the US and then around the world. As an organization that has been historically run by engineers, the corporate culture may be seen as formula driven. They do adapt their branding to regional cultures, sales approach, and customer service based on the drivers of purchase decisions, such as in markets where government is the influencer or decision maker.

Microsoft knows that their customers are very knowledgeable about hardware and software products and many operate across continents. Hence, they believe that if it a product or service works for CTOs or consumers in one part of the world, it's likely to work with others.

In recent months, Microsoft's new brand advertising aims to give the Microsoft brand more meaning across audiences. Overall, they are trying to create something more culturally relevant to younger consumers who are spending more on technology. With $500 computers and Netbooks coming online, Microsoft needs to stress their value and address "Apple envy." Microsoft is trying to promote user generated content around "I am a PC" pride with tactics to remind customers about the potential of the PC.

Marketing challenges and strategy vary by country and culture. For example, in France, corporate branded ads are known to repel consumers from purchases. This is a culture that can't stand corporations that try to take over the world. In Asian cultures, the biggest challenge for Microsoft is around piracy. There are business and political challenges around cultures that do not believe they need to spend serious money on technology.

©2009 Ivy Cohen Corporate Communications, Inc.