January 12, 2012

All Marketing Is Local

Tip O'Neill was was one of the great American politicians of the 20th century. He was the second longest-serving Speaker of the House in U.S. history. O'Neill once famously said, "All politics is local."

From Wikipedia...
"...this phrase...encapsulates the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents. Politicians must appeal to the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those who elect them into office. Those personal issues, rather than big and intangible ideas, are often what voters care most about..."
If you substitute "brand" for politician, and "consumer" for constituent, you get a pretty good idea of how I think marketing works.

While I shudder at ever saying "all", "always" or "never" about anything human (human behavior is far too complex for such absolutes,) I believe you can't go wrong viewing consumer behavior the way Tip O'Neill viewed voter behavior -- as a series of calculations about individual self-interest.

That's why I find the apparently irresistible urge of big companies to "globalize" their marketing so profoundly stupid.

Yesterday, I was reading about GM's review for its "global" account. This whack-a-thon has been going on for six months. And in the end, all it will do is take responsibility for marketing GM products out of the hands of people who know their markets -- who know the "simple, mundane and everyday concerns" of their consumers, and put it in the hands of overfed suits who deal in "big and intangible ideas."

I have worked in the automobile category for over 30 years. Cars are like every other category of consumer goods and services in that there are regional and cultural beliefs and practices that are critical to understanding consumer behavior in the category. A car that sells well in one part of California doesn't sell well 100 miles away in another part. You can't walk a block in Portland without seeing a Prius, but you can spend a week in St. Louis and not see one.

The idea that someone in New York or London is going to make better marketing decisions about selling cars in India than someone from Mumbai is simply absurd. 

In the global dream world you can have a worldwide perspective but a regional interpretation. That's the Powerpoint version of reality. The genuine version is that once you initiate globalization the seduction of homogenization is irresistible.

There are only three reasons for "globalized" marketing. The first is laziness. Let's face it, managing agencies all over the world is a royal pain in the ass. It's much easier to have a couple of guys in Detroit or Chicago to yell at.

The second is arrogance. It's the "we know better here at headquarters" mentality.  And there's probably a lovely little undercurrent of racism mixed in with the arrogance.

The third is money. If you're willing to trade the long-term health of your business to save a few bucks on agency fees, "globalizing" your marketing is probably a fabulous idea.

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