Free the brand: a seven-stage guide to decoupling global marketing

2 February 2008 Peter Flett

Promotional marketing in just one country is challenging, but when a global brand conducts promotional marketing on a pan-European or pan-regional basis, the challenges are amplified by the use of multiple languages, various legislative and cultural frameworks, writes Peter Flett, client director of Freedman.

The ’decoupling’ model is sending shockwaves through the agency world as international businesses start to successfully embrace it. This concept involves using a central agency to complete creative work and another specialist agency to implement campaigns in the media of another country’s markets.

With the potential to secure significant cost savings, it is no surprise that some businesses are keen to embrace this strategy. However, to make a global decoupled solution work there is much to consider before it can be successfully implemented. The first stage requires rigorous analysis of whether the approach is relevant and has the potential to work in a given operation.

Is it a viable proposition for my business?

In order to determine if decoupling will work for the business you must firstly define what cross border/regional/global brands exist within the company’s portfolio. If your organisation is similar to that of Johnson & Johnson, for example, which has a large number of localised brands then it would be extremely difficult to develop a workable, international decoupled solution as each brand campaign is developed and implemented locally. However, if the company’s product range is similar to that of Nike or Adidas, which launch products across multiple markets worldwide, then decoupling can reduce expenditure by at least 35% without diluting the brand message or its global consistency.

Analysis of the following areas will need to be completed as part of the initial investigation:

  • Identifying what synergies exist within the regions or local markets with regards to product development, sales and marketing.
  • Determining the communications plan market by market to highlight whether or not markets are working to similar briefs or planning related activities which could provide the opportunity to centralise production and buying processes, and therefore reduce expenditure.
  • Establishing levels of satisfaction at regional and local level of the current creative agency. This should be conducted by a third party to guarantee an unbiased result.

This information will equip you to move on to stage two of the decoupling planning process.

Ensure both marketing departments and agency teams are involved

Once this analysis has taken place and you have identified that there is a business case, communication with the marketing and procurement teams in local markets is essential in order to review their ways of working and obtain a list of their production requirements and preferred suppliers.

"In order to determine if decoupling will work for the business you must firstly define what cross border/regional/global brands exist within the company’s portfolio."

Creative agencies will feel threatened and therefore may be unwilling to cooperate because implementation work has always been highly profitable for them but their involvement is important. One way to overcome this challenge is to ask them for their suggestions on what the best delivery structure should be. This approach provides you with an increased chance of complete buy-in and minimises the risk of resistance. At which point you can begin to turn your attention to stage three.

Define logistical requirements

Immersing yourself in the finer, logistical detail of each region’s marketing communication requirements is the final step before a proposed solution can be introduced. Whether it is above, below, through the line or web promotion, the trans-creation, adaptation and production requirements of items must be recognised. Further exploration of any cross-border issues and transport links will also help to define the most efficient implementation and production set up to ensure communications, collateral and POS reach markets quickly and cost effectively.

The solution

Although the decoupled solution will be bespoke to every business, there are a number of elements which should form the backbone of the organisation’s global marketing communication plan. Firstly, the central creative agency should develop the brand and within that provide a full suite of communications. It is then the responsibility of the implementation agency to take this work and trans-create within any country around the world, whatever the media and manage the whole process quickly and cost effectively. In order to do this, the agency may look to set up ‘hub’ offices where a number of markets will be managed in their local language.

To complement this approach, a number of organisations already working with implementation specialists including Philips, Shell and Xerox, have introduced an online digital asset management system which helps to manage local market needs. Such a system allows local market teams to have immediate and secure, online access to centrally developed creative work where they can view, download and/or order campaign items quickly and efficiently.

Sourcing the ‘best fit’ suppliers

Once you have established what everyone needs across the regions and the teams all have a clear understanding of what they are required to do, sourcing suppliers should follow. Choosing suppliers is no easy task as it is important they are fully aligned with the organisation’s corporate social responsibility statement, production standards and culture. The implementation agency should support the team with these decisions by auditing each supplier and setting up relevant service level agreements.

Launching products to market

The key component of stage six is the creation and introduction of a regional council which includes the marketing directors from each country. The purpose of the regional council will be to ensure the correct brand messages are being conveyed into each of the target markets. Such a council will also help to regulate both the agency’s creative work and the outputs of the implementation specialist.

Ongoing support

Arguably, the most critical part of the decoupling model is stage seven, the continuous monitoring and benchmarking of the SLA’s and objectives. By effectively performing this task, marketing directors become accountable. They are able to demonstrate that the organisation is saving money without affecting brand messages across the different markets, which will be music to the CFO’s ears. In some cases, businesses have been able to display cost savings of at least 35% which CEOs will not want to ignore at a time when the future of many businesses is under close scrutiny.

The continuous marketing of your products and services is crucial to the success of any business. At a time when the media is packed daily with stories of companies in trouble, it’s no surprise that CEOs and CFOs are under immense pressure to find ways of making their budgets work harder. Decoupling provides organisations with the opportunity to maximise the efficiency of their agency relationships and introduce a new breed of implementation specialists which are set to change the way in which international marketing is conducted, forever.