• Fri. Jul 19th, 2024

Marketing And Communicating To The Global Majority.

“Any fool can make soap. It takes a clever man to sell it.” said Thomas J. Barratt, the world’s first brand manager. Barratt famously used John Everett Millais’s painting of a young boy blowing bubbles to sell Pears soap. The British Empire’s extraction of palm oil and coconut oil from African land made soap cheaper and more accessible to the unwashed masses.

Soap production in England was 28,536 tonnes in 1810. But by 1880, a single East London factory could produce 203,000 tonnes of soap per week. Advertising was born from rapid industrialization, European colonialism and mass production.

The legacy of 20th-century marketing practices still reverberates around the world. Culture is shaped by words, images and signs transmitted from London, Paris and New York. Marketing penetrates our collective psyche. It can create norms, change minds and generate demand. But it can also promote human rights, sustainable development and collective action. Like a pen, it can be wielded to spread love or hate. Marketing is value-neutral.

Until recently, most multinational corporations were headquartered in the USA and Western Europe. Except for Japan, the Western world dominated business. Economic advantage was underpinned by political influence and military power. Business and marketing became the pursuit of educated men—for the most part—in metropolitan cities. The audience was less homogeneous, but still, mainly wealthy or middle-class households with disposable income. In 1913, the British Empire represented a quarter of the world’s GDP and by the 1960s, the U.S. accounted for 40% of global GDP. Since consumer markets were concentrated in the West, business priorities, marketing communication and media spending were allocated accordingly. Emerging markets were an afterthought.

The global economy looks different today, but business outlooks remain unchanged. Even in the 21st century, emerging markets—except for luxury brands courting new money in China and the Middle East—are grossly overlooked and underserved. Global brands risk fading into obscurity if unable to understand and communicate with the global majority.

For the first time in 400 years, Western dominance is in question. Unilateralism has given way to a more fragmented world with opposing worldviews. There are more countries, cultures and voices involved in the mix. Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population on the planet. By 2050, one in four people on the planet will be African. The average age in Africa is 19 years, compared to 38 years in America, 44 years in Europe and 49 years in Japan.

The majority of Gen-Z and those that follow (41% of the world’s population) live in developing countries. Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Indonesia have the biggest Gen-Z population. At the same time, the BRICS economies are projected to contribute over 50% of global GDP by 2030. In general, economic power is shifting toward the East and the South.

Business leaders can’t afford to view the world through a Western gaze. Most developed economies are saturated, offering diminishing returns. In contrast, developing countries represent exciting but untested business opportunities. Fresh markets demand new ideas, unlearning old ways and capacity building. Launching a poorly dubbed global campaign could be viewed as at best lazy and at worst, offensive. There’s a long and growing list of how not to communicate with the global majority.

Examples include Dolce & Gabbana’s racist advert depicting a Chinese woman struggling to eat a pizza with chopsticks. Coor’s “Turn it Loose” campaign which was interpreted in Spanish-speaking countries as endorsing diarrhoea. And Swedish vacuum company Electrolux’s English tagline “Nothing sucks like an Electrolux”. Beyond product adaptation, companies need to remember that 94% of the world doesn’t speak English as their first language. This can be hard to believe for marketers, operating at global HQ. But in the words of John le Carre: “A desk is a dangerous place from which to watch the world.”

There are examples of global companies understanding and celebrating local cultures. McDonald’s offers regionalised versions of its menus. Filipinos can enjoy McSpaghetti, Indians can tuck into the Maharaja Mac—50% of the menu in India is vegetarian—and Canadians can appreciate poutine with rich gravy sauce. Hindustan Unilever found an innovative way to penetrate rural India by training women to sell Unilever products in low-income rural communities. Project Shakhti has empowered more than 160,000 women to become micro-entrepreneurs. Consequently, Unilever products are now available in 175,000 villages in India. Chinese tech giant Huawei focused on high-quality hardware with lower prices than competitors—meeting the needs of consumers in emerging markets, seeking an affordable smartphone. The company was on course to compete with Apple and Samsung before being chased out of Europe and banned by the US government because of security concerns.

Globalization promised the create a universal consumer: homogenous in taste, experience and identity. Making life easy for multinational corporations and marketing departments. But the opposite has transpired. Local preferences influence global tastes and regional problems can explode into a global crisis. Balancing global goals with local needs is hard work. How far should companies go in embracing local cultures? After all, more markets require bigger marketing budgets. The answer depends on your category, internal resources and market prioritization. Naturally, some categories need more cultural orientation than others. Food and drinks might need more localization than electric cars. A good question to help you plan would be: how culture-dependent is my product and proposition?

Marketing should be a dance between global consistency and cultural relevance. Global headquarters should determine the overall vision and strategy—with input from local teams—and create frameworks that can be adapted to local needs. In reality, global teams view local teams as provincial and difficult to work with. Local marketers believe global teams have no grounding in the country or culture. Comparisons could be made between making battle plans on Call of Duty and being on the frontlines of war.

Of course, you need a global lens to ensure cohesion across markets. But global teams should play the role of an orchestra conductor, not the lead singer of the band. The whole should be greater than the sum of its parts. The company vision is only possible if every country can share their unique insights, ideas and challenges. An interesting way to look at the relationship is by using an analogy of rice and spice. The rice (global) should be consistent across all countries. The spice (local) can differ based on cultural preference. Some cultures prefer sweet, others savoury or spicy rice.

Pop music can be a powerful symbol of soft power and cultural influence. English music has lost its monopoly on pop music. This year, 36 non-English records landed in the Billboard Top 10. According to Spotify data, more people are listening to music in their native language. K-pop has taken the world by storm. It has become an undeniable cultural phenomenon, transcending music. In 2019, BTS became the first group since The Beatles to earn three No. 1 albums on the Billboard 200 Chart in less than a year. Music is often the gateway for cultural exchange.

Similar trends can be seen with Reggaeton, you can now hear Bad Bunny, Peso Pluma and Karol G on repeat in English-speaking countries. Likewise, Afrobeats has grown by 550% on Spotify since 2017 and 50% of streams come from 18–24-year-olds. The future of the music seems to be local with a global fanbase. In the same way, Western music influenced the rest of the world. Global majority tastes are influencing the Western world.

Access and exposure to different cultures, customs and experiences don’t even require travelling anymore. Young people in the West can explore the delicacies of Kyrgyzstan, Mongolian heavy metal music and corporate life in Japan in the space of 60 seconds via TikTok. The desire for cultural representation is unprecedented. Equally, the promotion of a singular worldview is inexcusable. Furthermore, any indication of cultural appropriation can cause long-term reputational damage.

Europe and America are no longer the centre of gravity. Companies will need to build up cultural fluency through education, exploration and appreciation of different cultures in non-extractive ways. New roads can’t be reached with old maps. Brands require fresh approaches, tools and partners to communicate with the global majority. This is not about the growing influence of the rest of the world, but a new world built for the global majority. Perhaps the next article about the future of marketing will be written in Farsi, Vietnamese or Nigerian Pidgin.

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