12.5 Determinants of Global Brand Structure

The kinds of issues a company must resolve as it tries to shape a coherent global branding strategy reflect its globalization history—how it has expanded internationally and how it has organized its international operations. At any given point, the structure of a brand portfolio reflects a company’s past management decisions as well as the competitive realities the brand faces in the marketplace. Some companies, such as P&G and Coca-Cola, expanded primarily by taking domestic “power” brands to international markets. As they seek to expand further, they must decide whether to further extend their power brands or to develop brands geared to specific regional or national preferences and how to integrate the latter into their overall brand strategy. Others, such as Nestlé and Unilever, grew primarily by acquisition. As a consequence, they relied mainly on country-centred strategies, building or acquiring a mix of national and international brands. Such companies must decide how far to move toward greater harmonization of brands across countries and how to do so. This issue is particularly relevant in markets outside the United States, which often are fragmented, have small-scale distribution, and lack the potential or size to warrant the use of heavy mass-media advertising needed to develop strong brands.

Specifically, a company’s international brand structure is shaped by three sets of factors: (a) firm-based characteristics, (b) product-market characteristics, and (c) underlying market dynamics (Douglas et al., 2001).

Firm-Based Characteristics

Firm-based characteristics reflect the full array of past management decisions. First, a company’s administrative heritage—in particular, its organizational structure—defines the template for its brand structure. Second, a firm’s international expansion strategy—acquisition or organic growth—affects how its brand structure evolves over time. What is more, the use of strategic alliances to broaden the geographic scope of the firm’s operations often results in a “melding” of the brand strategies of the partners. Third and fourth, the importance of corporate identity and the diversity of the firm’s product lines and product divisions also determine the range and number of brands.

An appreciation of a company’s administrative heritage is critical to understanding its global brand structure (Bartlett & Ghoshal, 1989). A firm that has historically operated on a highly decentralized basis, in which country managers have substantial autonomy and control over strategy as well as day-to-day operations, is likely to have a substantial number of local brands. In some cases, the same product may be sold under different brand names in different countries. In others, a product may be sold under the same brand name but have a different positioning or formulation in different countries.

Firms with a centralized organizational structure and global product divisions, such as Panasonic or Siemens, are more likely to have global brands. Both adopted a corporate branding strategy that emphasizes quality and reliability. Product lines are typically standardized worldwide, with minor variations in styling and features for local country markets.

Firms that expand internationally by acquiring local companies, even when the primary goal is to gain access to distribution channels, often acquire local brands. If these brands have high local recognition or a strong customer or distributor franchise, the company will normally retain the brand. This is particularly likely if the brand does not occupy a similar positioning to that of another brand currently owned by the firm. Nestlé and Unilever are examples of companies following this type of expansion strategy.

Expansion is often accompanied by diversification. Between 1960 and 1990, Nestlé expanded by acquiring a number of companies in a range of different product-markets, mostly in the food and beverage segment. These acquisitions included well-known global brands such as Perrier and San Pellegrino (mineral water), confectionery companies such as Rowntree and Perugina, pet food companies and brands such as Spillers and Alpo, and grocery companies such as Buitoni, Crosse & Blackwell, and Herta. The resulting proliferation of brands created the need to consolidate and integrate company-branding structures (Douglas et al., 2001).

Firms that have expanded predominantly by extending strong domestic, so-called power brands into international markets primarily use product-level brand strategies. P&G, for instance, has rolled out several of its personal products brands, such as Camay and Pampers, into international markets. This strategy appears most effective when customer interests and desired product attributes are similar worldwide and brand image is an important cue for the consumer.

The relative importance placed by the firm on its corporate identity also influences brand structure. Companies such as General Electric (GE) and Apple place considerable emphasis on corporate identity in the communications strategies. In the case of GE, “Imagination at Work” is associated with a corporate reputation dedicated to turning innovative ideas into leading products and services that help alleviate some of the world’s toughest problems. Equally, Apple uses its apple logo to project the image of a vibrant innovator in the personal computer market. Increasingly, companies use their corporate identity as a means of reassuring customers and distributors that the company is reliable and stands behind its products. As a result, even companies with highly diverse product lines—such as Samsung—rely on the corporate brand name (and its logo) to project an image of reliability.

A fourth determinant of a company’s brand structure is the diversity, or, conversely, the interrelatedness of the product businesses in which the firm is involved. Firms that are involved in closely related product lines or businesses that share a common technology or rely on similar core competencies often emphasize corporate brands. 3M Corporation, for example, is involved in a wide array of product businesses worldwide, ranging from displays and optics to health care products to cleaners to abrasives and adhesives. All rely heavily on engineering skills and have a reputation of being cutting-edge. The use of the 3M brand provides reassurance and reinforces the firm’s reputation for competency and reliable products worldwide.

Product-Market Factors

Three product-market factors play an important role in brand architecture: the nature and scope of the target market, the product’s cultural associations, and the competitive market structure (Douglas et al., 2001).

When companies target a global market segment with relatively homogeneous needs and preferences worldwide, global brands provide an effective means of establishing a distinctive global identity. Luxury brands such as Godiva, Moet and Chandon, and Louis Vuitton, as well as brands such as deBeers, Benetton, and L’Oreal are all targeted to the same market segment worldwide and benefit from the cachet provided by their appeal to a global consumer group. Sometimes it is more effective to segment international markets by region and target regional segments with similar interests and purchase behaviour, such as Euro-consumers. This provides cost efficiencies when such segments are readily accessible through targeted regional media and distribution channels.

A critical factor influencing brand structure is the extent to which the product is associated with a particular culture, that is, the extent to which there are strong and deeply ingrained local preferences for specific products or product variants (think of beer) or the products are an integral part of a culture (think of bratwurst, soccer teams). The stronger the cultural association, the less likely it is that global product brands will thrive; instead, local branding may be called for.

A third product-market driver of a company’s brand structure is the product’s competitive market structure, defined as the relative strength of local (national) versus global competitors in a given product market. If markets are fully integrated and the same competitors compete in these markets worldwide, as in aerospace, the use of global brands helps provide competitive differentiation on a global basis. If strong local, national, or regional competitors, as well as global competitors, are present in a given national or regional market, the use of a multitier branding structure, including global corporate or product brands as well as local brands, is desirable. Coca-Cola, for example, beyond promoting its power brands, has introduced several local and regional brands that cater to specific market tastes around the world.Whether you prefer obscure imports or something mainstream, most beer brands like to invoke their country of origin. Guinness comes from Ireland, Corona is Mexican, Heineken and Amstel are Dutch, and Budweiser is a truly American brand.The use of “country of origin effects” is an essential part of beer branding. Using the country of origin as part of the brand equity is free, so companies can avoid having to build an image from scratch over decades. For a long time, Foster’s used a kangaroo in its advertisements, while Lapin Kulta, from Lapland in Finland, relies heavily on its unusual provenance in its marketing. Images of Finland’s stark landscapes adorn communications material and bottle labels.

Market Dynamics

Finally, while the firm’s history and the product markets in which it operates shape its brand structure, market dynamics—including ongoing political and economic integration, the emergence of a global market infrastructure, and consumer mobility—shape and continually change the context in which this evolves (Douglas et al., 2001).

Increasing political and economic integration in many parts of the world has been a key factor behind the growth of international branding. As governments remove tariff and nontariff barriers to business transactions and trade with other countries, and as people and information move easily across borders, the business climate has become more favourable to the marketing of international brands. Firms are less frequently required to modify products to meet local requirements or to develop specific variants for local markets and increasingly can market standardized products with the same brand name in multiple country markets. In many cases, harmonization of product regulation across borders has further facilitated this trend.

The growth of a global market infrastructure is also a major catalyst to the spread of international brands. Global and regional media provide economical and effective vehicles for advertising international brands. At the same time, global media help lay the groundwork for consumer acceptance of, and interest in, international brands by developing awareness of these brands and the lifestyles with which they are associated in other countries. In many cases, this stimulates a desire for the brands that consumers perceive as symbolic of a coveted lifestyle.

The globalization of retailing has further facilitated and stimulated the development of international manufacturer brands. As retailers move across borders, they provide an effective channel for international brands and, at the same time, increase their power. This forces manufacturers to develop strong brands with an international appeal so that they can negotiate their shelf position more effectively and ensure placement of new products.

A final factor shaping the context for international branding is increased consumer mobility. While global media provide passive exposure to brands, increasing international travel and movement of customers across national boundaries provides active exposure to brands in different countries. Awareness of the availability and high visibility of an international brand in multiple countries enhances its value to consumers and provides reassurance of its strength and reliability. Increased exposure to, and familiarity with, new and diverse products and the lifestyles and cultures in which they are embedded also generate greater receptivity to products of foreign origin or those perceived as international rather than domestic. All these factors help create a climate more favourable to international brands.

Core Principles of International Marketing – Chapter 9.4 by Babu John Mariadoss is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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