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7.3 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-centered 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[1]

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. [2] 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. [3]

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.

Minicase: Pharmaceutical Companies Try Global Branding

In Paris, stomach ulcers are treated with Mopral; in Chicago, it is called Prilosec. These two products are, in fact, exactly the same drug. Prilosec is the U.S. brand of AstraZeneca’s omeprazole; Mopral is its French counterpart. Unlike manufacturers of consumer goods, the pharmaceutical industry traditionally has been wary of creating big, international brands. But that is about to change. Take a look at pharmacists’ shelves. Viagra is there. So are Celebrex for arthritis pain, the antidiabetic agent Avandia, and the anticoagulant Plavix.

It is perhaps surprising that companies did not consider global branding sooner because a drug works for everybody in the same way in every country. While the industry has become global from a technological and geopolitical perspective, few companies have mastered globally integrated marketing practices. But change is coming—and fast. As more people travel internationally and the Internet makes information—including drug advice—readily available for doctors and patients, companies want to avoid any brand inconsistencies while maximizing exposure. Another globalizing force is growing standardization of the regulatory environment. With the establishment of the European Medical Evaluations Agency, for example, which approves drugs for all the members of the European Union, the borders are coming down. Japan has also adapted its approval system to facilitate the entry of Western products.

And then there is direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. While doctors and health care professionals remained the targets for pharmaceutical marketing, consumer-style branding was unnecessary. But companies are preparing for the spread of DTC beyond the shores of the United States. The introduction of global branding anticipates the transition to a more consumer-driven market.

Pressure to cut or contain costs is perhaps the most powerful driver behind the industry’s move to global branding. Mega mergers were a way to contain the costs of research and development and find pipeline products, yet the big companies still need about five new blockbuster products each year to return the promised growth. Global branding promises reduced marketing costs and much faster and higher product rollout.

Local market conditions, such as reimbursement policies, however, may still override the benefits of global strategies and therefore inhibit the globalization of brands. Local flexibility will be key to success. Significant cost savings may therefore be slow in coming. Even with a centralized, global brand, most companies will still likely use local agencies for their marketing campaigns.

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