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Why marketers should remap the world according to culture

Jasper Bronner

Research Director



Why marketers should remap the world according to culture

Take a look at a random evening in your everyday life, and it’s clear: whether it’s the soft drink in your hand, the music you listen to on Spotify, or the car you drive home, global brands are all around us. The key challenge for any of these global brands lies in generating strong and effective multicountry campaigns. Unfortunately, I have bad news: they are far from successful in doing this.

The reality is that where effectiveness is concerned, local beats global every time. A recent study by Kantar Millward Brown found that excellent performance by a campaign in its initial market was no a guarantee for that campaign’s success in other markets. In fact, it was four times likelier to perform “below average” (i.e., worse) in these additional markets than it was likely to perform “equally as well.”

This should come as no surprise: Pushing the right cultural buttons is precise work, requiring thorough understanding of a local market and its beliefs. For one of our automotive clients, we found that locally produced content was 50% more “likeable” and delivered 15% more impact on their brand’s key performance indicators. And it’s not just us: across the board, local creative agencies are better able to find that sweet spot where advertising seriously cuts through.

Why this matters is it puts local brands in a big advantage versus global brands, which is one of the reasons why we currently see local brands are flourishing. Indeed, they are growing almost twice as fast as global brands – an average of 6.2% versus 3.4%, according to a recent Kantar Worldpanel study. What’s more, 66% of global brands are actually stagnating or declining. Relevance and authenticity are king in today’s marketing world, and local brands are best in leveraging these factors.

For global brands, the way forward seems clear. A deeper understanding of what drives consumers in local markets is needed to create powerful brand messages. At the same time, however, global brands can’t always spend the time or money drilling down into the dozens of individual markets around the world. This is where cultural analysis comes into play. The importance of understanding cultural differences has long been undervalued in marketing, whereas it already has proven to be very effective in other workfields like HR, change consultancy, and regional management. The foundation for successful cultural (and cross-cultural) analysis been laid by non-marketing experts like behavioral psychologist Geert Hofstede, who was one of the first academics to quantify cultural differences across the world. MediaCom has therefore joined up with Hofstede Insights to build the first cultural dimension model fully focused on marketing and consumer decision making.

To develop this Cultural Connections model, we interviewed 60,000 consumers in 63 countries, which led to nine cultural dimensions that identify cultural differences. (add graphic from supporting slide #4 if there’s room) We found that countries can be oceans apart but have more in common with each other than with their neighbors. Remapping the world according to culture leads to radical new categorizations that allow you to optimize your marketing, content, and branding strategies way more effectively as compared to a strictly geographical approach.

Examples of Cultural insights in practice

Forecasting video engagement scores: We know that emotional triggers can differ strongly from country to country. Content that evokes warmth, humor, or pride India might play very differently in the Netherlands. Given this, Unruly recently joined up with MediaCom to use the Cultural Connections model to predict video engagement scores across markets. A specially developed content optimization algorithm revealed a reliable connection between emotional response and culture; based on that connection, the algorithm could then forecast the emotional responses a given piece of content would evoke across markets. From there, the algorithm was able to optimize programmatic video campaigns to ensure that content only reached the most receptive cultural audiences.

Pretesting in different cultural regions: Another benefit to culture mapping lies in the realm of pretesting content – a practice with benefits we all recognize, but also one that tends to be limited to testing in larger markets. A more optimized approach would involve testing across as many different cultural clusters as possible. For instance, according to Cultural Connections model analysis it turns out that the Netherlands is much more culturally congruent with Scandinavian countries than it is with closer European neighbors like Belgium. By testing to ensure coverage of many different cultural clusters – rather than simply crossing off the biggest few markets in pre-testing – you can significantly grow your chance of building strong multimarket campaigns.

So, what do you need to do differently from tomorrow onwards? Stop thinking in geography, and start thinking in culture!