Big data when coupled with local insights has been informing a unique form of constant learning like never before, advising decision-makers, on consumer habits and behavioural trends along the way.
But can this technology alone stand to bridge a cultural gap that often many large international businesses struggle to get right?
When breaking new ground in unexplored territories, the human element — often gained from interacting with those with long-term ties to your new market — will remain integral to business success. This is despite tech advancements that inform demographic trends and help fine-tune sales and marketing campaigns.
Popular brands were once exempt from having to cater to local trends due to their deified status as they were available only in select markets. But globalisation has changed everything.
In a crowded marketplace, an added layer of local understanding, a level of personalisation and the ability to appeal to cultural sensitivities will be the go-to approach for success and will distinguish between those who often otherwise are selling the same product.
As an example, brands are finally responding to the needs of Islamic fashion, a vastly untapped market.
Some brands that are truly global and yet want to be locally relevant are using hybrid, tiered models of decision-making to offer a well-rounded value proposition for their customers. This model accounts for global, national and local factors.
Customers in these situations benefit from the financial might that global firms have that is often invested into research and innovation. It also helps with affordability and a solid customer care network, especially when established on a national level.
The local granular aspects are often the ones hardest to address and to maintain.
Despite consumers being exposed to brands and cultures across geographies, and therefore expecting the same brand experiences, marketing strategies have to have subtle nuances that account for varying tastes, government regulations, business practices and cultural norms.
Aligning with these preferences shouldn’t be seen as a burden by management teams, but should be seen as a gateway to greater opportunities and one that strengthens their competitive advantage.
How local you are often decides how effective your use of information technology is, the strength of your financial infrastructure and how far product innovation can go.
Decentralisation is therefore necessary, with a team working on the ground boosting knowledge gathering and feeding vital know-how back to central management.
Such “localism” not only boosts brand recall, logistics, stock management and emotion-based customer relationships, but also gives your local investors assurance that you are real and very much committed to the market as a long-term agenda.
Knowing what your customers want in that market will keep them happy. At the same time it helps inform manufacturing decisions and assisting with profits gained from economies of scale.
Big data will remain a mountain of data if we don’t use local knowledge to interpret it. Only localisation can explain the question as to why a particular consumer could have behaved a certain way or looks for an item on your shelves or online platforms.
What you say and what is being said is also just as important when it comes to building local resonance. It must cater not just to language and culture, but manners, religious sensitivities, ideologies and idiosyncrasy.
Speaking their true language will set you apart from today’s frenzied enthusiasm to push out as much content as possible in the form of online marketing and social media. Speak to consumers in their local language and talk about themes and needs that are theirs.
Equally, they will talk well about you and amplify your message. And probably also be just as forgiving if you do have any pitfalls.
The writer is Deputy Chairman and CEO, Gulf Marketing Group.