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The more time we spend mired in the details of marketing campaign planning, the more prone we become to a good-old case of tunnel vision. Gaining feedback from someone who maintains the view of the forest while we manage the trees can provide balance, increase effectiveness and generally reduce the potential for costly blunders.

Collaboration among peers and colleagues is a natural part of doing business. When managed effectively, it is a process that can turn good ideas into great campaigns and deliver stellar results.

For many, looking to an immediate boss to give the final OK or to provide insights and objectivity to campaign plans becomes an important step in campaign execution, particularly when there is a significant investment involved.

But what do you do when your immediate boss does not provide feedback? How can you be sure that your decisions are sound, and you can take confident action without jeopardizing your company's investment or your boss's trust? This issue's dilemma asks: How do you back up your plan and cover your back?

Already have your back well covered? Let us know what keeps you up at night. What dilemma do you take with you when you leave the office? Your peers would love to help. Write to us and ask our SWOT Team about your dilemma. Tap into the collective strength, wisdom and experience of this group. It works, and you could win a free copy of our book, A Marketer's Guide to e-Newsletter Publishing.

Revisit our previous dilemma—read below for your peers' best advice on localizing a global brand.

Unite and make a difference!

• Give advice about this issue's dilemma.

• Read your peers' responses to the previous dilemma (below).

• Submit your own dilemma.

This Issue's Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

How do I back up my plan and cover my back?

My boss is the CEO, who never gives feedback. Even though my marketing decisions are based on solid research, it still feels like I'm executing on a wing and a prayer and don't really know what my boss considers a successful marketing campaign. What steps and checklists can I use to back up my planning decisions and cover my back?

—Anonymous, VP of Marketing

Previous Dilemma

SWOT Category: Internal Weakness

Is brand localization necessary to be successful in foreign markets?

I work in marketing communications for a small IT company in Japan. We import IT management software from our parent company in the US for resale to local Japanese customers. These days, the gap between our US board members and the local staff in Japan seems to be widening. There is a lack of understanding about the local conditions in the Japanese market.

Our parent company has become very accustomed to the brand recognition that they hold in the US. (They have received many awards and been chosen as one of the most powerful companies in the industry). Unfortunately, they do not hold the same visibility in Japan.

We have been asked to use the same brand collateral as our US parent company (which consists of only the company name and some images). They have not done any localization and stress the importance of “sharing resources,” and “carrying one brand image.” To be honest, I feel this “branding ad” will only work in a market where the brand is well known, but will do poorly in countries like Japan, where the company has very little market penetration. I suspect that other readers in different areas of the world have experienced this. Do your readers have any idea how to measure/compare the effectiveness of a “branding ad” between two different regions, using different marketing vehicles? Is there a way that we can test/prove that market results will improve with a localized brand campaign?

—Anonymous, Marcom and PR Manager

Summary of Advice Received

Anonymous, no matter where in the world we do business, building visibility for products and services in a new market requires careful planning and a great deal of testing. The truth is we often cannot know what works until we've tried something.

SWOT Team members made the best of this dilemma by looking beyond branding as the single source of your marketing pain. They have offered their best suggestions for managing the current situation to generate positive results. Here's what your peers had to say:

  1. Be sure that you have properly identified the problem.

  2. Ensure that your sales team understands the product's value.

  3. Consider specific cultural differences in brand triggers.

  4. Test your branding position.

  5. Accentuate your American connection.

1. Be sure that you have properly identified the problem

Your issue of localization seems a straightforward question of branding. But as we're reminded every day in marketing, challenges big or small are rarely the result of a single issue.

Steven Graff, a senior consultant with Foreign Thought, provides insight into several factors that can affect the success of your products in the market:

Be sure you have properly identified the problem. I, too, am a foreign marketing professional in Japan and have spent the last three years working at tech companies in Tokyo. Be very sure that it is a messaging problem, and not just a clash of cultures or an under-educated sales force looking for an excuse for poor performance. Nine years in Japan has shown me that the favorite whipping boy of local managers is foreign process. When their first attempts to apply old techniques to new problems leads to dismal results, they seem to achieve a nearly Zen like peace by repeating the mantra “that is not the way it is done here” and “you don't understand our market.”

2. Ensure that your sales team understands the product's value

Your local sales team has the benefit of being “on the ground” and can initiate personal contact with your customers and prospects. Ensure that they have a full and complete understanding of how the product line delivers value and meets the needs of your market.

Steven Graff also explains how critical it is for your sales team to fully understand your product's value:

Ensure that your sales team in Japan understands the product thoroughly and the problems it solves for the local market. The type of consultative selling prowess your board in the US likely expects the sales team to have in Japan is not a given. I often run into IT sales people in Japan who think the key to sales is a VERY long PowerPoint proposal describing implementation and process with a little customer-specific tweaking of the product and pricing. They are often so busy making the presentation that they do not ask, nor have any idea of, what problems the prospect is facing, and how their product might solve them.

3. Consider specific cultural differences in brand triggers

The challenges of localizing a brand to bridge regional and cultural differences are very real. Pay special attention to the issue of packaging to make sure your solution fits the expectations of the market. One SWOT Team member suggests this:

At times, the same emotional triggers used to build a brand in the US work against the company outside of the US. If you have not read, The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why, by Richard Nisbett, get a copy of it. Despite the dicey title in these politically correct times, the book is very enlightening, both for working day-to-day in mixed cultural environments as well as for gaining insight into how marketing and messaging might be shaped differently in Japan.

Pay particular attention to the concepts related to holistic systems, which is directly applicable in IT sales. US technology companies tend to break things down into components and modules, whereas Japanese offerings are generally complete systems. Even at the consumer level, the “component” stereo systems are more often single units with seams that make them look like a loose component system. There are probably about a half-dozen examples you can pull from the book and put to your board to point out how a slavish obedience to consistency of message could very well be off, and actually obstructing market success. At the very least, it will open the door to testing.

4. Test your branding position

One factor that remains the same no matter where in the world you do business is the need for testing. The following SWOT Team advice is the key to raising your branding position:

In reading your query, I wondered if the real question you wanted to answer was “should we be doing branding ads?” Since every touch point, including advertising, ultimately has a branding component, I think the hypothesis you should test are:

  1. Is this brand position right for Japa; and if so,
  2. Are we using the appropriate triggers to establish this positioning in Japan?

Being a relatively unknown brand in your market, while painful from a sales point of view, does present opportunities to test positioning, as the canvas is basically blank. Much of this can be accomplished using traditional techniques such as focus groups and copy testing—something your ad agency should be able to do for you if they are not already. Also, given that your target market will likely possess a higher level of technology awareness, there may be opportunities for rapid online testing and questionnaires.

5. Accentuate your American connection

Finally, if you are unable to sway the plans of your US board, look to the positive differentiators of your product and accentuate your American relationship.

GHK Green Krejci Pty. Ltd Business Manager Daniel Manu offers this reminder that even when the challenges seem insurmountable, you may be able to turn the situation around:

From my experience in Japan, it is a very hard market to penetrate, due to the maturity of the technology market. There are also quite a large number of Japanese computer and software firms that are firmly entrenched in the marketplace. In my opinion, Japanese buyers are very loyal to Japanese companies.

The one advantage you may have is that Japanese people look up to American culture, values and technology. You may be able to use this as leverage to emphasize the American nature of the product. I would look for and promote the differences of your products and emphasize the perception of apparent American superiority (i.e., the awards and recognition your company has received). 

Way to localize this dilemma, SWOT Team—thanks again!

We did our best to provide a thorough overview of your responses to this timely topic. All of the advice we received was insightful. Thanks for your participation. We appreciate it!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hank Stroll (Hank@InternetVIZ.com) is publisher at InternetVIZ, a custom publisher of 24 B2B e-newsletters reaching 490,000 business executives.

Yvonne is a “customer engagement coach” and President of EVE Consulting, helping companies achieve sustainable market leadership through the power of customer engagement.