Developing the brand is a board room priority for every car manufacturer. In the headquarters of the global car manufacturers, CMO’s, vice presidents branding and brand strategy executives are all continuously busy with smart and well thought out plans to increase the value of the brand they are responsible for. The Interbrand Global brand top 100 lists 13 car brands among the hundred most recognized brands in the world. To enter such an exclusive list, a consistent brand strategy is a prerequisite. To create consistency in brand messages, a centralized approach is favored by most headquarters. They follow the methods of the brand that has dominated the biggest brands list for decades. Coca-Cola has been long admired for their approach to marketing and did acquire this position with highly centralized marketing and brand programs. Local bottlers, local marketing employees, or even account managers at a local level all used to follow standard marketing protocols in presenting to the brand to the consumer. Major car brands tend to follow these principles.
In many industries and many companies there are lively debates in the marketing department to which degree marketing programs should be centralized, read: be global, or that there should be room for local initiatives. The basic draw of centralization (head quarter makes the decisions) is consistency, scale, cost savings, time savings, efficiencies and leverage. The benefits of decentralization (individual marketing directors make a decision for their country or region) are around tailoring to local cultural insights, sales channels, local competition, local laws and languages. In the automotive industry the biggest brands tend to follow the example of centralizing marketing decisions. To control the brand in the countries, the management in a corporate headquarter has various tools. Examples are budget control, dictating the advertising messages through a creative agency network or setting the media channel choice through the media agency network. The result is consistency. Unfortunately there is not only an upside to a top down approach. For example, the performance of a media agency network is largely assessed by the discounts they are able to bring in when buying the advertising space for the car brand. As in any business deal, larger volume means higher discount. Media agencies therefore advise the country organizations predominantly to choose television as the preferred media channel. Sometimes even when this is not the most effective channel for a certain car campaign. Now you know why you see so many TV ads for cars.
By 1995 online, websites and e-mail entered the mix and by this year consumers are spending more time with digital media than viewing TV, according to eMarketer. Car brands now have a presence in traditional mediums, websites, email and a wide variety of social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest. With social media conversation and interaction with the consumers and the fans of your brand, it is vital to develop and promote brand preference and loyalty. The power of fans promoting a brand is going beyond the means that many car brands have. The classic recipe for a successful campaign (top down development and sending the message through a channel to consumers) just does not work that effective anymore. For some brands, leaving the responsibility to local subsidiaries to maintain and develop digital relationships is perceived as decentralizing the marketing decisions and control.
Compared to other European countries the Netherlands is leading when it comes to applying social media. In the graph below compiled by The British Office for National Statistics and Eurostat and edited by Marketingfacts shows the huge difference in social media adaptation between for instance Italy, France and The United Kingdom and The Netherlands on the other side.
These figures show that applying the same media and creative strategy throughout Europe cannot be the most effective marketing approach. But then what about control? Do brand managers in headquarters need to hand over the careful build up brand equity to their local peers? And just have faith that brand consistency, the efficiency and the striking power of centrally coordinated marketing campaigns will carry on by itself?
The answer is definitely no. Drivers and fans of a car brand do not pay attention to national borders with social media. They don’t think in terms of Opel Benelux vs. Opel Germany. It is more difficult than ever before to target messages per country without taking into account possible reactions in other markets. Inconsistencies in communication, content, tone and message are not only visible, they are also dangerous. The solution to deal with the schism central vs local can be found at the company that was so admired by many (car) companies for its highly centralized marketing campaigns: Coca Cola. The solution they have applied is creating local social media teams that share strong coordination and best practices on a corporate digital platform. With such marketing automation, companies can create a consistent feel across the multiple countries. They will also ensure that the brand experience for the consumer is optimized to the standard which the brand responsible managers at corporate head quarter level desire.