March 17, 2021
Consider a French company spending $50 million on marketing to compete effectively back home. When heading to the United States, the company is told it will need $450 million just to make an impact. Sticker shock causes the company to retreat to conventional ways and apply French marketing tactics on U.S. soil.
But $50 million here isn’t going to be meaningful at all.
It gets worse for the French company when factoring in U.S. marketing’s scale, complexity, velocity and dynamism. American marketing is unlike anywhere else in the world. The United States is the outright leader in digital marketing, social media marketing and data analytics marketing. It has fueled incredible marketing innovation and an explosion of martech vendors.
“The French company is like a deer caught in headlights,” says an American marketing executive who works for a French company, speaking on condition of anonymity. “How do you jump in when price tags are that big, the number of players so diverse, and a marketing landscape changing so often?”
Wide-eyed foreign multinationals venturing to America must feel like they’ve fallen down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole, where mad-hatter marketers launch multi-million-dollar campaigns seemingly on a whim and brazenly shout over each other to grab the customer’s attention. It’s a frenetic spectacle bordering on the surreal.
This assault on overseas sensibilities can be deafening, blinding and, at times, paralyzing. Too often foreign multinationals respond by hamstringing their U.S. marketers, either through inadequate marketing budgets or nationalistic marketing decisions, thus making their marketers second-class citizens unable to contend in an ultra-competitive environment.
Do You Understand Branding?
Nowhere is this more apparent than in branding. In American marketing, branding plays a crucial role especially for companies looking to land multi-million-dollar deals. Consider the huge amount of marketing dollars spent on co-advertising blockbuster Hollywood movies or a single Super Bowl television spot. (In fact, premier sports sponsorships are a bellwether of big brands’ appetitive for marketing. More on this in an upcoming post.)
Many foreign multinationals simply don’t grasp branding — at least not the American way. They vastly underestimate its importance, says Larry Gordon, CEO and co-founder of xOPs, an IT services firm. The problem is that measuring brand value in financial terms isn’t easy, yet foreign multinationals are asked to throw millions of dollars at it.
“You need a CEO who gets it,” Gordon says.
At least one Indian IT services company didn’t get it, multiple sources say. Instead of being a world-class marketer, such as France-based Cap Gemini and U.S.-based Accenture, the Indian company decided to pour practically its entire marketing budget into courting one of the big analyst firms.
The idea was to have the big analyst firm do all the marketing for the company. If the analyst firm ranked the IT services company in a leadership position in its category, the thinking goes, then measurable multi-million-dollar deals will surely follow.
The Indian company’s desire was so great that marketing messages tailored to the analyst firm sometimes stretched the truth. In the end, the brand suffered. Companies don’t spend millions of dollars for IT services solely on the word of an analyst firm. Especially in B2B investments, the long game of reputation branding matters far more than lead-gen gimmicks.
“Don’t try to do U.S. marketing exclusively from India,” Gordon says. “It can’t be about, where are my leads? Where’s my billion-dollar customer? How is it going to help me tomorrow?”
Missing the Moment
Not everyone is put off by an outsized U.S. marketing budget. Another anonymous global marketing executive who worked for a Japanese company trying to enter the U.S. market told me that marketing dollars were never a problem.
“The Japanese company always had gobs of money to spend,” the marketer says.
The real problem was Japan’s compartmentalized culture that made consensus-building difficult and time-consuming. In some cases, the marketer says, it would take nearly a year to make a marketing decision, whereas a U.S.- based company would have taken six to eight weeks.
American marketing is a fast-paced endeavor with fleeting windows of opportunity to make an impact. The window is even smaller given digitization, personalization and mobile devices. Japanese companies, though, spend huge amounts of effort going through planning cycles. That’s why many Japanese companies miss their marketing moment, the marketer says.
Another hurdle foreign multinationals face is overcoming nationalism — that is, assuming that what appeals to people in their countries will also appeal to Americans.
The marketer recalls the Japanese company coming up with a logo for marketing in the United States. The logo looked similar to the Imperial Japanese Army’s rising sun flag, something you’d see on a WW2 warplane. In another case, the Japanese company developed a creative asset of a Japanese girl holding a doll and dreaming about the future.
“That really doesn’t appeal to a hard-boiled American business executive,” the marketer says. “You still see a lot of nationalistic attitudes where, for example, the Japanese think the snow in Japan is somehow different which is why they can’t buy American skis.”
The anonymous marketing executive working for a French company has also seen nationalistic thinking hamper marketing efforts.
When the French company wanted to associate its brand with household name brands in France for a promotional program in the United States, the executive pushed back. Those brands aren’t known to most Americans, the executive said, and may even suppress demand for the company’s products.
The French company responded with an abrupt and aggressive email: “You’re suffering from a new customer perspective, so explain your rationale.”
With aplomb, the executive explained his business rationale in great detail. He also backed up his position with data. It’s a tactic American marketers working for foreign multinationals should apply regularly. U.S. marketing leads the world in gathering data, applying analytics, testing outcomes — and data is hard to argue against.
“I didn’t hear a peep back from them,” the anonymous marketer says. “It goes back to advice the global head of marketing gave me: ‘If you do everything I ask, it’ll be wrong for your market and you will fail. If you don’t do anything I ask, you will fail. The reason we’re paying you is to figure out when to say yes, when to say no.’”
Coming soon to the CMO Council Blog: An anonymous marketing leader who worked for an Asian electronics company tells a tale of culture shock. “Don’t underestimate how company and country culture can overshadow everything else,” the marketer says.
Tom Kaneshige is the Chief Content Officer at the CMO Council. He creates all forms of digital thought leadership content that helps growth and revenue officers, line of business leaders, and chief marketers succeed in their rapidly evolving roles. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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