How Do You Localize A Global Brand Strategy?

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Marketers must balance global and local needs in their campaigns. How do they pull it off?

Isn’t it marvellous how richly diverse the world is? Every adage about travelling rings true when you cross borders and experience it first-hand. I mean, who hasn’t quaffed Sangria on a beach and waxed lyrical about the world’s wonders?

Of course, context is everything. When you are tasked with the tall order of devising a brand strategy that both aligns with your company’s global message and is attuned to individual markets —  differences between countries can be head-ache inducing. 

These differences are marked when it comes to healthcare systems, which are a product of a country’s unique social, political and economic makeup. Marketing teams at pharma companies are acutely aware of this fact.

How do marketers navigate these tensions and how distinct are the differences from market to market? This is a perennial challenge, says Tina Goyal, Global Head of Market Development, Novartis. “I have been in this industry now almost 25 years and I have never seen a company maintain a profound level of centralization.”

She adds, “I am sure we would love to have the level of brand imagery and global campaigns of a Coca-Cola-style consumer brand. This is what we aim for as global marketeers.”

However, the differences between territories aren’t as drastic as they may seem. “There is an 80-20 rule whereby we keep 80% of our core campaign, commercial and content strategies similar, and we leave 20% to be tailored by local regulatory requirements. That tends to work in the majority of cases, especially where there is good governance framework around deployment at a local level.”

While sharing this view, Nathan Bowmaker, Head of Global Commercial Operations at AstraZeneca, believes there is a lot of “effort redundancy and duplication” in individual markets.

Bowmaker and his team conducted a study looking at 93,000 pages of marketing collateral for several AstraZeneca core brands from around the globe. “The results were fundamental – we were all trying to say the same thing or very similar things.”

Bowmaker and his team used these insights to group AstraZeneca content into common areas of activity such as clinical unmet need, patient profiles, efficacy, safety, trial design, tolerability, and mechanism of action (MOA). They found striking similarities in 8 out of 10 core areas but more discernible differences in areas such as patient profiles and unmet need.

“We had to bust this myth that everybody was different – they are not. There are differences, you have to acknowledge those, but at its core there is a lot of commonality,” he says.

His conclusion is not to “centralize and push it out”, however, as that would be non-compliant. There is a very clear need to adapt the content and carry out a medical, legal and regulatory review in the local marketing company, says Bowmaker. Once it gets approved globally, it will go through a rigorous review at a local level to ensure it is consistent and appropriate for the individual market, which we also support through local adaptation or production services, he adds.

Ironing out the inefficiencies

Bowmaker’s team created ‘Content Centre’ – a mechanism to avoid the needless repetition of content across markets and to facilitate greater communication between global and local teams.

“It is a digital asset management system. This is about the infrastructure, the nuts and bolts, how do you bring a piece of analysis to life? What's missing? We identified that people are prepared to reuse and work on content if they got it in a timely fashion and it is easy to consume and broken out in such a way that they could tailor it to the local situation.”

Once the global team started to input ‘core’ global content into the content center for markets to reuse, local uptake was hugely successful. Nearly 70 countries now get this content out daily and there is a huge interaction with new content as it is pushed out for new brands, says Bowmaker. 

Tip of the iceberg

Yet, despite the uptake of global content by local markets, a predicament persisted – the demand for localized content.

“As we think about multichannel and local campaigns, how far do global teams go?,” asks Bowmaker. “Do they want us to provide all the resources or just a core part of the campaign for them [local teams] to look at?”

Realizing that more needed to be done, the AZ team came up with the concept of a campaign or content pack.

“A suite of multichannel assets, this was everything a local marketeer would need to adopt and run the campaign in their market. Everything from rep-triggered emails, banner ads and interactive details, across all the channels.”

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For Goyal, digital continues to move the needle for marketers in two fundamental ways.

The first is that it helps align the development and the commercialization functionalities of an organization — which tends to run in silos in many pharma companies — via a central pillar of digital data points and content.

The second point is that it helps to align global and local faster, “which is the core sea change for us,” she says. The availability of real time data does help us speed up and streamline the process of creating a global commercial strategy, which resonates in G11 markets and beyond.

“In the traditional pharma brand commercialization process, we would create a global strategy (in collaboration with key G11 markets), 18-12 months out from launch, we would run pre-launch workshops with local markets, review launch plans and prep for launch.

Now, with the data points we can garner from digital channels, we have the ability to be much more consumer-centric and get real-time feedback on how a physician is responding to a specific brand campaign – this means we course correct/optimize rapidly, which represents a significant departure from the traditional process where we have been reliant on lag indicators, says Goyal, who predicts it will open the door to greater centralization and deployment of content.

“The continuum of global to local will take us more towards the consumer marketing, especially as we understand more about the demographics of our audience in real time.

“It is going to take us from a place where we have to wait for the lag indicators in order to make those decisions – and then re-engage and realign with local marketing teams – to an immediacy of information that will allow us to change the way we approach our business more quickly. That takes away some of the barriers we face at local level.”

The data will also give global teams the evidence to get local teams on board with centrally led decisions, she adds.  “Now, we have the opportunity to not just locally course-correct but also globally course-correct. We can look for more similarities and make it more appealing to more markets.”

Virtuous circle

The global-to-local challenge is a constant game of trial and error. It is a journey, says Bowmaker. “Every stage is like: 'Okay how can we move this forward and how can we improve this? We are learning all the time; it is about learning how to be effective. From an industry perspective you can't keep operating the same way — there must be no sacred cows.”

Goyal agrees with the need to constantly refine and re-evaluate what is working and what is not. With a bit of tailoring, best practices in one market can be exported to another, she says.

This ongoing evolution affords marketers the opportunity to future-gaze and anticipate the next big trend in one market based on their experience in another — a lesson they would be wise to heed, says Goyal.

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