This post offers insights to marketers managing international subsidiaries and that work in an international or global marketing role at a company’s Home Office. The post also offers perspectives to new-to-international professionals struggling to prioritize management of dozens of products across as many countries. At a certain level, and if hiring was done well, all staff at Home Office and in subsidiaries abroad have the requisite hard business skills to succeed on an international marketing team. As such, I’ve focused on softer skills learned over time that prioritize the building of relationships and trust to deliver strong international performance for the long term.
Listen First, Be Curious
All businesses that flourish listen to their customers. Products and services are developed to meet customer needs. The same should be applied to international marketing teams: Listen to your top markets. What trends are building abroad? What US product or campaign failed internationally? Be curious, ask and understand why. Leverage these international and unique insights to better manage your business and service markets. Explain international performance and strategy choices to all stakeholders at Home Office. Your executive team’s questions about “why” will be explained more easily as you will have the local market context to support your narrative.
< hu·mil·i·ty. Noun. A modest view of one’s own importance. > You are probably a marketing rock star. Perhaps, in the US market. Again, if international hiring was done properly, your territory marketing team is the local expert. They will know best about their own country’s terms of trade, optimal media-mix, creative executions that will work, and other specific items. They are pros and should be treated accordingly. Trust them, unless and until indicated otherwise. Home Office staff is there to support their needs in order to hit company financial targets. Micromanaging, or worse, having your entire staff micromanage all territories is a waste of company resources on a global scale. Hire well, and strive to exercise humility when these teams have a different business or marketing approach than you’d expect.
Experience Does Matter
“Can’t International just use the same TV spot that the US is using?” “I have to manage 40 markets, how can I do that?” “What is the language they speak in Benelux?” “And, what is up with Japan?” These are typical and unfamiliar challenges to those new to international responsibilities. They need guidance: Give it to them with an experienced leader. If not, there is two-fold risk: 1) they may come to resent their international role, leading to decreased motivation and reduced communication with territories, and 2) the markets will come to ignore directions from Home Office as the time spent with staffers will not add value and be considered a waste of time (and they’ll largely be right).
Prioritization and Pareto
Survival in a busy international division requires prioritization. Consider Pareto’s 80/20 Rule and filter your inbox accordingly. 80% of your profit will probably come from about 20% of your territories. UK, France, Germany, Australia and Japan are the usual suspects but of course, will depend on your industry. Learn what works in these markets, anticipate their needs and give them key assets as early as possible. In a product launch, these needs might include pre-order assets allowing for account exclusives, unique TV spot lengths and an array of brand approved best practices that have proven effective in the US and other markets. For more strategic projects, also consider working with Business Decision Support teams at Home Office to help solve challenging pricing or go/no-go decisions for international teams. Every market matters, but some matter more than others.
Big Ideas Can Come From Anywhere
In a busy international department it is easy to overlook ideas from around the globe. Let’s be honest that all ideas are not created equal: some ideas are just nuts, some are great but won’t travel (e.g. won’t work in other countries), and some travel brilliantly and should be shared as best practices. Be on the lookout for the diamond in the rough idea. That idea can transcend borders and make a huge difference. Keep an eye out for breakout performance metrics and countries where KPIs are consistently strong. Then, understand what they are doing differently than the rest of world. Also partner with your finance team to understand which territories are consistently exceeding their forecasts and might be flying under marketing’s radar. Then, get on the phone with those teams and see how they’re winning. Big Ideas cost nothing and can come from anywhere.
A Global Perspective to Mitigate Silos
Management that views a P&L as global, as opposed to US and international will send a message of global cooperation through a Home Office. If management has a unified voice on the importance of Global results, this can mitigate US vs. International functional and marketing group silos, foster collaboration and ultimately maximize efficiencies. A real danger of a “US first” executive at a “Global” company is their disproportionate influence on Home Office functional teams due to their proximity. This results in functional teams super-serving the US market at the expense of international even when the international P&L may represent more profit to the company than the US.
In addition to the above, there are standard but important process best practices that can be used to support international teams. The basics include having regular and scheduled communication with top markets, and keeping submission processes tight (from marketing plans to creative asset delivery to financial submissions).
With international marketing, every day is unique and that novelty makes it a great division to be a part of. Contributing to the global success of a campaign and helping others around the world makes the workday very rewarding.
David is an experienced marketing executive and partner at Custom Marketing. He's run marketing campaigns in the US and across the world, living over 10 years in both Europe and Latin America. His decades of experience building marketing plans and campaigns for companies such as Warner Bros and FOX, allow him to work quickly with clients to get them real results. David has a BA in International Relations from UCSB, an MBA from Boston University and is fluent in Spanish. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife, 2 kids, and his pug Luna.