The familiar mantra “Think Globally, Act Locally” was originally used for environmental and community planning before being adopted by the business school world. I believe it is too often misapplied, especially when it comes to marketing and communications.
The continual pressure for results--often judged only in the short-term--coupled with the challenge of navigating both internal and external environments, can often make it difficult to implement global strategies in individual markets. In a recent Harvard Business Review blog post Mr. Ángel Cabrera, president of Thunderbird School of Global Management, referred to the "Think Globally, Act Locally" slogan as “woefully inadequate to describe the complex realities global leaders face.” So, what’s the answer? Throw out the playbook of big ideas? Instead, how about simply adjusting the approach? It’s not enough to act locally, these days we’ve got to “think locally” as well.
There is a distinction between a global strategy that is tweaked for local consumption and one that includes local knowledge, experience and input in its creation. Global marketing and communications strategies require significant investment, so it’s especially painful when those expensive plans fall flat after finally arriving in the inbox of the local manager for “adaptation and implementation.” Thinking globally is perfectly fine; but it can have little practical value when applied to marketing and communications, which are driven by the extremely local factors of culture, custom and perception. And global managers should keep in mind the one invaluable resource required to forge an effective global strategy: time. Forget about the 24-hour news cycle; marketing and communications managers now have to operate within the nano-cycle of the social media world, leaving few precious resources available for correction, adaptation and implementation of off-target strategies.
So what does this mean for global companies and their global plans? It means they need as much local thinking included from the start. And that requires a corporate environment and global managers that can, as Mr. Cabrera states, “act as bridge builders, connectors of resources and talent across cultural and political boundaries – relentlessly dedicated to finding new ways of creating value.”