A Global Fine Line Challenges Marketing Today

Pantene Pro-V might never have become a global shampoo juggernaut if Procter & Gamble hadn't asked Taiwanese women what it means to have healthy hair.

February 01, 2007

| by Sarah Ruby

Pantene Pro-V might never have become a global shampoo juggernaut if Procter & Gamble hadn’t asked Taiwanese women what it means to have healthy hair.

It was 1990, and Pantene was a $50 million brand in the United States and Western Europe. The company was marketing Pantene as a way to maintain healthy hair but women surveyed in France dismissed the notion. Hair is dead, they told Procter & Gamble. Market researchers at Procter & Gamble Taiwan set out to find out what healthy hair meant to customers. Healthy hair is shiny, they were told. “Hair so healthy it shines” became a household catch phrase, and today Pantene is a $2.7 billion brand.

Not all marketing messages are so well received across the world, and this fine line between cultural difference and shared desires was the theme of the Global Marketing Conference at the Stanford Graduate School of Business on February 7.

Nearly every panelist shared a tale of international marketing folly. Allen Olivio, Yahoo’s vice president of global brand marketing who once worked for Apple, described launching iMac in France, where the new product mimicked the name of an established brand of baby laxative. Jeff McHugh, SEP ‘84, who manages an $800 million group of in vitro diagnostic tools for Beckman Coulter, exported the company’s “perfect blend of chemistry and productivity” campaign to Europe. “They hated it,” he said. “It reminded them of coffee.”

Consumers are king in the global marketplace. Customers are “hard to get, easy to lose, and much more efficient to keep,” said C. Gerron Vartan, president of Aegis Partners, Inc., a marketing strategy firm.

Google’s marketing strategy is aggressively low key. It continues to make cool innovations, putting them out to consumers and using what works, said David Lawee, the company’s vice president of marketing. Google doesn’t spend much time on corporate branding because it doesn’t have to—nonstop press coverage takes care of that, at least for now.

“We try not to hype our products,” Lawee said. “One of the fundamentals of Google’s marketing is we try to let the customers speak for us.”

Google makes itself relevant across cultures by opening offices abroad and learning what works there. The company currently operates in 20 countries and runs sites in 112 languages — 113 counting Klingon. To simply export what works in Mountain View, Calif., would be “extremely insensitive to our customers,” not to mention unwise, Lawee said. PC-centric products built for the U.S. market would miss the 100 million mobile devices that dwarf the number of PCs in India, he said.

Some of what Google employees learn abroad shapes products launched in the United States, such as social networking technology popular in Korea and other Asian countries. That concept is being put to work in the United States, Lawee said.

Yahoo, the world’s largest internet site, is constantly looking to tailor its product for consumers across cultures, Olivio said. For example, Yahoo recently joined with Mexican media giant Telemundo to enhance its site for Spanish speakers in the United States. Rather than being “Yahoo en espanol,” Yahoo Telemundo is a new product relevant to a huge market that wants more than the English translation, he said.

Roxane Divol, an associate principal at McKinsey & Company, suggests companies strategize for their own market and save the problems of launching to a wider audience for later. Budgets, schedules, and other constraints mean companies “have to start someplace,” she said. They can figure out later if their efficient product might sell better in Europe as an enhancement to quality of life, or if a marketing message aimed at independence offends a culture where family is more important than individuals.

Marketing to mass media consumers is one thing, but Ed Chan-Lizardo, Sloan ‘90, is trying to sell irrigation systems to subsistence farmers in Africa. He works for KickStart International, a nonprofit that develops equipment manufactured, sold, and used by small-scale entrepreneurs.

KickStart’s customers are hard to reach. They live hours from major cities and some are illiterate. KickStart takes a baby-steps approach to building brand loyalty, Chan-Lizardo said, offering a money-back guarantee for customers and setting up testimonials from someone customers trust. The nonprofit also hosts “pump-offs,” carnival-like events in which KickStart’s line of MoneyMaker products square off against the competition. The next step is to advertise via text messaging, a cheap medium in Africa, Chan-Lizardo said. But until then, KickStart relies on “marketing marketing 101-types of activities.”

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