Close your eyes. It is sometime in the mid to late 19th century. You are in Atlanta, Georgia. You are working for Coca-Cola as a brand manager. Fast forward 120 odd years, and you are present in over 200 countries with over 2,000 products and you have become a cultural icon. A truly global brand! (You can open your eyes now, BTW.)
Ever since I came back to Pakistan after a 10-year stint abroad, I have been obsessed with why Pakistan lacks a global brand. What would it take to get on the same track as Coca-Cola in 50 to 80 years and have a home-grown global brand?
I find myself checking the world’s top brands’ lists from Forbes Interbrand or Brandirectory and there is no Pakistani brand to be seen. Top 10 and 20 would have been a dream, but even the Top 100, 200, 300 or even the Top 500 brands in the world don’t have a Pakistani brand on the list.
Top brands are usually arrived at by using total global revenue or customer satisfaction scores, both of which are difficult to measure for most of our local brands. But let’s be honest, even if we could, I don’t think they would come anywhere close to being on those lists.
Having worked in local, regional and global roles for an MNC as well as for a national brand in Pakistan, the criteria that I have seen emerge for potential local brands that can make it big globally is how stretchable the core essence of the brand is, the ratio of sales generated within Pakistan versus outside Pakistan, and in how many countries the brand is available via distributors or their own operations.
Of all the local brands in Pakistan, I can say with no bias, Shan Foods is probably the only home-grown brand with the most potential of becoming a global brand. Almost half of Shan’s sales are outside Pakistan and they are present directly in 75 countries via distributors and in a lot more indirectly. Do Shan have a core message that is universal? The answer is yes, but they probably have not communicated this enough. The only other candidate I can think of is Khaadi.
The reason why there are such few home-grown brands that could go global is because firstly, most of them only export and don’t market themselves – and yes, there is a difference. Secondly, most of them choose to link themselves with a national identity (especially in their early years) to maximise local sales and don’t spend enough time focusing on defining their core essence. Thirdly, most local companies do not have the scale to set up offices in individual international markets.
No doubt, it is hard for internal and external partners to move from a previously transactional relationship to a partnership mindset. Internally, everyone would need to move from a ‘containers sold’ to a brand building mindset from both a production and supply chain point of view and this is easier said than done. Externally, global agency partners (if you have one to begin with), be they creative, media or digital, would be expected to make adjustments to their mode of operation in order to eliminate red tape from the process and in return local companies would be expected to put more money on the table. Finally, both sides of the table would need to go from being local brand custodians to becoming global brand custodians and many of them are not up to it. To go from local to global involves many challenges; here are three that would need to be addressed.
1 Defining the Brand Core: Revisiting the brand core is the starting point. This means defining who the brand wants to speak to. If this is not defined, how will we learn about or focus on what problems to solve and whose problem it is to solve? Agency teams have to learn to tap into their global resources and apply frameworks to unearth the brand’s core. Dove has ‘Real Beauty’ and Coke has ‘Happiness’, both of which are universal core statements/aspirations. They transcend borders and almost all fault-lines you can think of. No matter how you slice the target groups, these brand values still apply. The manifestations of their core message are different in different parts of the world. For example, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ in the West may be fat versus thin, whereas in Pakistan it may be dark versus fair skin. So, the manifestations will be different but they feed into the same overall message. Why can’t we aspire to something similar for a Pakistani brand? Why does it have to be drenched in a local context? Why do we focus on forging an overtly national identity, which restricts us when we try and expand?
Working at Henkel’s global HQ in Dusseldorf, I was responsible for reframing the global equity definitions of some of their hard surface care brands and ensuring that the main principles were adhered to in each market. It was not an easy process. We had global creative agencies to help us with the conceptual part of new initiatives and communication strategies, but when it came to rollouts in individual markets, local counterparts took over. Since the affiliate offices of these agencies were present in most countries where Henkel was operating in, the flow of information was easy but the contracts were between the local Henkel subsidiary and the local agency affiliate, thereby limiting some level of control. For local companies, this becomes impossible as they don’t have offices in each country. At best, there are business development managers operating out of distributor offices. However, having a presence in key hotspots around the world is the way to go. The need to move from local and export sales to a matrix structure arises after you reach a certain level of sales. This should be looked into seriously as it changes the way the business is steered and has implications on future strategy development and financial reporting and opens up many opportunities to attract and retain talent as one can offer them attractive positions around the world.
2 Executional Steering: The second challenge is managing a brand from Pakistan in terms of media and BTL/DTC activations in international markets. One would probably have to set up an international marketing team with no experience in working abroad and start building up knowledge about one market at a time. Another challenge is that the target audience is not homogenous even if the starting point is a huge South Asian population with some rollover equity for the home country. This means developing a framework to ensure that efforts are not wasted on targeting the wrong segments. Research is most likely to reveal that the low hanging fruit are Pakistani expats followed by expats from other South Asian countries, followed by the native populations of those foreign countries. However, even within the first two groups, there is a distinction between first generation and second generation immigrants and the children of both groups, born and brought up there. That is already a lot of complexity without adding the geography layer since the native populations could be Arabs of the Middle East or Westerners of Australia, Canada, the UK, the US with their own sub groups.
3 Media Buying: It is difficult to advertise Pakistani and Indian channels in foreign countries due to the lack of ratings data. Although these channels enjoy high viewership among the diaspora, they are not registered as local broadcasters and therefore have no data to share. This had opened up space for JadooTV and other similar devices, which bypass traditional broadcasting networks. Furthermore, streaming services such as Amazon Prime, Apple TV, Hulu, Hotstar, Netflix and Zee5, are taking over audience preferences. As a result, the only way to air on TV is through licensed agents appointed by local channels to market their regional beams. One can either deal with each separately (not recommended as it entails setting up a specialist media sub-function) or go through the existing media house, which means paying double commission (to the media house and to the agents). As a result of these complications, what happens is an over reliance on digital. However, given that Facebook and Google have no local payment platforms in Pakistan that bypass foreign exchange and tax charges on each transaction via credit card, this too is inefficient when the spend becomes big.
Clearly, going from local to global is a struggle but nothing is achieved without vision and effort. Nevertheless, all the teams working on local brands in Pakistan that have sizeable export business potential should buckle down, address the challenges, remove the roadblocks and work on building global brands.
Sheikh Adil Hussain is GM Marketing, Shan Foods. firstname.lastname@example.org