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Going global means learning to go local

When I hear the phrase "buying local," I immediately conjure up images of farmer's markets and eco-friendly-cotton, reusable grocery bags. But the localization game is not a proprietary concept born out of Main Street businesses. Global brands have long been walking the tightrope of scaling themselves for an international audience while remaining locally relevant—a concept now referred to as "glocalization."

Go big or go home

At its essence, glocalization—"the creation of products or services for the global market by adapting them to local cultures”—is going global while paying attention to the local. An analysis from consulting firm McKinsey discusses the shifts in global growth, which are influenced by digital developments erasing geographical boundaries, alongside increasing skepticism of international trade.

Operating in tandem with these cross-currents are a recognition of pronounced differences in local tastes, which are making it more costly and complicated to compete globally. Multinational companies need, in the words of former GE CEO Jeff Immelt, “a local capability inside a global footprint.”

In real talk, this means that global brands need to figure out how to scale internationally without getting lost in translation or compromising their mission. But how?

This means that global brands need to figure out how to scale internationally without getting lost in translation or compromising their mission. But how?

Software company Percolate posits a solution: "By positioning the brand behind a core mission to solve important human needs, then fulfilling on that mission with local sensitivity, brands can traverse cultural differences to provide their markets with truths that transcend language barriers."

Unify your values; find local points of differentiation

Make no mistake: Competition is fierce, but there are companies that have managed to scale globally while maintaining a certain je ne sais quoi.

Eataly, the Italian supermarket and food brand, understands how to take what it does well—food, cooking lessons, and promoting fresh ingredients—and make it work across borders. In an interview with PR Week, Eataly's U.S. CEO Nicola Farinetti said, "The stores are like siblings. They share the same values but develop their own personalities. We apply those rules locally, offering different meat, fish, and so on."

Eataly values quality food and ingredients, and that's reflected in their business model and in the fact that each store is a representation of the best that region has to offer. In an interview with Marriott’s Travel Brilliantly, Chicago Eataly general manager Jason Goldsmith said, "One of the fun parts about opening Eataly Chicago was sourcing all the incredible products that are available in the Midwest.” For example, he had the enviable job of tasting an array of milk before settling on which dairy farm would get shelf space. He tasted milk from nine different farms before deciding on a brand.

In the name of research, I went to my local Chicago Eataly and found that alongside the salami and prosciutto, cheese from nearby Wisconsin gets its due representation. And if you know anything about people from Wisconsin, it's that they’re proud of their cheese.

And if you know anything about people from Wisconsin, it's that they’re proud of their cheese.

Get to know the community that you want to reach

One of the best lessons I learned at my old marketing job was that if you want to connect with customers, you have to start by getting out there and getting to know them. At the time, my company was attempting to go global, and we found that the online food ordering space wasn't the same in London as it was in Chicago (go figure). So we had to get to know Londoners and develop relationships within the community.

As a well-established brand, Eataly uses partnerships to entrench themselves in the markets they want to expand to. "We do joint ventures to get to know customers better,” Farinetti told PR Week. “In Toronto, for example, we partner with Terroni, which has restaurants in the area. We partner with a local Brazilian retail company in São Paulo. We try to let the producers and ingredients speak."

Make it personal

The best gifts I've received are when someone presents me with something that shows they've been listening. Friends, significant others, or parents who get the hints you've been dropping for months make life easier. They get extra points if they provide you with something that you didn't know you even needed—but makes your life better.

How does this apply to global brands going local? Brands that take the time to listen to what local customers want—and supply them with products and experiences that speak to their needs—win in the long haul. As an example, "In India, Samsung has many products and services developed locally with Indian consumers in mind: smart ovens that cook naan and tandoori rotis, and air conditioners designed for extreme weather and electricity issues," writes AdAge.

Brands that take the time to listen to what local customers want—and supply them with products and experiences that speak to their needs—win in the long haul.

Nike is also exploring the glocalization concept, through a concerted effort to develop more local products tailored to what customers in the targeted areas need. While it's not possible to impose a grand, international localized effort all at once, testing out personalized customer service and product development in key markets can reap big returns. The New York Times reported that Nike's glocalization efforts in targeted cities "are expected to deliver 80 percent of the company’s growth over the next two and a half years."

Speaking from my own experience, when Nike released a microsite to tout their running clubs to Chicago Marathon runners, I couldn't help but feel a little pride. The site also highlights some of the famous, and not-so-well-known, running routes in the Windy City. My heart swelled a bit when I saw The 606 on the list. What can I say? A brand who “gets” my city makes me happy—and more willing to spend.

Rachel Henry is a Chicago-based editor at a communications firm. She spends most of her time reading her way through a giant stack of library books and trying to find the best vacation deals online.