Get Buy-in for Your Global Strategy with Local Partners

Some great insights from Kip Knight at HBR here..

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I never considered myself an “ugly American,” but my UK colleagues apparently thought otherwise.

Just before I moved to the UK to head up marketing for KFC International in Europe and Africa, Pepsico had bought out our joint venture partner in the UK. I was part of the new management team that was going to try to turn around a 60-year-old business that had been declining for 10 years.

Because most of the UK KFC system was franchised, it was important to win our franchisees over to a new brand strategy we had been planning before the acquisition took place. I put a lot of work into getting ready for my initial pitch to the UK franchisees, some of which had been involved in the business their entire career.

In my presentation, I did a quick review of the financial mess we were in, laid out three big strategic consumer initiatives needed to turn the business around and made a passionate plea for them to work with me to make this happen. They asked for some time to talk among themselves. I left the room. Finally, Keith, the head of the franchise group, came out to deliver their verdict.

He started with the good news. “Kip, we like you, and we like what you are recommending. You’ve got our support.” I breathed a big sign of relief. Then Keith continued, “But I want you to remember the people in that room have spent their life building this business. Even though it’s in trouble, we’re not stupid. And if you ever come here again and treat us like we are stupid, this relationship is officially over.”

That was a valuable lesson.

During my career, I’ve worked on adapting global brand strategies in 65 different countries, and I’ve learned three principles about how to do this well.

Show respect for your global partners in everything you do. You would think this would be stating the obvious, but I’m shocked at the number of ex-pats, unfortunately including way too many Americans, who totally blow their chances of success in the early days of a new international assignment by violating this principle. Stephen Covey’s advice to “seek first to understand, then be understood” absolutely applies to working with teams around the world to expand a brand from one market to another. For example, I created a “Helping Hand” award at KFC-International given each quarter to a country team that went “above and beyond” to help an emerging market team. This simple and free peer recognition was remarkably effective at fostering a spirit of mutual respect in all our markets.

Be clear about “negotiables” and “non-negotiables” for the brand. Some non-negotiables are crystal clear, such as your trademark, logo and core products (for KFC, that would include the Original Recipe). If you allow the local team to have flexibility about as many issues as possible, the more they will feel they own the finished product. For example, eBay allowed local market units to decide on the categories they wanted to focus on initially and how they wanted to promote them with buyers and sellers. With H&R Block India, we focused more on the Internet-based services and only built a nominal number of retail locations, the exact opposite of our U.S. strategy. By being collaborative and flexible in how you enter a new market, your odds of success go up dramatically.

Understanding the “why” is a lot more important than the “what” for a global brand strategy. When I came back to the United States to manage the global KFC brand, my new boss asked me to travel around the world and meet with the various teams to develop a global strategy and initiatives. When I returned after six weeks on the road, I told him we were in big trouble unless we figured out a better way to explain the importance and rationale for such strategies to everyone. That led to the creation of the KFC Global Marketing College, which brought in teams from around the world for exactly that purpose. While it took several years for this to have a significant business impact, once we had a critical mass of teams that believed in our global strategy, there was no stopping them. KFC International has since grown from a $2 billion to a $14 billion business.

The principles I’ve outlined can apply to any business with international expansion aspirations, whether you’re aiming for two countries or two hundred. If you treat your global business partners with the proper respect, give them the insight into your brand strategy they need, and let them implement it as they see fit, odds are that strategy will succeed.


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