Think globally, act, er, globally?

A quick google search on “Think global, act local”  shows it to be one of the most used adages. Regardless of the geographic location of a business, regardless of its size, the line is used with an aspirational tone by many businesses far removed from the original environmental use. This is the company’s goal: no matter the reach they have a local focus. In some less ingenuous cases it’s used to suggest a much larger presence for a business than a small office on the local high street.

There are more subtle variants – HSBC and its ‘world’s local bank’ being the most obvious. Who can forget the scene from Pulp Fiction talking about the ‘Royale with cheese’ burger. But overall it’s a simple marketing desire – to penetrate every market by showing a detailed understanding of local variants. On that premise many a business plan has been developed. What does it really mean though – is it really tailoring a solution for each of its regions. Or is it simply trying to suggest that it’s not a scary giant?

Many years ago, Niall Fitzgerald, when he was CEO of Unilever, summed it up beautifully: he urged manufacturers and retailers not to lose sight of local cultural practices and preferences in their search for global growth. Major brand custodians know there is no such thing as a truly global consumer, and suppliers and retailers must think ‘multi-local’ – “neither mindlessly global nor hopelessly local”.

But how do you deliver on this approach? And in particular, how do you deliver against it when you are, in fact, anything but local? An e-tailer can service a customer from anywhere thanks to web presence and multi-national, multi-currency systems. Although the e-tail giants like Amazon build local versions, for someone starting up, it can seem more like a one-locale fits all strategy. This rather falls into Fitzgerald’s ‘neither’ scenario.

The answer is to exploit all that web 2.0 and the social web has brought to us. First of all we have the opportunity to build networks like never before. If you really want to understand what is hot in Helsinki (and it’s not the climate) you have instant access via the power of social. Set up your social searches. Use q&a on Quora. Engage with your local audience on Twitter. What can you find out from Foursquare? Determine if your messages are going to resonate by engaging with your potential targets on Facebook. Find out if your product is going to work – after all ‘selling snow to the eskimo’ is really just about bad product placement. All this interaction, as they say, without having to leave the comfort of your desk.

You also can find your local experts. The business social networks like Linkedin provide the ability to create formal and informal business arrangements: never before has it been so easy to source local knowledge and start your business discussions.

And what about that vital factor – the local marketing campaign. The one that keeps your message as you’d like it, but with that flavour that’s so vital to appeal to your new audience. This week we announced that over 40% of briefs on the Creative Services Exchange come from outside the UK where blur Group has its ‘home’ office. They’re serviced by brief managers in one country but sourced from creatives around the world – from Nairobi to Nepal, from the Netherlands to New York. This isn’t just about finding someone who can run a marketing campaign for you in Dallas when you’re in Dublin. It’s about having access to a more global understanding of what marketing works and what doesn’t. It’s about not being restricted by having to source from ‘down the road’ to get a message to somewhere further afield. It works for those providing services too as they access brands from much farther afield. So whether it’s a business buying creative or a creative selling their services this is a global exchange.

Businesses today inhabit a cloud-based, social world that gives every business a global sense. Now it’s up to us to make the most of this virtual world and channel it into global delivery. The Creative Services Exchange has shown how this can work to the advantage of a company wanting to expand beyond its immediate region. Now it’s up to you to work out how to make your business work whatever region it’s working in. Try it now!