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Global Brands and Localization: What’s Your Tourist Profile?

Nadège Depeux

Brand Strategy Director, Paris

There’s a saying that goes: “Travel broadens the mind”, and this is just as true when it comes to branding. Beyond globalization and market shares, entering another country is above all an encounter between a visitor and a visited country. How should a brand act in terms of cultural immersion and local implementation in another country? How will it interact with the local culture? How will it change or adapt to fit its local strategy? In the end, how will the globalization influence and even transform the brand itself in terms of its brand essence and vision? In this article, we will discover this subject through an anthropomorphic metaphor that transforms a brand into…a tourist!

Four Typologies

In the tourism industry, 4 typologies of tourists are often recognized according to their personality profiles and different behaviors adopted (Erik Cohen, 1972, Sociologist): the Organized Mass Tourist, the Individual Mass Tourist, the Explorer and the Drifter.

The Organized Mass Tourist prefers fixed and pre-designed itineraries. He’s averse to surprises or anything new and looks for familiarity. He stays in his comfort zone, no matter when it comes to food choices, social behaviors, etc. It is to the host to adapt to him and to create the “feeling-at-home” experience, such as a “breakfast just like at home”. The Organized Mass Tourist is, above all, focused on himself.

The Individual Mass Tourist tends to stick to his habits and looks for familiarity, but his journey isn’t entirely planned; while staying most of the time in his bubble, doing what he used to do “just like at home”, he will accept to make several arrangements to try to mix and connect with the local place/ visited country. For example, he’ll like to enjoy a local meal during the journey, or take an afternoon to discover a local market on his own.

The Explorer usually organizes his travel all by himself and tries to avoid the touristic sites and mixes with the local place/ visited country at maximum while keeping a certain distance to protect himself in a bubble. He’s dominantly willing to try out something new but does not completely integrate into the local customs. For example, he will go to local restaurants or enjoy local street food most of the time, but will sometimes evenly enjoy eating with fork and knife (instead of chopsticks in China) or choose places where hygiene standards and ambience codes are similar to his origin country. They keep trying, learning and breaking their limits. The explorer seeks new experiences, discoveries and cultural enrichment, but is also confronted to his own limits. How far is he willing to go without forgetting his own culture?

The Drifter, the full adventurer, gets himself thoroughly immersed in the local environment, adopts the customs and fully fits within the country and the people. He’s completely open, is guided by novelty and rejects any familiarity with his origin. He will adopt all the values and customs of the visited place and change drastically.

Two Opposite Attitudes

According to these 4 tourist profiles descriptions, 2 opposite attitudes appear:

An egocentric attitude, focused on one’s own ways of thinking, doing and behaving, which prefers a total emersion and does not mix with the local place; the opposite is an altruistic attitude, which means paying more attention to others than to themselves and prefers an absolute immersion.

Between these 2 extreme oppositions, there are 2 intermediate attitudes: a non-immersion attitude, which consists of keeping a certain distance while trying to make some small connections with the locals; a non-emersion attitude, which mainly seeks immersion in the local culture while keeping links with his origin.

This can be summarized through the following semiotic square:

When it comes to the branding strategy, we also find these 4 attitudes, each leading to different consequences.

An emerging brand (the Organized Mass Tourist) has a strong identity, which it assumes. It does not adapt to the local market, nor change its habits. Instead, it stays as what it is, and it’s the world that adapts to them. It creates new habits on the local market but doesn’t change much on their side. They are usually what we define as a globalized brand.

This profile will lead to a conquest strategy, sometimes successful when the brand makes it to impose its values (eg. Apple), sometimes not when rejected massively. In terms of brand personality, the emerging brand can sometimes be considered as arrogant, superior or distant, but can also be desirable as in the luxury sector.

In China, we have witnessed a lot of cases where brands contacted us for having failed with an imposing strategy. 

Illustration of the Organized Mass Tourist - Apple Store Beijing vs New York: Spot the Differences

On the opposite, an immerging brand (the Drifter) acts as a “local brand”. Having cut off all the links to its origin, this type of brands is even more local than a local one and can have nothing in common at all with its original image. The danger for these brands will be reaching a state of schizophrenic with 2 completely opposite worlds that are totally disconnected with each other.

Pom’potes: the Drifter

Most of the international brands are between these 2 extremes and try to find a balance between the world of the visitor and that of the host, the original place and the destination.

As a result of searching for balance, there is a mutual enrichment of both the brand and the consumer, with nevertheless 2 variations, that correspond to rather different strategies:

In an approach of “Individual Mass Tourist” (“partly emerging brand”), the brand is dominantly global, and shares with its origin the same vision and values, with a centralized management but local teams will conduct adaptations at an operational level. The intention is made to privilege a shared identity while accepting punctual and minor adaptations.

Starbucks: an example of Individual Mass Tourist with local adaptation for the Mid-Autumn Festival

Starbucks: an example of Individual Mass Tourist with local adaptation for the Mid-Autumn Festival

“The Explorer" (“partly immerging brand”), honors a local approach, with a dominant intention to adapt locally, but stays with a global guideline to keep consistency.

Coca-Cola in China as an Explorer: Chinese name and logo, communication and visuals well integrated with the Chinese culture, the red, with the iconic design of the bottle and the spirit of sharing as guiding lines

So, what is your brand profile? This answer will depend on the target markets and especially the initial familiarity level between the host and the visitor. It also depends upon the sector, its market and competition situation. For example, the cultural differences are more important in food and intimate hygiene markets than in others. In the end, it depends on the brand, its essence, history, organization and personality.

By opening itself to the global market a brand is faced with other cultures and is led to consider several questions in this new cultural context: who am I today? And who will I become tomorrow?

Because this journey is also a mutual enrichment, more or less important, that keeps a brand alive and pushes it to evolve rather than staying static.

Gandhi once said: “The greatest traveler is not the one who has made ten trips around the world, but the one who did it once around himself. ”

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