Recently, at Incite Group‘s Customer Service Summit, leaders from various global brands got together to discuss the personalization of global brands. Entitled “Going Global with Social Support: Use Contextual Awareness to Drive Brand Reputation and Loyalty Around the World,” this panel highlighted the various ways in which big brands are fostering regional support in relation to their global campaigns – and voices. The panelists included Mark Obee (Head of Global Social and Community Care for Intuit’s Quickbooks brands), Simon Cowart (Global Social Media Strategist for Coca-Cola), and Sarah Grace McCandless (Global Product Manager of Digital Services for Sykes), along with Glen Gilmore (the moderator).

Here we have some insightful and applicable highlights from their discussion:

Glen Gilmore: How does Coca-Cola, this iconic American brand, create a context globally that can be personalized?

Simon Cowart: If the business is based in Turkey it has management power and all of those decisions are made there. So they’re able to contextualize their own marketing. Using Turkey as an example, we rolled out a Turkish language soda can last year, which was the biggest social event for the company since entering that market. It’s just a matter of personalizing it to their experience. We are an Atlanta-based company, but we are the biggest global, non-alcoholic beverage company in world and we do have to focus to stay relevant to those cultures.

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The decision making power for each country rests in that country so whether it’s the bottler or the brand, we have operations in each of those countries that is relatively autonomous. We do have a corporate structure that provides some guidelines and protections for us but essentially those decisions are made at the local level. That helps drive a lot of the context and cultural awareness for those teams. If we, from Atlanta, go into China, and talk like we do in Atlanta, we’re going to fall flat because it’s not relevant.

We have to ask them to work with us on global initiatives so one of the biggest challenges is that everybody wants to do their own social activations. We have the Olympics coming up, a global activation with a global brand operation. Getting people to buy into one global message, as opposed to “I have my view as to a campaign and you have yours”, is key, but it’s a totally different experience market to market.

One of the jobs of our team is to help bring those teams together, to recognize content that’s effective, that’ performing with our customers, and then drive that through the campaign.

GG: How many countries is Sykes in? How many employees? How are you managing that octopus?

Sarah Grace McCandless: We’re in 70 countries, with 50,000 employees. It’s an advantage for our clients because what we’re seeing on a global level is that there is a need for support. Before we create a program, a solution for a client, we think about ‘what does global mean for them?’ It can mean a couple different things. It can mean hours of coverage but it doesn’t necessarily mean that’s overseas based – it can be domestically based, 24/7. It can be based in multiple locations. There can be a multilingual component. Going global can also mean a larger scope of challenges –are you on a social global channel, are there regional channels that you’re managing? What languages are you speaking?

When we work with clients, we already have those locations built-in so if we need to start in one location and scale to other areas, we’re able to do that pretty quickly and leverage agents that are speaking their first language, rather than a strong second, so you’re really getting more of a conversational multi-lingual feed that to me is crucial in the social space. We talked earlier about auto translators instead of someone who actually speaks the language who can keep that voice and tone intact but also keep it localized because they really know how that region speaks.

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GG: How many countries is Intuit in?

Mark Obee: We are in five countries and about to add two more: France and Brazil. One of the challenges is that primarily we’ve been communicating in English, except for the APAC region, so entering two new regions is an opportunity to drive a unique experience in each and one of the challenges we’ve been working on with our teams. We’ve been chatting about defining what is proper voice and tone across the brand ecosystem.

GG: That goes to the concept of taking information from the US and making it personal within those regions – how do you manage that on a daily basis when you have so many teams?

MO: We’ve implemented a fixed, flexible and free type model where the voice and tone, legal, and other implications we have to get right across all those lines, come into play in a fixed region. The flexible gives us some opportunity to have some freedom to move around a bit so long as it reflects the vision and mission statement we’re heading towards. The free area is where we have great experimentation within those in-country teams to really hit that voice and tone. We want to make sure that they’re driving a lot of the concepts of content creation in a way that really hits home with the locals.

If you don’t create content that makes you feel like you’re in that country it almost feels like you are a US company with a mask trying to show off in that global space. In really going to a global experience to define that you need to show that you are creating an experience for that country rather than creating a US experience and trying to mask it.

GG: You’re entering Brazil and France with in-country teams. What does an in-country team look like?

MO: We have forward teams that go out when we start in new regions, a very scrappy, lean team from the start. From that core team we tend to train two to three individuals on social and community. As they spread out and gain more of an impact within that space, and as they grow as a country for us in that area, we create a support role along with the voice of listening, as well as driving the social content.

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GG: We’ve noted the importance of native speakers and having local cultural awareness. How do you match those needs with brand objectives?

SGM: We have clusters within over 20 countries and 70 locations so what we’re seeing is the need to beef up certain areas based on client needs. I think, based on making sure that the native speaker can stay on brand, especially if you’re thinking about Europe, where many people speak multiple languages. They understand the nuances and speak conversational ‘American’ but they may have two or three other languages under their belts. So when we’re looking at a hiring profile in a particular region, we ‘re really vetting how deep that language understanding is and also putting our training process in place to make sure they can translate in a way that’s very social and not what you might think of more traditional or formal language study that they picked up as a second language.

GG: Who’s in China? Are you using Weibo?

SC: It’s a challenge across the space, just access to data inside China is a challenge. We just went through an RFP process to select a new publishing vendor and a huge part of that is whether they are able to support us on Weibo and other channels like VK in Russia. It’s probably the biggest challenge to working in that space, just getting past the great firewall in China, just pulling in those channels.

GG: One of the challenges global brands need to think about is, what are the social platforms that are being used more so than what we would look at Stateside. In Brazil do you see a difference in terms of the emphasis is social?

MO: It’s actually a really unique experience. We found, as we’ve done research into these new markets, that it’s a very mobile country and so they’re very heavy in social. One of the keys is to make sure we have a very mobile presence. Taking a look at capitalizing that and trying to lean into other areas that we’ve not tested before, such as WhatsApp or other social opportunities.

Image source: Greg Rakozy