If your company operates globally, there is an inherent tension between global and local marketers. Even under the best of circumstances — and even if no one explicitly says so.

Global teams can’t possibly be aware of all local and regional factors that affect strategy. And if they are honest, local/regional marketers will admit that they don’t have to worry about global issues like building scalable capabilities, managing brand consistency and scaling best practices.

So is it even possible to have an efficient, effective planning system that harmonizes global and local plans? The answer is yes, and I am about to show you how.

Job 1: Agree On a Planning System and Lock It Down

Before we talk about global – local plan coordination, there’s an elephant in the room that must be identified: many companies change planning approaches every year. Even worse, some companies have no planning tools or guides and simply dictate a couple of planning outputs that they want to see from each product owner.

In these situations, planning season is a chaotic fire drill that creates an “every planner for themselves” atmosphere — and where geographic cooperation becomes unlikely. Often, companies give loose planning guidelines because management “doesn’t want to stifle each planner’s creativity.”

While a totally bespoke approach to planning might foster some creative plans, it generates some very big problems:

  • Lack of a common planning language that facilitates clear communication between global and local marketers. Definitions of key terms like segmentation vary widely across the organizations, leading to misunderstandings and planning inefficiencies.
  • Inability to articulate best practices that could be shared cross-company. Without tools and frameworks, it’s hard to even describe “what went right” when success happens — much less provide a roadmap for duplicating it across markets.
  • Re-invention of plans from scratch each year, even though there may have been a limited number of changes in plan owner’s markets. When expected plan inputs/outputs change every year, a significant amount of efficiency is lost.

Companies that agree on a planning system and lock it down don’t have these problems, spend far less time planning, and actually construct better plans. A consistent approach gives planners time to focus on areas of change in their markets, rather than being bogged down in filling out meaningless planning templates.

Good planning systems are also surprisingly robust and resilient. Despite changes in technology and world circumstances, companies still have to analyze markets, customers, and competitors. They still have to offer more value than competitors. As long as your planning system is built around market, customer, and competitor analyses, you are good-to-go.

In This Situation, Do Global Plans First

If you have a consistent planning approach in place, you can now think about how to harmonize plans. An important early-stage question to answer is: should planning be led by global (top-down) or local (bottom-up) teams?

The answer is “both.” But who goes first depends on the level of maturity of your firm’s locked-down planning approach.

In the “introductory stage” of your planning approach: When you are debuting a brand new planning system —call it the introductory stage — it makes sense for global teams to establish their plan hypothesis first. This is because there are typically fewer global marketers than regional/local marketers.

Therefore, the smaller global team can be trained more quickly in the planning process and can create a global plan hypothesis from scratch, for each relevant product or portfolio. The plan can then be modified by the as-yet untrained local teams for their specific circumstances.

Making modifications to an existing hypothesis is easier than building from scratch for the untrained. This is probably only a temporary solution, however.

In the “growth stage” of your planning approach: Even under the best circumstances, the local marketers will eventually feel they want to take more control of their planning process. When these local marketers have been trained adequately – let’s call this the growth stage of a planning approach — it’s time to let them generate the initial plan for their markets.

In this stage, the global marketer’s job shifts to studying the wide range of local plans and finding the repeating themes. These themes define the situations where global resources can be put to best use, which is one of the most important aspects of a global plan.

This Is When You Know You Have Effective Global-Local Collaboration

In the “maturity stage” of your planning approach: When a global planning process hits the “maturity stage”, truly effective global/local collaboration blossoms. A hybrid model of the previous two stages takes shape.

The following back-and-forth process works because global marketers now trust and rely on the input they are getting from the local teams. And local/regional teams count on some global hypotheses to jumpstart their tailoring of the ultimate plan. Circumstances are right for planning efficiency to be optimized:

  1. Global takes the lead by hypothesizing several macro-analyses that benefit from their worldwide view
    • Emerging trends
    • Changing patterns in customer decision-making
    • Evolving customer/stakeholder needs
    • Global competitor analysis
    • Global, customer-focused strengths and weaknesses
    • Customer segmentation
  2. Next, local marketers modify these macro-analyses to make them locally relevant
    • Most impactful local trends
    • Local customer decision-making patterns
    • Additional, local customer/stakeholder needs
    • Local competitor analysis
    • Local adjustments to customer-focused strengths and weaknesses
    • Target customer segments
    • Strategies and plans to win with target segments
  3. With the ball back in their court, global marketers do the following:
    • Provide additional resources to help local marketers nurture target segments and build/scale the specific capabilities that will support the strategies of a critical mass of local markets
    • Develop/adjust branding and messaging guidelines that support the strategies of a large number of local markets
    • Develop high-level pricing advice based on a local market’s competitive situation and local customer’s perceived level of value
  4. Finally, the local marketers complete the planning process:
    • Finalize strategies, communication, and pricing plans for local target segments
    • Develop tactics, action plans, and forecasts/metrics to ensure disciplined execution.

At this stage, plans flow back and forth in a way that ensures the widest possible global perspective and customization for local circumstances. When global and local teams work together in this way, they open lines of communication and align thinking in a way that results in the highest quality plans.

In addition, a common language is developed, best practices are shared more easily across markets, and planning efficiency is maximized. And, yes, it’s even possible for planners to express their creativity within such a defined system — it happens all the time.

There will always be tension between global and local marketers, as there always is between groups that have a different worldview. But your planning system doesn’t have to be another opportunity to widen the gap.

Follow this approach and planning will actually bring these groups closer together. Your company will benefit from the harmony in the many ways we’ve mentioned in this article.

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