How to Localize While Keeping the Uniqueness of Your Product

By Pauline Oudin – Sopexa USA

Every good marketer knows it: You have to localize to succeed in international waters. Coca-Cola slightly alters its secret recipe to the taste buds of its markets. MacDonald’s offers “Le” Big Mac in Paris with a side of beer, but keeps its offering Kosher in Israel by removing the cheeseburger from its menu.

And yet, how do you apply this need to adapt to a local market, when the promise of your product is the uniqueness of its origin? Do you risk losing your key differentiator when you embrace local needs?

Two brands recently faced this difficult challenge of adapting to the US market while promoting the specificity of their “terroir”, their local specificity. At the core of the concept of “terroir”, is the idea that you can’t make this product anywhere else than “here”, wherever that may be. Probably the most famous example is Champagne. After all, you can make lovely bubbly in many places around the world (Prosecco anyone?), but Champagne can only come from Champagne. And that’s what makes it so special.

Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t always work to the advantage of the product in question. The complexity of the French wine industry, with all of its region-based jargon, has certainly hindered the development of their sales here in the USA, where Americans want to buy by grape-varietal. Here, American products – Napa wines, Oregon wines – which are completely adapted to the local market, have often ridden over the argument of quality of origin.

For Cognac, a brandy-like liquor produced in the region just above Bordeaux in France, the balance was tough to find. Purists, in the region and abroad, will sip their Courvoisier or their Hennessy from large sniffers.

But the local U.S. market is not a market for digestive drinks, unlike the UK or China. Marketing wisdom would therefore suggest that you adapt your communication to local consumption habits. In the case of the US, that means promoting the use of this eaux-de-vie in cocktails, the way Americans drink hard liquor. Side Car anyone?

The challenge is that the quality of the product can be lost in the mix. And that is where the real marketing challenge kicks in: educating those trendsetters behind the bars that can tell the difference in product quality and who determine what product ends up in the glass.

Very targeted marketing for a very specific message. An educational message that justifies the specificities of local quality differences, while working to adapt with local experts the usage to local taste buds.

Similarly, Cheeses of France struggled with the balance of differentiation to localization. On the one hand, they needed to showcase the diversity of the offering (400+ cheeses!) , but they also needed to adapt to American consumption habits.

After all, most Americans do not eat a plate of “fromages” before desert. But they sure do eat a lot of cheese. They just happen to integrate it into their sandwiches, salads, pastas, dinners… So Cheeses of France had to map out its products to American tastes, and promote their uniquely French products, like a Comté, within the framework of American classics, like a Mac and Cheese. From there, you can then communicate on a uniquely local product that has been adapted to the wider audience.

In a world where products cross borders with more and more ease, and consumers are constantly in search of new experiences, local heritage is a huge asset. That is what will justify the extra costs associated with the importation and transportation of the products compared to local adaptations. But marketers have to balance that local territorial pride with willful adaptability to local habits. And if that means adding Coke to your grand-cru wine, that may be the price of success…

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