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Trendsetters: GE’s Jason Hill Shares Thoughts on Building a Global Brand in Today’s Content-Rich World
GE often refers to itself as the “world’s oldest start-up” given its continual application of innovative thinking and technology to solving contemporary challenges. Jason Hill, GE’s Director of Global Media Strategy, has been applying similar thinking in his approach to the company’s growth markets around the world, and has not only discovered a number of eye-opening lessons about what it takes to be global today, but is also at the forefront of exploring how brands and content navigate in today’s fast-changing world.
He shared these views as a panelist during the ANA’s Masters of Marketing Conference in October, and as a chapter contributor in The Reinvention of Marketing- 2014, a book series that outlines the thinking of contemporary brand leaders and their current work in global marketing, published by The Internationalist Press with the ANA.
In fact, Jason has recently returned from spending 6 months in Asia, based in Hong Kong, so he could “get under the hood” to better understand the marketing and media landscape there first hand. The Asia Pacific region is of increasing importance to GE, while its digital media ecosystem is quite different from that of the United States and much of Western Europe.
Jason’s work is focused on developing a global media program with an emphasis on those international markets with the greatest growth potential for GE. Fifteen key countries and sub-regions across six continents are considered top growth markets; they vary tremendously by culture and media trends, and include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Sub-Saharan Africa, UAE, and Vietnam.
Despite the diversity of these nations and geographies, GE’s marketing message strikes a chord throughout the world by focusing on big, human stories about technology and innovation that are broad enough to include conversations about jet engines or CT scanners. Jason calls this focus on innovation “a north star” which helps to shape global media programs-- both at scale and with flexibility to key markets.
He offers the following as advice, or what he prefers to call “thought-starters,” to consider when building a global brand:
DNA is universal
Define a direction for your brand that crosses company borders and comes from the core of who you are. If your business strategy is sound, there will be remarkable consistency in how stakeholders view their relationship to the brand across cultures. Nowhere is this better expressed than among employees.
Boots on the ground
When it comes to developing messages and making them relevant to local audiences, a global brand team can’t live in a hometown bubble. Frameworks and structures help, but local market nuances must guide the approach. And nuances don’t come through over the phone—you have to get out and see it for yourself.
In country for country or go home
Your brand can only be as local as your business. If you don’t have localized production, manufacturing, employment, there’s no point in trying to tell a local story. Credibility is paramount. And it’s not just for marketing. Revenue opportunities go to the companies who have committed major sunk costs. We like to say that it’s not about what GE means to the market but what the market means to GE.
State of the union
In developing markets, business strategy and growth areas are increasingly shaped by government priorities. Understanding national objectives, getting close to government, and shaping brand communications to match is crucial. Your closest partner for understanding the market may be your government relations team.
Paid meets earned—one team with shared objectives
Global audiences, especially business decision makers, have already filtered the content they want to consume. When it comes to news and information, brands aren’t going to curate it for them, but are better placed to integrate, convene, and shape the conversation in real time—acting like a publisher. Tap into the entourage effect and pair with media brands who share a common DNA. This means marketing and PR must be connected at the hip.
Redefine the creative process
Acting like a publisher applies to creative development and production, too. Global brands need to take a nimble, always-on approach to gathering and distributing content. We suspect the agency model looks more like a news organization with a few bureaus than a map with hundreds of dots, like those we put up in pitch meetings ten years ago.
Innovate, incubate, scale
These are the three steps we follow, particularly when it comes to our media partnerships and content activities. The social web means campaigns are no longer discrete or walled-off, and content must be made to ricochet, not just for added eyeballs, but because global brands need to tell a globally consistent story. Another lesson: don’t just innovate and incubate at home, wherever that may be. Our best pilots have been in non-U.S. markets where the tollgates are more frequent and more unfamiliar. We have had more success with scale when we pilot in a challenging place.
“All of these points,” he says, “have implications for team structure, agency relationships, and talent. Indeed, balancing a desire for scale and the necessity of nuance is a challenge, but one well worth undertaking, and one that will become ever more central to advertising in the latter half of this decade.”
Jason Hill joined GE in June 2011 as the Director of International Advertising & Content. In 2012, he was simultaneously named an Internationalist of the Year by The Internationalist and received an ANA Rising Marketing Star Award through nominations by senior executives who consider these individuals as role models for the industry’s workforce. In February 2014, his role expanded to Head of Global Media Strategy. He is a member of THE INTERNATIONALIST 1000 initiative--1000 Marketers Around the World Reshaping the Future of Marketing in global partnership with the ANA/Association of National Advertisers.