What are the Brand Implications of Obama / Dali Lama Meeting?

February 18, 2010sparxoo_admin

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How do global brands stay relevant and appeal to a diverse constituency/audience? For Barack Obama and the Dali Lama, it’s about joining in a symbolic meeting about human rights and taking appropriate action; for corporate brands, such as HSBC or McDonalds, it’s about speaking to the political intolerance in Kuwait or creating the Indian lamb Maharaja Mac. The Obama / Dali Lama meeting is a brand building opportunity for Obama to weigh-in on human rights issues and legitimize his Noble Peace Prize and the Dali Lama to re-iterate his international relevance to modern day human rights issues.

For international brands to be relevant, they must maintain a consistent core brand message while leaving some room to customize. Although the Dali Lama and Obama must have a consistent core brand message of uplifting the oppressed and suffering, they have to customize their message to address current human rights violations in China and suffering in Haiti. Global brands, such as HSBC, McDonalds and Coca-Cola follow a similar strategy when entering new local markets. Just as Obama and the Dali Lama need to stay on message while dealing with current issues, brands like McDonalds and HSBC must stay on-brand while localizing their message.

For instance, McDonalds needs to deliver on its brand promise of fast food at cheap prices while offering India’s lamb or chicken Maharaja Mac (as Hindus don’t eat beef) or Japan’s Koroke mashed potato, cabbage and katsu sauce burger (not your typical US McDonald’s menu). “The World’s Local Bank,” HSBC, developed an effective ad campaign that spoke to the HSBC brand while appealing to local culture. See how an ad in Singapore differs from an ad in Kuwait:

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Every new market presents unique cultural differences. McDonald’s would fail to market its American all-beef patty to Hindus and HSBC’s ad speaks to the political strife in Kuwait. Both recognize that a successful global brand must also have the ability to update and customize their its brand based on the local culture.

Obama and the Dali Lama’s meeting is an update on their personal brands — an opportunity for a brand “refresh.” The Dali Lama is demonstrating his relevance by meeting with the leader of the free world while Obama is taking a stance on human rights (a backhand to China) by meeting with the international figure of peace.

Global brands must update and localize their appeal to stay relevant. HSBC and the Dali Lama have brand parallels in that they must continue building and updating their brand, whether it’s in new markets or a new political environment, to stay relevant and sustain international influence. HSBC’s targeted ad campaigns and McDonald’s localized menu are small steps to build an international brand. While Obama and the Dali Lama’s meeting will not solve China’s humanitarian issues or stop suffering in Haiti, they must take incremental steps to improve, update and build their global brands.

Image from the White House Flickr stream