Compared to Western “network citizens”, Internet users in emerging countries are usually younger, more active and have a high degree of confidence in product ratings from friends and family. For most of them, the digital world is an escape from crowded family homes and an affordable way to explore the world. For many companies in growth markets, social media have replaced television as the most important communication channel for marketing. In many cases, social media have become the biggest sales drivers. The availability of different social channels enables cross-media campaigns that greatly improve direct interaction between brands and their customers. This is described in detail in our new Springer publication “Successful brand building in the large emerging markets” (written in german) by Dr. Niklas Schaffmeister (Managing Partner Globeone) and Florian Haller (CEO Serviceplan Group).

The power of co-design

One of the most successful integrated national marketing campaigns, no longer developed by a global headquarters but in the target market, was VW’s People’s Car Project (PCP) in China. It included an open innovation platform that enabled consumers to communicate with the brand to design their vehicle and then share the results with peers and friends through social media channels. Volkswagen was thus able to take up the ideas of followers and car enthusiasts. The best ideas were taken up by the product developers. VW started the project in 2011 to improve its brand perception, optimize innovations through precise market knowledge and increase brand value. It became a multimedia campaign to design “the first automobile for and by the people”. VW China improved its digital commitment and brand image in key dimensions. The campaign attracted 14 million visitors. VW was seen as the “Digital Performance Leader” and the car brand that is best integrated in society. VW China was awarded the Golden Lion in Cannes.

Not every brand has to fight for a leading position in the digital world and there is no silver bullet. But whatever digital leadership means for the different brands, there are four important principles that every marketer should consider when building or changing the digital presence of his brand.

1. The role and objective of digital marketing must be precisely defined

First, marketers need to define what they want to achieve for their brand in the digital world. Do they want sales to increase significantly, simply create a brand experience, or raise awareness? Companies often fail to formulate a clear goal of their digital strategy. Second, marketers need to recognize the natural digital suitability and willingness of their brand and understand how complex and advanced the competition is. Unfortunately, this important aspect is all too easily overlooked.

2. Knowledge of the digital behavior of the target group

A brand also needs to understand the specific digital behavior of its target group. It is also crucial to address the differences in digital behavior between target groups. Some may focus more on social media, while others are more interested in normal homepages. Only if one understands when, where and how the target groups are active on the Internet can the strategy selected to exert influence and the media mix be balanced. A holistic and consistent online and offline strategy is without doubt the key to success. Achieving the ideal balance is a challenge, as the search for information in growth markets varies greatly according to age. While many people still visit a shop first and then buy over the Internet, the number of those who first look for information on the Internet before making their purchase in a shop is growing.

3. Creating relevant, authentic and activating content

In a world where consumers struggle with an ever-increasing flood of information, content quality is crucial for digital success. In the digital world, customers decide when and where they want to take action; they can easily ignore or hide subjectively imposed information. Three criteria should be taken into account for quality assurance of the content: Firstly, content must be relevant to customers and convey important aspects about the brand; secondly, communication about the brand must be authentic, which can be achieved through repetitive messaging, for example; and thirdly, communication should encourage consumers to engage with the brand.

4. Measurement and tracking of digital performance

One of the biggest challenges remains measuring the digital performance and efficiency with which the mass of data generated at each digital contact point is used. Marketers must use these valuable information streams to derive brand knowledge and consumer understanding and develop new opportunities for their digital communication strategy. Monitoring and measuring the performance of integrated marketing campaigns is crucial in assessing the success of the necessary investments and determining whether the campaign has achieved its goals. Brand managers need to define the key performance metrics that are identified in connection with their business activities, as well as clear performance indicators (KPIs) that can be translated into strategic digital goals.

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