Going local in a global world

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Aside from earnest representatives from goldfishbowls.com and the like telling me that I was wasting my time studying for an MBA when I could be out there in the real world making my fortune,  my abiding memory of business school is reading, highlighting, analysing and debating case studies. These case studies were typically informative and thought-provoking; yet at the same time (as someone who had mostly lived in the UK) their mostly Northern American heritage meant that they always felt a little remote – I couldn’t quite relate to the protagonists and often felt that I was missing useful contextual information held by my Northern American peers.

This experience – of understanding with my head but not engaging with my emotions – is very relevant to our recent research on thought leadership being produced for the GCC (Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar). Focusing in on a specific geography highlights just how important it is to understand the culture and constraints of the local audience. One of our interviewees, Rafael Lemaitre at ShiftIN Partners, summed this up: “We consider it crucial to offer thought leadership tailored to the GCC: we do not believe that you can just apply thought leadership based on research that is done in Europe, the US, or other regions to the GCC. The geopolitical landscape is quite different, and the cultural differences are very big, so the studies, reports, and white papers should match these particular realities.”

Carrying out local research, driven by local priorities, generates content that is finely tuned for a local audience. However, for global firms, replicating this approach around the world is both time consuming, difficult to manage and quality control, and expensive. Here are three compromise solutions we see:

  • Identify priority geographies when carrying out a piece of global research and ensure that both quantitative and qualitative research takes place in each. Relevant data and local case studies help the reader relate to the report.
  • Based on the research approach above, provide each geography with the relevant data and allow the local team to create the report.
  • Create a tailored introduction or summary, one for each priority geography, for a standard report. (The risk here is that, unless expectations are carefully managed, the reader becomes disillusioned when he doesn’t see findings relating specifically to his region in the main body of the publication.)

Based on the thought leadership we've reviewed, any one of these compromises is better than assuming one size fits all across the globe.

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