By launching a global movement with multiple local variations around the world, Extinction Rebellion has, in many ways, become a powerful “global brand”.
Once just a small group of passionate UK based activists, Extinction Rebellion has now become an ever-present global force demanding action. With an ambition to get governments to declare a climate emergency and take action, it has rallied support worldwide, with over 400 groups across 72 countries ranging from Australia to South Africa, India, Germany, Spain, Canada and the US. Today, despite criticism, the movement continues to grow.
Comparing a civil disobedience activist movement to a brand may seem counter-intuitive. But Extinction Rebellion has arguably become one of the most successful brands of recent years – discussed and known by everyone, everywhere. When you break it down, the movement’s influence both globally and locally provides valuable lessons from a communications perspective.
A paradoxical challenge for global organisations
In 2019, global organisations and corporations face an operating environment that continues to turn on its head. Industries managing the uncertainties of Brexit, companies importing raw materials from the burning Amazon, high-tech players facing recurring tax debates, advocacy organisations calling on stakeholders to step up the implementation of the 2030 sustainable development agenda – all operate in a world which is globalising and fragmenting at the same time.
The fragile equilibrium that presides over international affairs is being challenged by new divisions. Countries are openly questioning long established trade rules and multilateral mechanisms. Meanwhile, rising regional and global powers are extending their influence by developing new media channels and digital networks – China’s CGTN or Russia’s RT are notable examples.
Companies and organisations are expected to adhere to national policies that diverge and sometimes conflict, whilst also weighing in on the world’s most complex social and political issues. They also need to navigate the increasingly complex and evolving media landscape, in which keeping the thread of consistency in their global communications remains essential.
Though divisions and rivalry are leading to fragmentation, the world continues to become ever more connected in an era of growing public scrutiny. Issues which arise in a specific country, or far away in the supply chain, can no longer be siloed off. Today, such issues can rapidly escalate. Organisations that show a lack of cultural sensitivity, misinterpret public sentiment, or turn a blind eye to burning social issues, leave themselves exposed to reputational crisis at both the national and global level.
All this means that managing a global brand today comes down to a paradoxical challenge: organisations hoping to operate at an international scale must speak with one voice across the globe, while aligning with nuanced local conversations. They need their communications and policy capabilities to keep pace with the growth of their multi-market operations. Many are excellent at what they do but fail to scale up their communications quickly enough to make their voice heard both internationally and locally.
The rewards for those that walk this tightrope successfully are vast. Through creative yet disciplined campaigns, organisations can shape their international reputation, win over new markets and bring about positive change. To achieve this, engaging locally cannot be an add-on. It must be woven into the fabric of any global campaign. Organisations need to map the right stakeholders and channels for each market; local data and insights must be integrated into a global strategy from the early stages and understanding local policies and debates is fundamental to success. This is about defining a global “brand territory” that can be tailored to local contexts and audiences, with the right language and supporting facts.
A strategic shift for international reputation strategies
This moving context brings new reputational challenges and can be challenging for international organisations and corporations. It is also an opportunity for them to design global reputation strategies that are more impactful. This requires first and foremost an organisational shift, because the fast-changing international agenda leaves little time for coordinating big and rigid infrastructures. Instead, impactful global communications necessitate strategy, intelligence, cultural sensitivity and multilingual skills, delivered through agile regional hubs. Organisations capable of doing so will have the upper hand.
The strategic approach, technology and methodology behind global campaigns also need to step up. Accessing data to track local debates and monitor how a brand performs globally, regionally and locally is less of a challenge than it has been in the past. The priority is now to help international brands select the right data and make sense of it, to inform a global strategy, that incorporates local nuances.
These are the fundamental elements to build, develop and protect brands that are not only globally resonant but also locally relevant.
It is too early to say whether Extinction Rebellion’s objectives will be achieved, but its messages are cutting through to audiences around the world. As such, this growing global movement could be both a challenge and a source of inspiration for international brands.