Conducting Global Marketing Teams Around the World: An Interview with AJ Huisman

January 23, 2017 Carlos García-Arista

musical instruments on the stage and in the orchestra pit

AJ Huisman, founder of Y Content and early adopter of the content marketing approach, once said, “Maybe it would be better if we call [the chief content officer] a contributing content orchestrator—someone that contributes to combine all content, as though he or she was a conductor, in a relevant and harmonious manner in real-time. In the end, we all have to contribute to that same purpose.”

It’s an apt suggestion—one that is amplified in an international business context.

Global marketing works like music. In an ideal world, the oboe wouldn’t need to play the A to tune the entire orchestra, and the organization as a whole would anticipate customers’ needs; but in real life, as Huisman put it, “you rarely come across organizations where this customer focus comes naturally.”

Aligning field marketers around a single global content strategy is no easy task. I recently spoke with Huisman about the best way to get it done. How should you deal with different languages and audiences and coordinate all the moving parts when creating a global content strategy?

AJ Huisman

Build Support for the Strategic Plan

In theory, headquarters is supposed to create content and guidelines, while also regulating the workflow of content. Then field teams in different regions can adapt the content to their audience’s language and needs.

But when it comes to building a successful content strategy, Huisman thinks that getting a team to buy into a strategy means that we have to get them to believe in it first:

A lot can go wrong when getting an effective international content marketing program off the ground! Not only in language and culture but in a lot of big and smaller things. Global clients, global teams, and global strategies are a delicate balancing act, just like a relationship. It’s about respect, guiding one another, accepting each other’s imperfections, push and hold back, pick fights, taking risk, creating and having trust, always alternating between ordering people to do what you know is best or letting go and trusting the local teams to do what’s best in their region.

Set Clear Goals for a Well-Documented Marketing Strategy

A global content strategy starts with a shared plan.

“The first thing you need to do to get everybody on board is to establish and set clear goals and ambitions,” Huisman says. “Having clear overall objectives is always a good start at any level, but especially when working on a global scale with remote resources it is good to have a common baseline of goals.”

According to the Content Marketing Institute, the most-effective marketers are more likely to document their content marketing strategies and hold regular meetings—61 percent of the most-effective B2B marketers meet daily or weekly with their content marketing team either virtually or in person. Needless to say, if on top of the usual problems you’re dealing with scattered teams, politics, complex workflows, and different customer experiences, it’s even more vital to answer some strategic questions in writing before doing anything else (and then talk regularly).

Content Marketing Strategy

Huisman’s advice for marketers: “Once you have set these clear goals and ambitions, write them down. Document your strategy. This sounds obvious but research shows that around 2/3 of marketers don’t have a documented content marketing strategy.”

Marketers should take this advice to heart; the same study mentioned above shows that in 2015 they were making less progress than in the previous year. Only 32 percent of B2B marketers consulted had a documented content marketing strategy, compared with 35 percent in 2014.

Trust Local Teams and Establish a Common Platform for Interaction

Business leaders don’t want to hand over their budgets and lose control of their global marketing strategies, but at the same time, they want access to worldwide campaigns.

For Huisman, the solution is shared trust. “Have faith in your local team. Have faith in them to implement the global strategy on a local level. Who else can best handle the cultural differences and decide whether to localize or not and if so how or how much?”

In order to establish and cultivate that mutual trust, what companies need, for starters, is an internal communication plan.

“When you create your strategy with clear goals, it is up to the local team to help achieve those goals,” says Huisman. “With help, of course, from HQ, but with the faith of top management in the local team and budget to match. To guide them and have some sort of ‘control’ over the outcome, you must establish clear lines of communication. Having teams scattered around the globe means a big need to be communicative, and having a common platform for interaction and communication will also help to keep the lines clear and short.”

As the program matures and all teams gain a customer focus, the role of the central team should shift, and information should start to flow in both directions, outward and inward. In other words, whoever is playing the role of contributing content orchestrator will have to be like the conductor Riccardo Muti, transmitting a clear idea with minute commands, and then become like the gentle Austrian, Carlos Kleiber, equally charismatic but with subtle suggestion and laissez-faire.

“All in all, a lot can go wrong, but a lot can go right,” says Huisman. “It all boils down to agreeing on your vision, trusting and empowering your local team to carry through that vision in respect to tone-of-voice, style, cultural differences, and [addressing] language challenges with the budget to match.”

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