Season 1, Episode 11: Going Global
In our season finale of Outsmart, your hosts Nicole Allen and Rex Petrill sit down with our Executive Vice President of EMEA & APAC, Yvonne van Bokhoven.
In this episode we explore:
- The art of balancing global trends in hyperlocal markets
- Keeping situational fluency top of mind when expanding a brand globally
- Similarities in organizational and cultural trends across Europe and the US
Yvonne: Europe is an aggregation of so many different cultures. And I remember many examples where there would be, for instance, a narrative to attack the competition very directly. That’s not something that seemed to be appropriate in Europe. It’s even illegal in some countries to sort of aggressively name your competition or go after your competition. So sometimes that’s a nuance that we’ve had to bring to global campaigns. So, these sorts of slight cultural differences can be a big no-no when it comes to having your campaign go global.
Rex: Welcome back everyone to another episode of the Outsmart podcast with TEAM LEWIS. We are your hosts, Rex Petrill and Nicole Allen, and today we are excited to be joined all the way from across the Atlantic in the Netherlands, our head of the Europe market, Yvonne Van Bokhoven. Yvonne, welcome to the show.
Yvonne: Yeah, I’m happy to be here. Thank you for having me.
Rex: Tell us a little bit about yourself. What is your background and how do you get here? How do you become the head of the European market?
Yvonne: Yes, so my career at TEAM LEWIS started ages ago, I’ve worked for TEAM LEWIS for almost 22 years. Believe it or not. Before joining TEAM LEWIS, I actually worked for two American companies, one called Symbol Technologies, which is required by Motorola, and before that by Proxima, which is a desktop projector company in San Diego. So, I spent a good amount of time in the States as well and throughout my 22 years that was always have been working with a lot of American brands. One of the accounts I oversee now is Oracle Corporation. We run their European PR campaign amongst other things. And yeah, so it’s just been a tremendous journey joining the company when it was still small, to being part of its growth now to 24 offices and just under 700 staff members. So, a great journey altogether.
Nicole: It’s an incredible story and such an inspiring journey and I figure we can just sort of dive right in. So, one of the many reasons that Rick and I were so excited to talk to you today, Yvonne, is that you have such history and success and experience in running international, multi-channel, multi-market campaigns. And I think back to a decade ago when I had my first global client and being an American and working more on American brands where that’s their primary market, we don’t necessarily think about localization in the same way. I think just speaking broad strokes from a B2B perspective, where we don’t have storefronts and things like that that we’re thinking about the local branding, but we don’t necessarily think about localization in the same way and situational fluency that you do. And you sort of had to in Europe, right, because it’s so different from country to country and region to region. So just curious, what does it take from your perspective and your experience to run a successful international campaign?
Yvonne: Yeah, so I agree with you. I mean, working for American companies, the knowledge about the rest of world, so to speak, is not always there. Having spent some time in the States, I always also notice how little news there is about international. It’s very US centric, which is normal. Right. I mean, everybody tends to be focused on their own market predominantly, but Europe is a huge country with major potential. We have almost the same GDP as the US, same amount of people. So, it’s a really great market. However, it is more difficult to tackle, I won’t lie. Of course, in the US in almost all the states, English is the main language, maybe some Spanish. In Europe, of course, there’s a ton of languages. And legislation tends to differ a lot from country to country, whether it’s legislation on maternity leave, it’s legislation on taxes, on income tax, on import taxes, import duties. So that’s all very complicated to navigate if you’re an American brand wanting to go to Europe. And that makes sense.
Nicole: Data governance too, right? Data governance really varies.
Yvonne: 100%. Yeah, it really completely differs from country to country. Like, Germany has really strict data governance laws and security laws and privacy laws. So, yeah, all of that can make it really challenging to go to the European continent with all the languages, cultural differences, and all those other rules and regulations that make it harder. Right. But yeah, therefore we always advise our American clients when they want to come to Europe, don’t just go there from a distance. You try and make it there when you have a local presence, when you have a local spokesperson, an office, anything that makes it relevant and that gives you the local market insight because otherwise it can be a big failure if you don’t do it properly, right. But I guess similarly it goes for the other way around. I mean, I think if European firm just starts bombarding the US audience with ads from Europe, that’s not going to resonate either. Right. I think you always need that local expertise to tap into, to just make sure you’re maximizing your output and your potential.
Rex: It’s not just like kind of the regulatory differences and the structures of how each country is positioned in the marketplace and elements like that. It’s like you said, the very intricate cultural differences that really can impact the campaign for better or worse. We’ve gotten feedback from our European colleagues with our client contacts that are just like, please do not run an English language campaign in certain countries. It’s going to do our brand more damage than the small return of new leads generated. So, it’d be interesting to hear from you. What do you think are those pillars of success that any company should look at when trying to execute a multi-market global campaign?
Yvonne: Well, there’s a cultural nuance as well, right. I think the States has a different culture than Europe. And Europe, you cannot even talk Europe because that also is, of course, an aggregation of so many different cultures. And I remember many examples where there would be, for instance, a narrative to attack the competition very directly. That’s not something that seemed to be appropriate in Europe. We find that it’s even illegal in some countries to sort of aggressively name your competition or go after your competition. So sometimes that’s a nuance that we’ve had to bring to global campaigns. Of course, also simple stuff like, oh, talking of dollars and talking of gains, which are totally US centric, that’s not going to work in Europe as well. So, these sorts of slight cultural differences can be a big no-no when it comes to having your campaign go global. But it’s also, again, doing your homework. China, I think China is of course, notary for a lot of sales from US companies. I think the Mulan movie was the last example, right, where I think in the credits, the movie makers thanked the Xinyang province for its collaboration. And the Xinyang province is also the one that has all the problems with the Ogors and the extortion and the ethnic cleansing that’s going on there. So that led to the movie being blocked everywhere. Now, a big thing that’s going on within Europe and the Middle East is, of course, Qatar and the World’s Football Championship and a lot of brands blocking their partnerships with football clubs and not wanting to sponsor them. So as a brand you need to be aware of that if you’re going to think, oh wow, let’s go and talk about football, everybody loves football, right? And then just need to realize that there’s a lot of sensitivities around that that may not be appreciated by everybody. And then, of course, the big one at the moment is the Ukraine war as well, which leads to a lot of brands really pausing their comms because it’s not really seem to be appropriate to be sending a lot of light, fun messages out in a time when people are getting killed and are in danger. So those are all situational fluency things that you have to be thinking about when going into a market.
Rex: Out of curiosity, the European Union, has that made things easier or more challenging, I think, over the time. And I’m not trying to take this into any sort of political life, just pure curiosity. On some levels, from a US perspective, you kind of appreciate the attempt at making regulations more broadly acceptable or like, standardizing some practices and behaviors across different countries. But we always know that that’s kind of a pipe dream in the US where it’s just like, can somebody just make a rule that’s standard across all these different states instead of California having one set of laws and then New York and others. So, it’s something that we navigate, but not nearly on the scale of Europe. So, I’m just purely curious. Do you think it’s gotten worse or better or work in progress.
Yvonne: Definitely not worse. I think it may be getting better, but the differences are so huge that it’s going to take decades to sort of get the countries to get closer. Right? I mean, there are really huge differences in how taxation works. To give you an example, in Belgium, the whole nation, everybody who’s employed, gets an automatic pay increase every January, which is equal to the inflation. I mean, that’s only in Belgium and none of the other countries. In the Netherlands, you have huge taxation benefits on your house. For instance, you can deduct all your mortgage payments from your income tax. And of course, if you’re going to make all of these rules the same, then you’re going to cause huge issues per country, because all of a sudden, say that you would ban the income tax or regulations on Dutch housing, that would mean that house prices would collapse, right? Because that benefit is no longer there. And the same, if you would tell Belgian employees they would no longer get their tax benefits every year by inflation correction, then they would be outraged. So, slowly but surely, I think the European Union is trying to bring everybody a bit closer together, but it will be a long, long journey before it is really the same. The differences are still absolutely huge. I don’t know how big they are in the US. It would be interesting to know that as well. I mean, of course I hear stuff from my colleagues as well, but see in Germany you have a maternity leave of a year and that could go up to three years, and for instance, in the Netherlands it’s three months. So, just to give you an example, this is two countries that are neighbor countries. I mean, for me, to the German border is literally 20 km, but if I go there, it’s a completely different world in that respect.
Nicole: Yeah. And I think in the States, companies dictate a lot of that, right. So, we have a lot of sectors that don’t have any sort of maternity leave policies. And then companies like Google, who gives a year off? I may have that wrong. So, it really is dictated by the corporations oftentimes. I’m curious. Yvonne just pulling us out of any EU political convo.
Yvonne: Thank you, Nicole.
Nicole: What are some of the trends that you’re seeing in Europe? When we talk about the theme of this podcast really has been when we say outsmart, what we mean by that is, how can brands outsmart the competition without having to spend millions and millions of dollars? Right? We know that budgets are tighter than ever. You’re really having to prove ROI to get those dollars, which of course you should, but it’s gotten a lot tighter than it has in the past. And a lot of the companies that we work with are more kind of competitor brands and not necessarily the top in market and so they’re sort of trying to come up and compete with others. And we often see that smart campaigns, allocating those dollars in really smart ways is a good way to kind of rise up with the competition. And I think one of the best ways to do that is to have a beat on those global trends and to know what aligns with your brand and when it’s a good time to chime in on a conversation or maybe change your bidding strategy if you’re running a paid search campaign or look at rolling out kind of a cheeky grassroots social media campaign. So long winded way of asking the question, what are some of those trends in Europe right now that brands might look out for?
Yvonne: The number one thing on everybody’s mind, and I’m sure it’s the same in the US, is ESG and sustainability. That’s huge. So, if you do have a part to play there where you as a company really are serious about it and you’re really ready to make a commitment, that’s going to get you a lot of attention and that’s going to get you a lot of sympathy for your brand, right? And I think a lot of companies are jumping on the bandwagon now and they’re doing green washing and they’re coming up with statistics. You have to be real about it. You cannot just make it up as you go. But if you’re willing to make a serious commitment and to really make a difference in that area, then that goes a long, long way. I think, again, Cannes Lions, you may be familiar with the festival. It’s one of the global biggest creativity festivals. Almost all the winners of last year were companies that did something on the ESG or sustainability front and that’s what companies, almost all companies are dealing with now. We see that also from our clients, a huge demand in corporate comms supports in this area, both on internal comms and external comms, on how they can basically show that they are making the world a better place and that they’re committed to meet the Paris goals and to become more environment friendly. That’s something that is super, super hot at the moment and I’m sure it’s the same for the US. Right?
Nicole: Yeah, definitely seeing sustainability take a center stage in the US. I think another really big one here, which I’m assuming is big in Europe as well, is the returning to work and returning to offices and companies really needing to, I think, two-fold, right? Shift their employee policies and how they’re talking about those, but also shift their external marketing strategies because they’re needing to reach people in so many different places and those people are experiencing so many different things. So, I think the return to work in office is a big one as well.
Yvonne: Yeah, it’s the same here and yeah, I think that most companies are looking at adopting a hybrid model so it’s finding that middle ground, right? But yeah, I think definitely most companies have learned that this is actually going to be a cost saving measure as well. So, it’s actually quite lucrative for companies to have people work remotely, not having to deal with commuting and long hours in traffic and all the costs associated with that and less business travel, which again is then better for the sustainability goals. So, I think in Europe, companies have really woken up to the fact that A, people are still productive, B, it saved us a hell of a lot of money, right, to have people work from their homes. So yeah, I think it’s definitely here to stay in Europe. And that’s interesting because Europe tended to be, I think, was always a little bit old fashioned in that sense, where it was very much like the industrial era aftermath, right, where people were always coming in because they had to work with machines, and they had to be in the factory, and they had to even clock in and clock out. I think those days are definitely gone now and it’s a good thing to see, right, because I think it’s better for everybody, it’s better for work life balance and all those other things. So definitely something that’s here to stay. And I sort of see that discussion has been very strong and now it’s sort of like a little bit almost finished.
Nicole: Yeah, it’s becoming more normalized, I think. And back to your sustainability point too. I think that even as an agency we’re seeing an RFP, a bit more questions around our sustainability practice and our carbon footprint and I don’t think I’ve seen those 5-10 years ago and they’re really popping up now and I think you’re seeing brands really be a lot more thoughtful about who they’re partnering with and who they’re bringing into the fold from that perspective.
Yvonne: Oh yes, totally. We’re also looking a lot more stricter at clients that we work with and certain companies we exclude from because we don’t think that they are doing themselves favors in this respect. And if we feel that a company is not being working hard towards sustainability and doesn’t really fit within our portfolio, then we will not do business with them. On the other side, we’re also strongly looking at our own footprints and our own carbon footprints and our own measures that we have in place. We’re doing pretty well from the internal research and looking at the statistics ourselves. We have hardly any cars, so we don’t have a lot of leased cars. For instance, most people ride bicycles into work or take public transport. Our offices are not huge, they’re quite small, they’re usually quite eco-friendly, so we don’t do a lot of huge amount of business travel. When we do travel within Europe, at least, we always promote train first when we can. So, we’re already making quite a lot of good steps and that’s the one thing that I’m finding interesting are we going to go back also in the US to having these meetings, flying people over from other states just for an hour-to-hour meetings. You just wonder whether that’s ever going to come back again. What do you guys think?
Rex: It’s going to be really interesting because I think there are certain things that have to be done in person and will always be done in person and there will be a craving to getting people back in some capacities like for certain networking events or exclusive interactions. But I think what this has all shown us over the last couple of years, just like you guys were discussing, is that you can be incredibly productive in a virtual environment. You can bring voices together from across the globe and you don’t have to fly everybody to London. You don’t have to fly everybody to San Francisco or something like that to get something done. Which is not only a tremendous use of time and resources. But like you guys said, not the greatest thing for the planet to be flying or driving everywhere on a weekly or monthly basis. So, I know that I have friends in the consulting space that were just like, well yeah, every Monday to Thursday I’m on the road and whatever and that hasn’t happened in two years. They’re doing everything remotely because we’ve all come together as a kind of a culture and said, oh, this can work. Sometimes it’s not always the best thing in the world, but it can always work.
Nicole: I think too, thinking back to the start of the Pandemic and we were counseling a lot of clients on how to have those remote conversations and how to facilitate remote engagements and build relationships and run their all hands and run sales kick offs and the technology has certainly improved tenfold even just since the beginning of the Pandemic to support some of those things. And I think that people are getting a lot more comfortable with setting up their lighting and their cameras and kind of learning how to speak and address an audience when that audience is not in the room.
Yvonne: So, see, the trends are not different from Europe compared to the US. Right? I think that’s also due to globalization of news and trends and you do see that a lot more and it’s also because of social media and there’s a lot of the same types of discussions happening across the planet and I think probably even more so than ever before. Which then is dangerous again because then it lulls brands into a full sense of security thinking all the world is all the same and at the same time it’s super global. But then at the same time also hyper local. Right? That’s the weird part I find about the world as I observe it myself, traveling a lot of different countries, you’ll still see a lot of cultural differences and very local habits and foods and stuff that people consume and things that people do and what time they eat and what they eat and what they do. But then at the same time, you have these huge global debates, such as sustainability, such as returning to work. So that’s the interesting world of globalization.
Rex: Yeah, it’s never been easier to market to anyone in the globe, but that doesn’t make it the best course of action. It doesn’t make it right just because it’s easy to reach somebody in a certain place that you otherwise, ten years ago, would have had to go to extraordinary lengths to partner with a local publication or a local on the ground agency or local partner. You can turn to Facebook, you can turn to LinkedIn, you can turn to Twitter and just reach those people. But that’s not always the best course of action, for all the reasons that we talked about now, the situational fluency, the cultural relevance, even the language.
Yvonne: For instance, Twitter is a good example, right. In some countries, nobody uses Twitter. This usage is really low. Like Germany, hardly anybody is on Twitter. So, it’s things like that, channel’s usage and who is on what channel. All those simple things are things. But to your point, Rex, it’s definitely easier than I think it ever has been before, and it’s not hugely complicated. And if you just engage people that know the market and can give you advice and just have them double check things before you action a campaign, then that can get you a long way, right?
Nicole: Well, Yvonne, we’ve really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you so much for joining us. And this is actually our final episode of season one.
Rex: Close it out on a global note.
Yvonne: I know, exactly. Talk about the world problems.
Nicole: Right? Solve them all. Well, I’m confident we’ll be asking you back in season two. I know you have a whole leadership story and sort of an approach in coaching young women in their careers, and we definitely want to talk about that. So, teasing a little bit of Outsmart season two, we’re going to be bringing in some partners and some clients as well.
Yvonne: Thanks for having me, guys. Have a great day.
Rex: Thanks, Yvonne and thanks, everybody, for listening in. Can’t wait to see you guys in a couple of weeks.