We also found that Islamic consumers were even more favorably disposed toward the positive characteristics of global brands — their reputation for quality and status value in particular — than were consumers in non-Islamic countries.
Given our findings, we were not surprised to learn that Coke and Pepsi turned in their most successful year ever in the Arab countries in 2003. American multinationals should wear their global success proudly, rather than try to hide it.
In non-Islamic countries, American MNCs increasingly seek the advice of local partners and franchisees on how to adapt products and advertising to local tastes. They are delegating more product development and marketing-budget authority to local managers, and emphasizing their local ownership. They use more local raw materials and employ more local people so that they can be seen as local companies in the eyes of suppliers and customers.
This is the right approach. American companies should have the confidence to treat Islamic countries as they do all the foreign markets in which they operate. Indeed, they would do well to follow the same “glocal” strategies (global reach, local implementation) that have served them well in other parts of the world.
To pursue these courses of action in the Islamic world, however, MNCs must develop more senior executives who understand the cultures and know how to do business there. Similarly, the drive for diversity in the multinational company boardroom should be global, not just national, in its perspective. Today, how many Fortune 500 companies’ boards of directors include a Muslim? How many of their top executives are Muslim? All too few.
John A. Quelch (firstname.lastname@example.org) is professor and senior associate dean for international development at Harvard Business School. He is coauthor, with Christopher A. Bartlett, of Global Marketing Management (Prentice Hall, 1998) (4th edition) and, with Edward J. Hoff, of the 1986 landmark Harvard Business Review article “Customizing Global Marketing.”
Douglas B. Holt (email@example.com) is assistant professor at Harvard Business School, where he specializes in cultural approaches to branding and advertising. His book How Brands Become Icons: The Principles of Cultural Branding will be published by Harvard Business School Press in 2004.