Globalize, Don’t Localize: Three Ways To Properly Ignore Boundaries

A hipster in New York is not that different from a hipster in Bangalore. Ten years ago, this would not have been the case. What’s changed?

With the proliferation of the Internet, smartphones and social media, information dissemination has never been more efficient than it is today.

Our marketing textbooks tell us that the highest classes of society in any given region have similar tastes and habits, but that habits then start to disseminate based on surroundings. Today, with Internet access expanding to the far corners of the world, those tastes are converging, and users are becoming increasingly savvy about what’s available to them.

What does this mass homogenization of habits mean to businesses?

People around the world recognize companies like Starbucks and Apple for their strong and coherent global footprint, but it took these companies a lot of time and effort to achieve this. Today, companies are born global; it’s increasingly easy and important to reach out to the entire world from the very beginning. Where you come from will matter less, with more emphasis placed on what you stand for, where you’re going and how you will get there.

Focus On The Product

Your product needs to have global appeal to keep up, and that simply means you need to make the best product. A great product is driven by a strong vision, backed by an acute sense of what people need, and has enough guts to push boundaries. It’s not about adding every feature and widget — that’s the shortest path to mediocrity. It’s about finding the underlying reasons to why people say they want something, and then solving the problem at the root.

Where you come from will matter less, with more emphasis placed on what you stand for, where you’re going and how you will get there.

When we were designing the OnePlus One back in 2013, we thought a lot about the screen size. Remember, this was before the iPhone 6 Plus was released and conventional wisdom said large screens were largely geared toward Asian markets.

We wanted to make a device for all markets, not just Asia, just the U.S. or just India. So instead of looking at what people used where, we looked at why they used it. We found that for users in Asia, the smartphone was increasingly the first screen: it was their TV, computer and phone, and the extra screen real estate was valued.

We saw that becoming a global trend — Western users also wanted more screen space, they just didn’t want something too big or uncomfortable to hold or use with one hand. So we slimmed down the phone and curved the back edges to make it easier to hold. By making the overall product better, we were able to appeal to a wider audience because it was a flat-out better experience rather than a product marketed to meet a specific regional trend.

Localize — Minimally

Despite the pervasiveness of the Internet, language differences and culture gaps are real and obvious borders, and it’s important to adapt to them — to an extent. In terms of localization, keep things simple and do as little as needed to still meet people’s expectations. I call it MVL, or minimum viable localization. Make sure that your localization enables people to use your product in a way that works well for them — but don’t over-localize.

For example, you can go into any Starbucks in the world with confidence that the coffee you get will be good and freshly made – and just like what you would get in Seattle. They localize with a small handful of products (like matcha lattes in Japan), but remain focused on their core products because that’s really all their customers require to be satisfied.

Make the brand identity cohesive and easy to understand. The name OnePlus translates well across cultures — both linguistically (there is a word for ‘one’ and ‘plus’ in every language) and the meaning of sharing something great with others. If you focus too much on localization, either in your messaging or your product, you might set yourself up for failure; appealing to the status quo in one region may make your brand seem dated or distant to another.

We thought about this constantly when launching the OnePlus 2. We thought about doing localized keynote events in both India and Southeast Asia, where we have local offices. But being our first major launch since the One, it didn’t feel right to debut our newest flagship product in such a segmented manner. We ultimately went for a Virtual Reality launch streamed online to the whole world, at the same time. It wasn’t perfect, and it was streamed at a horribly inconvenient time of day for our European friends, but it was something all our fans could participate in together, as one community.

Reaching your entire user base for major events is important. But watch out, because day-to-day marketing and communications don’t translate as easily as a product or brand. Every young company has some SNAFUs in the early days, and we experienced some with some of our early marketing activities. Since then, we’ve built out our global marketing team to include people from the U.S., Europe, India, China, Southeast Asia and Latin America to better understand how to communicate our products to different regions.

Find Great Partners

A lot of companies fail because they can’t prioritize and focus. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Understand your own strengths, and if someone is better than you at something, find a way of working together. Although your product and brand can be global, you need local partners on the ground. They can help with important operational issues like payments and logistics, as well as enable you to tap into new user segments.

We initially launched OnePlus in 17 markets spanning North America, Europe and Asia. With the help of our regional e-commerce, payments, logistics and carrier partners, we’ve since expanded to 36 countries including India, which was a particularly great learning opportunity in partnership.

A hipster in New York is not that different from a hipster in Bangalore.

We had heard from so many loyal and enthusiastic OnePlus fans in India since before the OnePlus One was even announced and realized we needed to find a way to launch there officially. We were still young and struggling to keep up with demand. Amazon India offered the resources and understanding to implement the invite system within their own infrastructure, allowing us to keep our business and our brand united.

As a company that focuses on hardware, we’ve gotten great reviews and media coverage from all over the world, held fan events in countless cities and have set up lean offices in seven locations (and counting). Logistically, hardware is much more difficult to scale than software. So if you’re in software, you have no excuse to not be global.

Today’s fundamental business goals — to deliver great products and build customer loyalty – might be the same as they were decades or centuries ago, but the current global landscape requires a different way of thinking. Those hipsters in New York and Bangalore would likely have been using very different devices a few years ago, but now they are eagerly seeking an invite for the same great smartphone. Companies need to adapt to the times by better understanding how tastes and habits are converging, and deliver great products simply and efficiently.

Good luck, and see you somewhere on our planet.