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Marketers have heard the nightmare stories – some true, some not – about global marketing going awry when forced upon local markets. With emerging digital marketing tools, data analytics, and a focus on delivering personalized customer experiences, you’d think technology would solve this problem.

But the opposite is true.

“Most global marketers and agencies we interviewed admit they struggle to balance global and local needs,” says Forrester analyst Thomas Husson in a research note. “The media is rife with well-known players like Best Buy, Walmart and WeChat making forays into new markets, only to face large losses and embarrassment due to their cultural insensitivity. The addition of digital to the marketer’s toolkit complicates global expansion further for leaders and laggards alike.”

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Despite the worldwide phenomenon of the digital economy, countries vary widely in their digital maturity. This flies in the face of marketing automation tools that help marketers conduct their craft at scale. A locality with a certain level of digital adoption, digital infrastructure, and access to digital tools makes a one-size-fits-all approach a recipe for disaster.

Case-in-point: Forrester cites Finnish mobile game developer Supercell launching its popular “Clash of Clans” game in China. Supercell assumed Chinese gamers had access to Google Play and could buy in-game currency. But Chinese gamers didn’t have access, and Supercell took a revenue hit.

Or consider mobile-first marketing, the rallying cry for many American marketers today. Their co-workers in other countries might not be ready to drive the same mobile initiatives. Many marketers outside the United States still view mobile as a sub-channel. Or they want to use mobile to augment the offline experience rather than become the primary experience.

“Marketers – even in mobile-savvy Asian countries – are not mature in integrating mobile into their marketing strategy,” the head of performance at a large global digital platform provider told Forrester.

Marketing tech tools aimed at personalizing customer experiences at scale are part of the problem. The technology often doesn’t support different languages well. The critical data used to drive insights likely isn’t localized data.

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Then there’s the massive variance in infrastructure support for digital. More than 3.5 billion people are still not digitally connected, Forrester says. An Ericsson report late last year found that 65 percent of mobile connections in North America rely on 4G/LTE mobile broadband standard, while the same percentage in the Middle East and Africa rely on basic GSM/Edge mobile low-band.

“Marketers can’t assume that existing investments in data centers, bandwidth, and content delivery networks will accommodate both blazing-fast speeds and shaky cellular connections in faraway markets,” Husson says.

Global digital marketers also must work through a labyrinth of regulations and make sure their digital technology and practices conform to local laws. In a January 2017 study, The National Intelligence Council found that half of organizations across the European Union and United States were unaware of the European General Data Protection Regulation governing privacy practices. This regulation, which will begin in May next year, carries fines of up to 4 percent of global revenues.

“Experts agree that we are likely to see more protectionism and local regulation in the next 20 years,” Husson says. “Such trends are starting in the nutrition space due to the importance of local food habits and health regulations, and will follow to other verticals.”

There’s no question global digital marketers have a lot of work to do at the local level, but they don’t appear to be doing it.

“Many global marketers we interviewed spend more resources finding the latest startups in the Silicon Valley than they do deconstructing the local digital dynamics in their global locations,” Husson says.

Tom Kaneshige writes the Zero One blog covering digital transformation, AI, marketing tech and the Internet of Things for line-of-business executives. He is based in Silicon Valley. You can reach him at tom.kaneshige@penton.com.