December 2010: When distance is dead, it pays to consider global patterns first

By , December 27, 2010 11:57 pm

December 2010, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

Whilst the communications technologies of 150 years ago helped establish many modern nation states, current technologies are undermining their relevance to business and social affairs. For market intelligence to be useful to business in a world where ‘distance is dead’, it should avoid making single national characterizations, consider global patterns before looking at regional variations, and adopt a detective/problem-solving approach.

The 1860s were a time of tremendous nation-building and business opportunity, aided by the new communication technologies of the train and the telegraph. The Confederation of Canada was established in 1867, and British Columbia agreed to join on condition that the transcontinental railway be completed. Also in that year, the first 35,000 Texan cattle were brought by railroad to Chicago, a trade that was to expand enormously and help interconnect the American economy. Elsewhere, 1867 was the year that the first Reichstag was elected in a unifying Germany, and Enrico Cairoli lost his life trying to capture Rome as part of Garibaldi’s ultimately successful efforts to unify Italy. This period also saw the adoption of the telegraph as a way to administer nationwide affairs, introducing issues which challenge us today. In India, there were privacy concerns about sending messages by telegraph[1]; and the viral misinterpretations of the Ems Telegram[2], in 1870, led to a rapid escalation of tensions between France and Germany which overwhelmed traditional diplomacy.

Today, companies can create digital campaigns to reach potential consumers around the world, often with little concern for national boundaries. Whilst the communications technologies of 150 years ago helped establish many modern nation states, current technologies are now undermining their relevance to business and social affairs.

I have been reminded of the old and new ways of communicating whilst being part of an online Globe and Mail ‘Catalyst’ community, established to provide input on their redesign. This newspaper first covered a national audience shortly after Confederation, when paper editions were transported around Canada by train. Nowadays, the Globe and Mail’s paper and digital versions have broadly similar content, yet vastly different reach. Whilst the paper version is aimed at Canadians, with targeted efforts to attract specific demographics within Canada, the digital edition communicates with a global audience, in competition with other international media.  Increasingly I can imagine people, from right around the world, reading (and commenting on) their Globe and Mail, through the free[3] digital edition – perhaps using their iPads or PlayBooks whilst taking their morning coffee at Starbucks, in one of over 50 countries this coffeehouse is located.

What are the market intelligence needs of business when ‘distance is dead’[4]?  Or as a US-based digital advertising agency recently asked me: ‘What is your approach for extracting and developing global insights with regional references?

Here are ‘3 top tips’ using examples from our Environmental Choices survey, one of a number of international surveys relevant to the low-carbon sector, including the National Geographic Greendex Monitor[5] run by Globescan and the HSBC Climate Confidence Monitor[6].

The first tip is to avoid making single national characterizations - ‘What does the average American think about climate change?’ is really not a sensible question. In every country, some people will be actively concerned about climate change, as shown by the recent digital ‘350.org, 10-10-10’ campaign, which inspired events in 188 countries. There are also going to be those less concerned about climate change, and research should measure the diversity of opinion in society.

The next tip is to consider global patterns first. Take care to ensure that the data allows fair comparisons between countries, and use detailed profiling information (demographics, attitudes, brand-usage) collected on each respondent. Within Environmental Choices, we tested the power of 6 different environmental branding ideas[7], and the variation in appeal had little to do with nationality. Rather, there were substantial differences between what men and women find motivating, and other differences according to age, presence of children in the home, and lifestyle/interests.  Taking another example, internationally those most interested in making environmental improvements to their homes are Climate Citizens who are middle-aged men with families’[8]. Once global patterns are identified, consider noteworthy regional variations – English people particularly try to avoid using a dryer, Canadians are more likely to wash at low temperatures, and 36% of Americans are not in moderate walking distance of public transport, compared to 2% of the English[9].

The final tip is about adopting a detective approach. A McKinsey[10] study about the emerging global middle-class indicates that the relevance of global/local approaches varies greatly by product category. This implies that market intelligence should be accessible to further analysis, making it more actionable for the specific needs of each business plan.


[1] In India … ‘nor could the secrecy of the messages be guaranteed if the telegraph clerks saw profit in passing on information to interested parties other than the legitimate recipient’, p.2206, British Empire, Trevor Reese; from edition 80, The All-Red Routes, http://www.britishempire.co.uk/library/bemag.htm

[2] The publication, and mistranslations, of the Ems Telegram, which reported a conversation between King Wilhelm 1 of Prussia and the French Ambassador, Count Benedetti, on July 13, 1870, led to French declaring war on Prussia within a week (and the rest of what was becoming Germany, who supported Prussia); and where Benedetti’s own dispatches to Paris no longer mattered – see  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ems_Dispatch

[3] It will be interesting to see how the Globe and Mail makes money in this new environment, and how much the digital edition threatens paper subscriptions. Given competitive pressures, the Globe and Mail currently believes that there is little prospect of charging for online digital content for the type of general news that they provide; and their goal is to maximize the numbers of readers. However, they recently launched Globe2Go , an ePaper version which is available offline, costing $20/month – (http://globe2go.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx). This seems to get a mixed reception from potential subscribers – see review and comments here – http://www.digitalhome.ca/2010/06/review-globe-and-mail’s-globe2go-iphone-app/

[4] I would like to acknowledge that the idea for the expression ‘Distance is Dead’ came from this paper – Distance is Dead, Rebecca West, presentation to AMA virtual conference of June 23, 2010, http://www.civi.com/civicom_marketing_research_downloads.html

[5] Greendex Survey of Sustainable Consumption, National Geographic http://environment.nationalgeographic.com/environment/greendex/

[6] HSBC Climate Partnership, Climate Confidence Monitor 2009, http://www.hsbc.com/1/2/climateconfidencemonitor

[7] ‘3.h – The branding of climate change, Environmental Choices 2008’, Haddock Research,

[8] ‘3.c – Climate change and the home, Environmental Choices 2008’, Haddock Research,

[9] ‘3.f – Transport, cars and car-share organisations, Environmental Choices 2008’, Haddock Research,

[10] ‘Capturing the world’s emerging middle class’ McKinsey Quarterly, July 2010, David Court and Laxman Narasimhan,  https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Capturing_the_worlds_emerging_middle_class_2639

2 Responses to “December 2010: When distance is dead, it pays to consider global patterns first”

  1. […] the Globe and Mail ‘Catalyst’ community which I mentioned in my December 2010 article – http://low-carbon-marketing.com/december-2010-when-distance-is-dead-it-pays-to-consider-global-patte… , which has recently won a number of industry awards – […]

  2. […] my December 2010 article, I wrote about how modern communications are making national boundaries less relevant to business […]

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