The roll out of a new brand in and around the premises of a global organisation is a complex and expensive operation that may cause countless headaches in terms of technical development, purchasing, production, logistics, local regulations, financing and installation. Without the right approach, you run the risk of losing control over the project and wasting a lot of time, money and effort. It is therefore advisable to look before you leap and evaluate the right approach before you start. My experience in this area has led to the understanding that we can roughly distinguish three approaches, based on the degree of central control that is desired in the project.

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Prior to roll out: development

The development of a new brand identity usually begins with the design of its building blocks, such as logos, colours and style elements. The translation of this new brand identity into applications such as print, online and signage and wayfinding then follows and includes engineering and the production of samples and prototypes. This process often falls under the responsibility of a central department such as Brand Management, Marketing or Communications.

When this process is completed and the ‘menu’ of new signage and wayfinding products is ready, the question arises as to how to proceed next. Will all countries take care of production and installation themselves? Should purchasing of the products be done centrally to ensure consistency and economies of scale? Will such benefits outweigh the cost of shipping the products? Questions like these should be considered and answered at an early stage of the process.

Three scenarios

The answers to the above questions largely depend on the following decision: when is the moment that the central project coordination needs to shift to local coordination? In one scenario this is done as soon as possible, in the other as late as it can. In either case, the first steps, such as design, technical development and prototyping, are done at a central level.

Scenario 1 – Local focus

In this scenario, applied designs, technical specifications and requirements will be made available to all country organisations, after which they are free to manage the process of purchasing, manufacturing and local installation.

It is obvious that central management has little insight on and control over areas such as progress, consistency of the products (are they ‘on brand’?), planning and investments. In this scenario, these investments often need to be funded by the local organisation, with the risk of personal or local preferences coming into play. After all, he who pays the piper calls the tune. However, this approach is beneficial in that not much time will be lost with issues such as tendering, production and shipping. In addition, local manufacturers are often well aware of local regulations. Finally, many local sub-projects can be rolled out in parallel, which saves time. So, even though economies of scale will probably not be realised, this scenario provides a lot of other potential savings in terms of money and time.

So if the central budget or the available time is limited and the technical requirements of the signage solutions are not too complicated, this may be the best approach to follow.

Scenario 2 – Central focus

Contrary to the previous approach, in this scenario the entire process – from development to installation – is centrally steered. Technical surveys are organised from a central level to determine what needs to be installed locally. Purchasing is done via a centrally-steered tendering process, based on the product specifications and the outcome of the global technical surveys. One, or a few, main contractors are selected for both production and installation.

Obviously, with this scenario central management has the most control of the end result in terms of consistency, brand compliance, planning, costs, quality, etc. The business case is also simple for them – they only have one or a few contractors. Because local management gets pretty much everything dictated to them, they usually do not want to (and do not have to) bear the costs. Central management is therefore faced with a substantial cost item. And although economies of scale with regards to global tendering are obvious, the shipment of the products as well as the extensive steering mechanism will require additional investment. Complex logistics also lead to questions concerning the payment of VAT, internal settlements, import duties, customs clearance and possibly – depending on the countries concerned – corruption. And because the process of development, tendering, production and shipment takes a long time, local management can become impatient and frustrated due to a lack of influence and control over processes that affect their daily operations. Finally, this also brings risks for the overall installation of the products: The large manufacturers of illuminated signs and signage may be used to producing and shipping on a large scale, but all too often it appears that they are less familiar with local cultures and regulations and they depend on local partners or client contacts for the installation.

In some cases an organisation can be forced to use this scenario, for example when high investments like thermoforming moulds are required. But when global consistency is important in products but also in the way they are being deployed, or when maximum control over the project is required, this approach would be the right one.

Scenario 3 – A hybrid approach: best of both worlds?

The previous two scenarios were extremes: maximum control vs. maximum agility. Of course, there is also a middle ground.

The hybrid approach includes a general tender to select one or a few manufacturers. However, local organisations are instructed to organise their own technical surveys to determine their needs and, on that basis, to order the desired products themselves from prescribed manufacturer(s), usually at the expense of their own local budget. After production, the products will be shipped and the installation is then carried out by local installers. This ensures consistency and quality of products, but not necessarily coherency in the way they are deployed. As in the first scenario, local and/or personal preferences may be a risk, but the question is whether that is a problem. this approach ‘unburdens’ local management with regards to signage development, but also benefits from the knowledge of local partners on domestic regulations.

"The hybrid approach ensures product consistency while limiting the complexity of the project."

This hybrid approach often turns out to be the mean of the other two. On the one hand product consistency is guaranteed, on the other the complexity of the project remains limited and optimal use can be made of locally available knowledge and capacity.

Happy to help

It is clear that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach for worldwide signage projects. The optimal approach must depend on the requirements, wishes and preferences of the organisation. If you are faced with such a choice, we are happy to help you assess the options available. Please contact me through LinkedIn or email

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