There is a term used in academic circles that needs to make its way into the boardrooms and marketing departments of global brands if they want to understand success in today’s economy. The term is WEIRD and it is an acronym for Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic.

Too often, business decision makers are WEIRD themselves and work from the assumption that their customers are as well. Or if they are not, they want to be and can be engaged with in WEIRD ways.

The problem is that most people aren’t WEIRD. In fact, just over 12% of the world’s population fits this description. That means using WEIRD as a starting point is going to run into trouble right from the get-go. This is a problem that goes far beyond business (in most cases WEIRD has been used to deconstruct psychological or sociological research), but that’s not to say being WEIRD can’t help inform how business leaders think: locally to market globally.

WEIRD gets weirder in the era of big data as marketers – and the automated systems that support them – pour over and parse information to understand, engage and influence their customers and prospects. Organisations are sitting on untold volumes of customer data, with more being added every day. They also have access to third-party data that can supplement what they have to make it stronger.

How businesses use this data, and even the tools they use, varies from country to country and region to region. In some cases these differences are driven by local laws and regulations (e.g. consider the European Union’s stricter rules around privacy); but in others they are dictated by available technology, technical proficiency and the availability of local data. This would argue that local thinking is needed for successful practice. But what about applying strategy?

This is where broad global thinking can and should come into play. The ideas of personalisation, of building loyalty, of delivering well-tailored offers based on data are all concepts that span borders.

Consider an online shopping club. This model tends to be well-received in parts of Europe but isn’t seen as an active approach in North America. However, when it comes to developing marketing strategies, enlisting smart data – to produce personalised marketing messages, cause for loyalty or customised offers – still very much applies whether in EMEA, SEA or elsewhere.

By the same token, financiers providing money transfers across contrasting regions can employ the same marketing automation technology, which transforms data into actionable insights, in order to better understand their customers and thus, better serve them globally. Leveraging data to allow these ideas to be realised can work despite different purchasing functions from one market to another.

As more data becomes available, and especially as offline data and online data begin to be merged to create even better audience insights, marketers and business leaders need to think local as a starting point before looking through their WEIRD glasses.

This means they need to be willing to set broad global strategies but leave operational control to local executives.

They need to ask themselves which learnings can be applied globally and which will vary from market to market. They need to recognise and remember that the colleagues with whom they spend their workdays and boardrooms are likely WEIRDer than most of their customers.