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3 ways to develop an international brand

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in Finance and Insurance, Healthcare, Oil and Gas, Retail and Ecommerce, Travel and Tourism

What defines an international brand? This is one of the most pertinent questions that needs to be asked by businesses that are looking to go global because, as with all elements of an enterprise on the precipice of internationalisation, exporting an idea that works in one market into another – without any appropriate modification – is a recipe for disaster.

As we have previously discussed, enterprises that aspire to go global need to adapt the way they work in new markets. You similarly have to make small changes to your brand to reflect and respect the fact that you’re no longer subject to the same rules you’re used to as a domestically-focused organisation. Across continents, time zones, languages and legal systems, everything is markedly more complicated and contrasting to what you’re used to.

In this article, we take a look at three ways in which your organisation can develop a truly international brand that is able to navigate the opportunity-rich but multifaceted nature of the global marketplace. From localisation to taking into consideration the different makeup of markets, as well as the common ideas they share, your brand can become part of the everyday language of countries that used to seem so distant and impenetrable.

Think global, act local

The irony about developing an international brand is that you have to “think global, act local”. In other words, promoting your business across multiple countries requires that you to go back to the beginning – you need to understand who your customer is and the key factors that shape their markets. This insight helps reshape your brand, allowing it “to make sense” in its new surroundings.

This forward-thinking strategy can best be defined as “brand localisation”. Think of it this way, when developing your brand in new markets, it’s almost as though you’re starting from scratch again – your image has to be cultivated to work in symbiosis with the environment in which it now exists. Context is needed because ultimately, language is complex and culture is distinct. Square pegs do not fit into round holes.

“We are all familiar with global brands such as Nike, McDonald’s and Apple,” remarked Paul Veness, founder and managing director of Endpoint, last year. “Brands that have one set of values to communicate. One vision. One logo. Wherever we travel in the world, their identity is instantly recognisable.

“But these companies don’t just wade into a foreign territory without thinking about their impact on the local culture and the impact of the local culture on them. In order to maintain their strong branding, they adopt a localisation strategy to ensure they communicate effectively with their local markets.”

Focus on differences

As Mr Veness notes, the likes of Nike, McDonald’s and Apple – as well as Coca-Cola, Ford and IBM to name others – are all globally recognised brands that are perceived differently in different parts of the world. Their identity, their approach to marketing, their range of products and so on, all of these have distinct qualities about them in certain countries.

Amazingly, though your brand identity is subtly nuanced across different markets, these adaptations nevertheless share a common origin and a common vision. You therefore have to, says Martin Roll, founder of the Martin Roll Company, “tread the standardisation-customisation continuum” to succeed.

Businesses that do so, the expert continued in his 2014 article, “retain their inherent brand identity, which is the very reason for their acceptance across markets, while adapting brand elements (images, advertising channels, etc) to appeal to local tastes and preferences”.

This is the fascinating and complex nature of managing a global brand; juggling the need for uniformity, while at the same time ensuring that it is differentiated enough to be effective in multiple markets. Brands are, after all, experienced very differently by people.

Take Volvo. A 2013 study by the University of Gothenburg found that there were distinct differences in attitudes toward the brand. US customers “strongly associated [it] as the ideal family car”, while in China, “respondents shared an image of Volvo as an expensive, upscale and attractive brand”.

Utilising this information, Volvo can take one core product – a new car – and market and launch it across the world in a standardised but bespoke way. What’s received by an American audience and a Chinese audience is, respectively, different, yet at the same time, it discusses the same product. Again, this goes back to research – knowing your audiences.

Focus on similarities

Evidently, localising brands is vital for success. However, going global can sometimes mean just that – seeing the world as one, relevant demographic that you can aim your product or service at. As such, the way the world sees and experiences your brand can, in fact, be shared by various segments, regardless of what market they come from.

Here is a case in point. In 2003, McDonald’s launched its first global advertising campaign to reinvigorate the brand. As its then global chief marketing officer Larry Light said: “We lost relevance. The world changed, we didn’t.”

To win back support and extend the brand to new audiences, it decided to position itself as an enterprise that was accessible anywhere in the world. It struck gold with “I’m lovin’ it”, a campaign that resonated extremely well in different countries. As a result, the fast-food chain experienced its biggest second-quarter jump in sales since 1987 that year.

"The popularity of 'I'm lovin' it' is remarkable," Bill Lamar, chief marketing officer at McDonald's, said at the time. "It translates clearly and effectively to every language and culture and has really caught the attention of our customers here in the US."

What McDonald’s did so well was conceptualise an idea that played on the similarities of human beings – irrespective of what country we come from or what we believe in (faith, politics, culture), we ultimately share a lot in common. There are themes/ideas that unite us as a species and to be truly global, that common ground, at times, has to come out in your branding.

In short, it’s the same brand, only it isn’t – McDonald’s still needed to, for example, translate words and themes in countries where necessary to ensure the core meaning wasn’t lost. This meant that “I’m lovin’ it” was still received in the same way by everyone the campaign reached (the world over).

Connecting your brand

Globalisation has created two distinct narratives. One, it has made the world a smaller place. Far-flung countries are now neighbours, accessible physically and remotely with relative ease. Two, it has created new and multifaceted communities that are both “real and digital” – national identity can be experienced in a country that is not your native home, as well as online.

In light of this, all brands have to have be international to ensure that they are able to resonate in the most appropriate manner possible to numerous markets and demographics. Establishing this from the outset is advisable but, if you’re an already established enterprise, making the move to boost your global renown by taking on board the advice outlined in this piece will do you well to establish solid foundations.

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