Going Global with your Brand? Learn from the Leaders

Your brand is a big success in its home country. It has built a loyal following, which continues to grow in sync with market share. The profit margin is comfortably broad, and your resident marketing pundits predict a rosy future.

Are you satisfied with maintaining the status quo, thriving as a big fish in a small pond? Or do you believe you have the wherewithal to make good in global waters? If ambition is driving you to broaden your horizons, you’d do well to be better informed about the challenges and risks of going global before you set out.

While the Internet abounds with comprehensive articles offering advice, insights, and perspectives on the subject of global branding, this piece covers the same ground concisely. It focuses on key issues and offers real-life examples to exemplify various points.     

Know what you’re getting into

Research the markets in which you aim to promote your brand. Will your brand position continue to be relevant with a different set of competitors? Will the messaging need to be tweaked to appeal to the sensibilities and value system of a new demographic? How significantly will pricing have to be changed, and what about packaging? Will the market share you hope to claim be substantial enough to make it worth the effort?

These and myriad other questions can only be definitively answered after thorough research is conducted in the geographies you intend to explore. You won’t go wrong if you hire a research firm that has earned its stripes handling brands in the same category as yours. It should be able to undertake research based on relevant metrics and deliver the information you need.

Research data gave Harley-Davidson invaluable insights into India’s highly competitive domestic motorcycle market as it tried to establish itself in that country. The company achieved a better understanding of consumer perceptions and reservations with regard to its iconic brand and was thus able to position the Harley-Davidson bike as being both premium and accessible. 

Test the waters

Going global at one go would require a good deal of pre-launch planning and a huge investment in manufacturing, distribution, and marketing across countries and continents. Given the magnitude of the enterprise, it would make sense to achieve global brand success incrementally, perhaps one or two countries at a time. That means starting with overseas markets similar to your brand’s home ground, and then gauging your performance before venturing further.    

For example, if you’re US-based with an established footwear brand, you could do a test launch in the UK. That country could be considered a softer target than, say, Vietnam, where you’d have to deal with the daunting barriers of language and culture.

Pre-launch market research should help you decide on which overseas market to explore in the initial stage of global expansion.

Get your messaging right

You’d want to make the most of your brand’s established image, positioning, and reputation as you venture abroad. To ensure that messaging works as it should, use concept cards to get feedback from focus groups before you finalize advertising for the launch. Ensure that slogans translate correctly, and visuals do not offend, as mistakes could cost you dearly (not least in terms of damaged brand reputation) in the post-launch stage.

When Pepsi debuted in China, its slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ translated into ‘Pepsi brings you back from the dead’. It was corrected, of course, but it would have been a setback for the brand. 

When getting translations done, ensure that the translator understands the brand and the message it’s trying to convey. What’s needed is messaging that works as it should without necessarily being a word-for-word translation of the original line.

You might even have to rework the brand name! 

An early Chinese translation for Mercedes-Benz was Bensi, which means ‘rush to die’. Horrified at the negative connotations of the word, the suits in Atlanta changed it to Benchi, which means ‘to run quickly, as if like flying’, which is more in consonance with the brand’s persona.  France’s Kiri brand of cheese was changed to Kibi in Iran, because the former name meant ‘rank’ or ‘rotten’ in Farsi.

When reworking, strive for a word that’s phonetically and semantically close to the original brand name and positioning statement respectively.

Be flexible

It’s not just brand names or slogans that might have to be changed for overseas branding. Products too might have to undergo alterations to appeal to the tastes and preferences of overseas buyers.

McDonald’s, the world’s largest restaurant chain, maintains its lead by developing robust franchisee networks and adapting its menu to diverse consumer tastes. In Germany, for instance, the company combines beef with Nürnberger sausages because Germans are mainly meat eaters. And as they prefer to quaff the golden brew while they eat, McDonald’s serves beer in its outlets. In India, the Maharaja Mac replaces the iconic Big Mac, and chicken burgers are substituted for beef. In the Philippines, the company offers rice and spaghetti on the menu to compete with the local Jollibee Foods Corporation.

Even technology-driven products sometimes need to be adapted to suit export markets. Air-conditioners shipped to Egypt must have special filters and extra-powerful coolers to cope with the dust and heat of the Egyptian environment. And products exported to Japan should appeal to the Japanese preference for compactness.

Keep in mind that whatever electricity-run tech you plan on promoting is compatible with the power supply systems of target countries.

Be sensitive to customs and traditions

When promoting your brand on a global scale, you must keep in mind the cultural aspect of target nations. Selling concepts must be universally appealing yet allow messaging that can capitalize on significant cultural or religious events.

When conducting pre-launch research into prospective overseas markets, engage the services of cultural guides who can provide insights into the traditions and practices of consumer groups. Knowing the details, while keeping the big picture in mind, should help you promote your brand without committing an embarrassing faux pas or rubbing your customers the wrong way.   

Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ advertising campaign, which featured everyday women in their underwear, was altered to suit the sensibilities of customers in the Middle East.

Dress for success with the right packaging

How will your product be packaged? Will it be in a box or a plastic bag? Will it sit on a shop shelf, or hang from a peg rack? What signs and symbols should the packaging carry?

It all depends on the type of product, the retail outlets stocking it, and consumer preferences. If you’re marketing to a country enforcing a ban on plastics, your brand will earn valuable consumer goodwill by using eco-friendly packaging materials.  If you’re promoting a product that needs to be seen, feature it on the packaging. Ensure that the brand name and unique selling proposition (USP) are clearly visible. And, of course, use the local standard for weights and measures.

Forge durable partnerships

When you’re in foreign territory, you need all the help you can get. Forge strong partnerships with distributors, researchers, retail chains, and even manufacturers in overseas markets so you can grow your brand in a supportive environment. You might even consider going partners with a local heavyweight to avoid initial teething troubles.

In 1982 the Suzuki Motor Corporation signed a joint venture with India’s Maruti Udyog Limited to manufacture cars in India. Today, Maruti-Suzuki is ranked among the top ten car manufacturers in India and is synonymous with a wide range of marques.

‘Glocalization’ is the name of the game

‘Glocal’ is a portmanteau combining ‘global’ and ‘local’. It defines companies that have a global focus yet emphasize the importance of being locally relevant to their target markets. The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) is one such entity. By positioning itself as ‘The World’s Local Bank,’ HSBC is able to counter whatever reservations the locals might have with regard to patronizing large foreign banks.      

Despite the rise in nationalism and protectionism in some countries, no nation can subsist in a vacuum. It must continue to engage with its neighbours, and this means keeping trading channels open to global companies. These will, of course, have to follow the mantra of glocalization if their brands are to succeed. 

Need help taking your brand overseas? Contact us today to find out how we can help.