As marketers we know: developing a brand identity is a time-intensive, high stakes process. What’s more, having to start over because of an oversight is costly to rebuild websites, register trademarks, redesign all marketing assets, and everything else that goes into that brand.
A brand has grown from being the name and logo of a company to encompassing the entire customer experience through the value chain. I think most marketers would agree that this growing accountability for everything from the sales experience through to customer service and repeat business is a positive development.
For global B2C brands, companies often engage in in-country consumer focus groups and surveying to help validate the brand and its attributes. In B2B, it’s just as important to get validation especially since potential customers often get to know us through our online presence before ever meeting our employees. Though to be honest, most B2B companies do very little brand validation and sometimes pay a heavy price for missing key insights.
The issue: is your brand transferrable to international markets?
Here’s advice to help you develop your global brand:
- Most important: Do not offend
There are certain symbols, words and references in most cultures that are considered offensive. Even closely resembling an offensive word or symbol can completely negate all marketing efforts in that country.
Take for example the company, Red Hat. Now there’s nothing that I know of that’s wrong with Red Hat. However, had they named the company or product Green Hat, they would have doomed their efforts the Chinese (who represent 1/6 of the world’s population and have prominent positions in business communities throughout Asia). A green hat in Chinese culture represents a man’s infidelity.
The best way to find out if your branding has any negative international implications is have a cross-cultural specialist research your names, designs and processes for potential clash points.
- Develop buyer personas for each market
Marketers today spend time and energy carefully crafting buyer personas. Yet, few establish international personas. I think the reason why is because this requires market research and spending time in market understanding who your customer is and what they really need.
- Consider the Country of Origin Effect in Branding
If I offered you to pick between two watches (A & B) that were alike in all ways but told you that Watch A was from Switzerland, which one would you choose? The Swiss watch has a positive country of origin effect so you’d likely choose it if all else was equal.
The implication is straightforward for branding. Play up any positive effects and downplay any negative ones. In fact, if the negative effect is very high then consider partnering with an international partner for production in order to change the country of origin.
- For important markets you might need to start your branding over
In China you can find Starbucks stores in all major cities. The mermaid logo is recognizable and the stores have the same general look and feel as any in an American city. But in China, Starbucks is called Xing Ba Ke. Starbucks actually had a bumpy original entry into China. But like many companies, they learned from their mistakes and came back stronger and more culturally savvy. Many Western business professionals adopt Chinese names as a way to facilitate business identity and connection. For the record, many Chinese, Thai and other nationalities take on an English name for the same reason. It’s about personal global branding. Smart.
So if you find that Germany is a key market, then it’s time to invest in research to fully understand your German buyer profile and experience. Discover what parts of your current branding fit in Germany and what should be altered for a better performing brand.
If you’re not sure how your brand is being perceived in your markets, your best bet is to ask current customers and other in-county resources questions about your brand’s cultural fit. If you haven’t yet entered global markets, then now is the time to start your research so that you can be ready for that Global Stage!
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