How to take a brand across borders



Successful multinational brands are multilingual, multicultural and locally relevant – how are these traits acquired?

When the home market of a successful business approaches saturation, it’s natural to seek growth in regions far away.

You do your homework. The projections look good. Demand is there. Distribution is straightforward. Competition is weak. How about your brand? Is it culture shockproof?

It’s tempting to hit the start button and launch in a new place with minimum changes to your brand. Not so fast.

Skydiver jumps from brand plane

Food beloved in one country may be unpalatable to people who grew up with a different cuisine. Or they might find it delicious. 

Brands are like that too. As with anything involving human perceptions and interaction, serving a brand to people with different tastes can get complicated. 

Branding is often overlooked or under-emphasised in the commotion of a big push into new pastures. 

With the right approach, the brand building component of business expansion can enhance the success of the entire initiative.

Branding is often overlooked or under-emphasised in the commotion of a big push into new pastures.

A strong brand eases border struggles 

When a business moves into a new territory, whether physically or digitally, there are multiple dimensions to consider. Brand can negatively or positively influence many of these.

The business typically will have to develop regional alliances, recruit local people and comply with local regulations. Along with building the necessary infrastructure, it’s vital to build relationships.

Relationship building is always easier for people from an organisation with a strong reputation, or which is famous for something. 

The credibility of your business comes from financial data, track record, history – and inevitably, subjective perceptions, gut feelings, first impressions, intuition.... Culturally imprinted emotions influencing the instant and largely unconscious judgments that bias our decision-making.

Businesses have many stakeholders  

It’s obvious that consumer-facing brands should be taste-tested to ensure they appeal to the locals. Less obvious are the benefits of localising, or, paradoxically, internationalising, the B2B or parent corporate brand. 

A weak corporate brand that lacks consistency, clarity and a sense of artistic flair will impair a business. Businesses perceived as culturally insensitive or regionally irrelevant face obstacles when it comes to all-important relationship building, such as:

  • Attracting and recruiting key executive talent is more difficult
  • Team building is more challenging for your key local executives
  • Potential partners, such as distributors and other allies are less likely to understand and believe your story
  • It will be more difficult to launch an effective program to localise your customer-facing brands 

Leaders will find it useful to consider these points once their overseas venture gets the green light:

Skydiver parachute opening

...it may be a good time to get your corporate house brand in order at home before parachuting into a new territory.

Start your brand localisation program early

Like most initiatives, effective brand building often takes longer than you’d think. Especially in mature businesses with multiple stakeholders and many opinions that need to be considered.

If neglected or outdated, it may be a good time to get your corporate house brand in order at home before parachuting into a new territory. Get noticed for an impressive entry not a crash landing.

Launch a local online presence ASAP too. Time alone builds digital credibility. That local TLD (.cn .au .hk .eu .uk) signals a level of compliance and accountability. 

Even if your business model can slot right into a new market your brand will almost certainly need tweaking. A brand specialist knowledgeable in both your home and the overseas market makes a valuable partner.

Data is more valuable than assumptions

Assume nothing. People can perceive and react to a new brand in unexpected ways.

If not ignored (the worst outcome), your brand will be framed by audiences in relation to what they already know. Research, test marketing and starting small can deliver useful understanding.

At the very least ensure you’re not violating incumbents’ trademarks. A brand positioning exercise should be on your to-do list. You don’t want your brand submerged in a sea of unremarkable me-too competitors. 

Don’t neglect desktop research. How have others fared? What can be learned from their successes and failures?

It’s an investment not an expense

Budget carefully because effective brand building often costs more than you might expect. A strong brand often produces outsized returns too.

What you spend getting it right will almost certainly work out cheaper than getting it wrong, implementing remedial measures or having to do it all again.

A comprehensive brand building plan is essential. People in your team who know both your home and target markets are valuable allies. So are collaborators familiar with global brand building and business conventions. 

In the end it’s all about people. An expert team will bring the experience and mindsets that can build the success you anticipate. Talented people will rally around a brand that offers them purpose, clarity and the opportunity for positive growth.

Brand parachute saves skydive

Key takeaway: Brand early and go deep when expanding a business overseas

Looking to take your brand or business multinational? We can offer more insights based on hands-on experience. Drop us a note about your needs.

Looking to take your brand or business multinational? We can offer more insights based on hands-on experience. Drop us a note about your needs.