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Lessons in global branding

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Whether you're a domestic business looking to go international or a 'born global' exporter, your approach to establishing your brand overseas should be the same. "There's no magic wand you can wave, you go through the same process finding your target customers in any market," says brand strategist Hamish Chadwick, principal of Image Substation. A brand is a perception of your business and products so you need to ensure that the images and wording you use to convey your offering supports that perception. Importantly, there needs to be a correlation between corporate and marketing strategy. "The two need to be consulted concurrently when going into a market because when a company decides to export and the marketing team is left in the dark, that's when messages get out of hand," says Chadwick. "Marketing is the strongest element when going into a market because you really don't get a second chance. As soon as your name and your product is in that market, that's what people will be searching for, that's what's drawing them to the product. Be certain in your own mind first that the strategy is going to work and not going to offend or not make sense." Nick Scott, lecturer in international business at the University of Western Sydney, says the brand and logo has to lead the marketing strategy in conveying the identity of the product and producer to the overseas consumer. "Brands, logos and other promotional elements have the highest ‘cultural grounding’ compared with the other aspects of a firm’s international operations, that is, the culture of the foreign buyer impacts most directly on their perceptions of product quality and attractiveness, their motivations to purchase, how they evaluate goods, and so on," he says. "Accommodating cultural variation is the key issue with brands. Exporters should check with potential overseas distributors and customers if the brand conveys the right image in that country, and indeed even makes sense."

Branding overseas

Exporters need to determine whether the images and the marketing they're using will be suitable for the country they're going into, says Chadwick. "Some of the considerations are language, visual imagery that you've been using and some of the sales pitches that you use in Australia and whether they're going to fit and make sense in the overseas markets. You have to treat each country individually. You can't say 'we're going into Asia': whether it's China or Japan or Korea, you can't group them as 'Asia' because they have their cultural nuances." Be careful in countries that use ideographic writing forms-such as Chinese characters-as they are troublesome to translate into, notes Scott, and for other alphabets like Cyrillic you may need a professional translator unless you are fluent in the language. Check for historical associations to words that may reflect badly on your existing brand name, he adds, or if it's close to something unsavoury: "For example, Toyota’s MR2 sports car spoken in French sounds like ‘merde’ so they changed it for Francophone markets." Certain numbers and colours may also have positive or negative connotations. "Get on the ground and do some research or get some branding experts in those countries to do some groundwork on how these messages are going to be perceived," says Chadwick. "Those perceptions will correlate as to whether people will be successful in that market."

Revising your proposition

An important consideration to make for your brand is whether your selling proposition in that market will be the same as your domestic proposition or elsewhere in the world. You should already know whether there's enough potential to enter a new market but often you'll need to identify the different triggers that will sell it, says Chadwick. "What excites us here may not be what excites people in America, for example. Tastes differ. The easiest way to counter that is to go there and talk to local people. If you're setting up partnerships between the two countries, you'd employ people in those markets and work with them to develop a USP [unique selling proposition], which will suit. You have to develop that as best you can using local knowledge and then test it and adjust it as you go." Scott says uniqueness can come from country of origin, so if being Australian is a benefit then your brand should convey that. Additional branding such as the Australian Made Australian Grown campaign logos or coming under the new Australia Unlimited nation branding could be of relevance. Otherwise, "an exporter with a clear internationalisation strategy will conduct an audit of competitors’ products in the target market to identify how its own product persona can be constructed to differentiate itself from the others," he says. This involves visiting the market to observe competitors, collecting their marketing material for comparison and talking to potential buyers and distributors in the industry. "Don’t underestimate prospective customers’ self-interest in helping you," Scott adds.

Protecting your brand

There are a number of legal and non-legal ways to protect your brand overseas, though effectiveness will depend on the business environment. "The cost of registering trade marks, designs and brand names or patenting unique processes is seldom money wasted," says Scott, though he warns "IP in any country is liable to theft or misappropriation, some more than others. Often the laws governing IP protection exist but enforcement is lacking so exporters need to look below the surface." Fortunately IP issues are starting to gain attention worldwide and the Australian Government, through IP Australia, has identified a need to assist exporters in this regard. "Exporters should, as a first step, check with them," Scott advises. "Taking independent legal advice and regarding the cost of brand registration as a necessary initial expense in setting up one’s international venture is a wise move." You could also pursue non-legal avenues to protect your brand, simply by stating the benefits of buying your product, the original. A client of Chadwick's received a call about faulty equipment only to find the goods were counterfeit. The client educated the customer on the difference and added that their product came with a 10-year warranty. "You're not just marketing how good your product is, you have the strong points with a black and white marketing campaign that back those points," states Chadwick. See our branding case study on Cake Lingerie.

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