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Gaining global relevance

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

How a strategic branding management can break down borders.

A few years ago we had the experience of taking on the marketing for an International hunting clothing client, with the brief of increasing sales in the UK. This company had already been marketing to the UK but without taking into account the cultural differences in that territory.

When we embarked on generating some localised insight into the current position of this brand, we discovered that many British hunters wouldn't wear it because they couldn't relate to it - it had an unusual name, used the term 'hunting' (in the UK recreational hunting is termed 'shooting’ or ‘stalking') and the advertising used photographic images that were not taken in the UK. Even the dog breeds in the photos looked unfamiliar and the quarry was sometimes displayed as trophies when the British hunter would feel uncomfortable with this.

All things considered, even an early adopter of new brands would have thought twice under these circumstances for fear of losing credibility within their peer group. When we asked an editor of a leading hunting magazine in the UK what his view was on this clothing brand, he said he had been sent a jacket and trousers for review but had not conducted a product test because he felt the brand was not suitable for his readership. These items were left hanging on a rail in the office, collecting dust. In a word, the brand was lacking 'relevance'.

After a process of reviewing the core values and identifying the relevance of this brand and running an advertising campaign that identified with the UK market, things changed very quickly. Photographic shoots were arranged in the UK using familiar backdrops, models and dogs and we created a narrative that resonated with the British hunter. A brand personality and tone of voice were rolled out through various marketing channels and within a matter of months there was a dramatic increase in UK sales. Within a couple of years, the UK was leading sales in Europe. I spoke to the same editor at that time when I spotted him wearing this brand from head to toe, and he said it was the best hunting clothing he'd ever had. His perception had clearly changed, while the product line remained the same during that time.

It is often assumed that the messaging around brands which might be very successful on their own turf, will resonate equally well around the world. But this assumption has often been proven to be the downfall of marketing campaigns of small ambitious companies through to household-named giants. The brand framework shouldn’t alter but the imagery and wording should be ‘localised’ to each specific country.

Not all companies have ambitions of the whole world becoming their operating market, but when considering expansion into just one more country may need more consideration than some might think. This is especially true with what is often referred to as brand expression or proposition. ‘Empathy’ is a key word in all this and at the route of all good branding, marketing and advertising.

Brands are like well-known friends that you trust and enjoy associating with. Occasionally, you will have bumped into ‘the new kid on the block’ who you don't really know, who is quite vocal and making moves to befriend you but you may have viewed them with a level of scepticism and suspicion. You will naturally be defensive and judgemental about a person from outside your peer group, especially if this stranger is not talking to you in a way that you would like or displaying different cultural differences that you're not used to. You might find their introductory narrative a bit beyond belief or simply not very appealing. If they don't appear to be making the effort to understand you before asking to join your friendship group then you would be forgiven for giving them a wide berth.

Brands, like people, usually only get one chance to make a first impression, so it's important to think a brand strategy through very carefully - you might not get a chance to successfully re-introduce them to a marketplace once people have formed their own opinions about them. That doesn't mean that introductions have to disguise their identity, but deliver their values in a way that resonates with geographical or cultural differences. It's all about building positive perceptions, leading to increased engagement.

This might sound complex, but global/international branding management can easily be achieved once the mindset of a 'one size fits all' approach is abandoned as it may easily fail, or will probably require a much larger marketing spend if your plans are to 'bulldoze' a campaign through.

What is global branding?

This is the term used for the strategic management of increasing the strength and recognition of a brand in different regions of the world and in the markets in which it operates.

Crucially, it involves identifying what perceptions are currently, what you want them to be and planning how to generate that perception change - not only country by country but sometimes with consideration within regions. We call it closing the perception gap.

In order to push your products into another country or delivering to several countries, global branding requires you to 'turn the volume up or down' with brand elements including the core values which need to be preserved globally but applied with sensitivity to each region. A large American company that we service accepted that their brand was at a different stage of its life journey in the US than in Europe, so they couldn’t refer to the ‘heroes’ that use their products outside the US straight away in Germany for instance, because Germans wouldn’t know who those heroes were. Once a proposition is adapted, while still supporting the core values, that proposition needs to underpin any claims and promises through advertising, social media and any digital exposure including the website. This requires and investment in time and money to do it properly.

Content and channels

While deciding upon content, it cannot be assumed that countries have similar take-up with marketing channels. It might come as a surprise, but the US ranked around 25th in the world for social media usage. And certain channels can be out of favour with some cultures - in Germany, for instance, Twitter is not so popular because their words are quite long and the platform is deemed too public. So, when running the numbers and deciding where to invest in media placement, brand owners need to familiarise themselves with quite a complex landscape for maximum ROI.

Getting translations right needs a mindset of translating the 'sentiment' of a passage rather than just the words. Good translation companies that have experience working with international agencies will be familiar with this statement and will want to work with the agency or brand manager to fully understand the core values, proposition and tone of voice such that translations can be undertaken in the knowledge that the sentiment of the post, article or PR piece is retained and still carries the brand essence with it.

Brands vs commodities

Brand managers can initially be concerned about diluting the brand message when tailoring the messaging by region but, if done correctly, this approach strengthens the brand. For brands that have already succeeded in gaining regional market share and want to grow further, expanding into other countries could bring obvious advantages - like reaching more customers in new markets and strengthening sales. But one major advantage is that, as the company expands worldwide, the brand itself becomes its greatest asset.

In a market where B2B sales through tenders can form the biggest sales segment, many manufacturers believe that purchasing decisions are based almost entirely on price. If you accept this is the case and invest less in brand development, then your products will naturally become commodity items and you will compete purely in a price war. Strong brands command premium prices, even in B2B environments because procurements officers are also consumers and consumers love associating themselves with brands. Also they will often be influenced by others within their organisations.

Everyone likes to build relationships - ask anyone, the world over.

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