Forty years ago, there were only a handful of truly "global brands" and they were made up of only the biggest corporations -- Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive, IBM, Shell. Then a rash of upstarts came along, such as Nike, Microsoft, Apple, and Honda, and pushed their brand reputation further than their actual sales footprint. But now that barriers to international trade have come down and the Internet has helped small and mid-sized companies compete on the global stage, building an international brand is a realistic goal for more and more businesses.
"Only in the last 10 years has global business become the benchmark for how you do business these days," says Hayes Roth, chief marketing officer for Landor Associates, a strategic brand and design consultancy that has worked on international branding with such companies as BP, Panasonic, and KFC. "Thanks to the Internet it's hard to keep your brand just localized. Once you're on the Web, you're accessible pretty much anywhere in the world. It doesn't necessarily make you a global brand but you have to be mindful of the implications."
The following pages will detail what an international brand is, how to build a brand internationally, and how to build brand awareness in new international markets.
How to Build a Brand Internationally: What a Global Brand Is
In starting a new business or seeking to increase growth at your current business by expanding into international markets, establishing and building a brand identity becomes essential.
Branding involves what people think about your business and your products. "Think of a brand as a reputation," says Paul Williams, founder of the international marketing firm Idea Sandbox, which helps companies build their brands. "Building a reputation in any new market, including overseas, involves a first impression, which comes from the initial interactions someone has with your company, products, and services."
Businesses can attempt to shape or form the branding of their company or products in many ways, including advertising, media, word-of-mouth, and contact with your products or services. A lot of thought and effort goes into branding, including naming products, designing logos, and ensuring that service is uniform throughout the business. Through continued exposure over time, your brand -- or your reputation -- is formed with potential and existing customers. "A brand is essentially a short cut, it is a way for a customer to get an instant recognition on what the promise is of a product or service and how that will benefit them," Roth says.
The reason businesses spent time and money developing brand recognition is so that they can charge a premium for a product or service. People will pay more for a brand name product or service if it is recognized as a leader and a trusted brand and they know what they will get. Apple, for example, can charge more for its computers than some other companies because of its brand reputation for offering innovative design and quality electronics. The same can be said about Mercedes or BMW automobiles.
How to Build a Brand Internationally: What You Need to Expand
When businesses try to expand their brand globally, those goals don't change. But there are several steps you should take to make sure that your products or services will have a market overseas, that you can maintain quality in delivering and/or distributing your goods or services, and that your business or product branding meets cultural expectations -- and doesn't insult anyone -- in different parts of the world.
"The secret is doing your homework," Williams says. "Like any long distance relationship, it's got to be managed and needs more work than something you can see and physically touch, but it's not impossible."
The following steps may help you in building an international brand:
In taking these steps to building a brand internationally, it almost always helps to find local resources to help you understand and enter new foreign markets. You might consider entering into business with a local distributor or retailer in this new market. "It is nearly impossible to understand local culture simply by visiting a country," Williams says. "Find local customers, local translators. Just because you took two years of French in high school doesn't make you qualified to understand the French market nor do French translations. Just as consumers' needs are different in Rhode Island from those in Florida and California, so are the needs of consumers in Paris different from those in Marseille."
How to Build a Brand Internationally: Building International Brand Awareness
The way to build awareness of your brand in these new markets -- and increase sales because, let's face it, this is your goal -- follows the same formula you use to increase brand awareness at home. "Craft and communicate a message that is relevant to the needs and wants of your customers," Williams says. "Deliver this message in the places they are receptive to it, in terms they can relate to and understand, and through the channels that will truly reach your potential customer."
While you focus on raising brand awareness, there is another component to building a brand internationally that needs your attention. You need to be vigilant in maintaining your brand reputation in every market in which you sell. That gets harder as your business gets bigger and expands into more locales. "Once you start having a couple of different offices or are in multiple states or countries or you've gone from 10 employees to 300 -- all of a sudden you're not a mom-and-pop operation anymore," Roth says. "Remember, your brand is a promise. You're starting to make a promise that people are buying into and you need to deliver whatever that product or service is."
You need to ensure that your customers' experiences with your product, your business, and your staff are positive. That extends to how you deliver your product, product quality control, how service is delivered or structured, and how your people act. "The larger you get, it's not just you being the representative for your widget," Roth says. "You now head up an organization."
In branding, one bad customer experience often resonates longer than one good experience. "One bad experience magnifies 100-fold," Roth says. "You need to have constant vigilance." You might consider developing an employee manual, investing in online training for your staff, and/or keeping in check how fast you grow so that you can ensure that you deliver on your brand promise no matter what market you serve.
Inc.com Global Business Environment Section
Localizing the Brand (Import/Export Financing)
Six Ways to Open an Office Overseas
Managing a Multi-Cultural Workforce
Going Global: 6 Questions You Should Be Asking
Community Trade Mark (CTM) The Office for Harmonization in the International Market (OAMI). File for your CTM online.
International Branding Organization Non-profit organization dedicated to establishing branding as a specialized area of expertise.'¨
Import and export article.
Buy USA.gov, US Commercial Services, US Department of Commerce
Helps U.S. companies find international business partners, plus resources.
Interbrand Surveys & Research 'Best Global Brands'
A guide to research great global brands.
Landor's 2010 Trends Forecast
Market trends in the coming year and their impact on branding.
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ELIZABETH WASSERMAN is editor of Inc.'s technology website, IncTechnology.com. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, she has more than 15 years experience writing about business, technology, and politics for newspapers, magazines and websites. Her work has appeared in such publications as Congressional Quarterly, Business Week, Portfolio and Slate.