Our global marketplace provides businesses with enormous opportunities for expansion. Reaching multiple cultures and audiences requires careful thought, an attentive approach and a global business expansion strategy.
I’ll examine strategies for building an international brand in today’s VUCA world, with examples drawn from real-life success stories as well as relevant statistics; specifically, we will discuss customer behaviour analysis, positioning, brand translation, broad thinking partnerships, adaptability, technology, and of course, the “think global, act local” mindset!
It takes time to build your brand in international markets – it’s not a way to get rich quick, but can add immense value to your company if you have a more global footprint. This is more of a round up post with a variety of global business expansion tips, none of which alone will fix your sales situation or guarantee you success.
Table of Contents
Global Brand Expansion begins by Understanding Customer Behaviour
To effectively connect with international audiences, gaining an in-depth knowledge of their behaviours, preferences, and cultural nuances is critical. It’s essential to understand what motivates your customers to buy certain brands whilst having little interest in others:
- Cultural Sensitivity: Recognize and appreciate cultural differences when considering consumer behaviour. McDonald’s successfully adjusted its menu offerings according to local tastes across many countries – for instance, serving vegetarian options in India.
- Customised Marketing: If your marketing messages don’t reflect the values and aspirations of your target audience then they won’t resonate. Coca-Cola‘s famous “Share a Coke” campaign used personalised bottles featuring popular names from each country to increase consumer connection.
Customer motivation to buy your products will be different from one market to the next. Organic quality might be the main argument in Europe, but German or British origin of the product could be the main sales driver in a market such as Indonesia or China. This is often an extremely nuanced situation, so to understand it well you probably need a distributor who will communicate extensively with you, your own team on the ground or an external expert to support you at least in the beginning phase.
To Build your Brand in International Markets you need to Properly Establish Your Positioning
The right positioning is crucial for success and for that you need a global business expansion strategy combined with a specific tactical export plan for each market which you are considering. I’ll put the links to my other posts about making an export plan below this post for you to read later.
It’s not an overnight activity to build your brand in international markets, but something you need to work on over time. Consider these steps:
Conduct comprehensive market research to identify gaps, learn about the competitive landscape, and consumer needs and attitudes. Think for example about how AirBnB has earned the trust of travellers by offering unique experiences across numerous countries, or how Uber disrupted the often monopolised taxi industry.
Focus on the Unique Selling Points that Differentiate You from Competitors:
Tesla has succeeded at differentiating itself from competitors by focusing on being an innovative, sustainable, high-performance electric vehicle brand. Their positioning resonates with global consumers. I bet that outside of Asia, you would be hard pushed to find consumers who could even name another high-performance EV brand!
Understanding your competitive landscape helps establish your unique value proposition.
Airbnb is an example of this principle; they positioned themselves as an innovative and community-led alternative to traditional accommodation by emphasising local experiences and personal connections to gain international support and create their brand image. Of course this hasn’t worked everywhere (see my post on why AirBnB failed in China) but in many markets AirBnB has allowed residents to open up new streams of income, whilst offering travellers an alternative to the formal accomodation market.
Do you Understand How Your Brand Translates?
Reproducing your brand message accurately across cultures is a critical part of your global business expansion strategy as well as essential to maintaining consistency and avoiding cultural missteps.
Make sure that all aspects of your brand name, tagline, and marketing materials have appropriate translations in different languages – Louis Vuitton has maintained its image by using consistent translations across its product offerings and languages. Use a software such as the Squadhelp AI-powered naming tool for creative brand names.
You might also find the suggestions in my discussion with Joanne Chan on being multi-market ready useful.
Visual elements like colours, symbols, and images may have varied cultural connotations. Nike’s “Just Do It” slogan has crossed cultural divides by emphasising determination and perseverance as universal values.
Visual communication is just as crucial, having different cultural connotations depending on where they come from. For example, red is known to signify luck and prosperity in Chinese culture – something McDonald’s recognized by using this color prominently when entering China’s market with their branding and restaurant designs.
On the other hand, you need to be careful using green in Muslim countries (the colour is perceived as holy) or white in Asian countries (this symbolises death).
The ability to expand your thinking is essential for Building an International Brand
An international mindset combined with thinking beyond traditional boundaries can open doors to unexplored opportunities. Consider these global business expansion tips to broaden your opportunities:
When welcoming cultural differences into your team, embrace them to gain insights from diverse backgrounds. For example, the diversity of Unilever’s workforce has proven essential in understanding local markets while developing products explicitly tailored to local cultures.
This is a difficult line to walk if you don’t actually have team members from the market in question as you can be accused of cultural appropriation and also of disrespect or make huge faux pas. Think about the way that Dolce and Gabbana have been in various scandals in China for not getting the “local culture” right.
Establish niche markets within different nations and tailor offerings accordingly. For instance, McDonald’s & Starbucks have introduced regionalised menus and decorations in response to customer preferences in specific regions. Similarly, Nike understood the popularity of basketball in China and developed partnerships with local athletes to build brand recognition among Chinese audiences and establish brand loyalty. By looking beyond borders and identifying niche markets within countries, your offerings can be customised specifically to satisfy cultural preferences. This is a key part of your global business strategy.
Identifying the Right Partners:
Partnering with local businesses or individuals can bring invaluable insights and help build credibility across international markets. In addition to working with a distributor as I’ve often spoken about in my posts you have other options that may better suit your industry. It’s important that you find the model that works best for YOU and find the right partners for where you are now in your international expansion journey. There are of course more kinds of partners than the ones I’ve mentioned here for this roundup post.
Partner with local entities to navigate cultural, legal, and logistical complexities effectively. Starbucks made their way into China successfully by teaming up with Tingyi Holding Corp, a local partner company in Shanghai.
I’ve spoken at length in the past about why working with a distributor can be the best option to build your brand in international markets so I won’t go into that topic in any more detail here.
Consider working with local influencers or brand ambassadors with an established presence within your target market, as Nike did by teaming up with Chinese basketball player Yao Ming to connect to Chinese consumers and build brand loyalty. The Greek skincare brand Korres collaborated with top China KOL 雪梨 Cherie to endorse their facial and other skin care products.
Being Adaptive and Flexible is essential for success in international markets:
When operating across different markets, adaptability is of the utmost importance.
Be open to adapting your strategies based on market feedback and shifting consumer tastes. Look at the way Facebook adapted its platform to support multiple languages and cultural norms in different countries. Doing this helped it achieve considerable traction worldwide, whatever you may think of them… Accept also that different markets will evolve at different speeds & in different directions, so whilst Facebook might be used in both the Philippines and Germany the consumers in those countries are looking for different approaches from you as a brand.
Tailor products to suit local preferences or requirements. Starbucks introduced a lot more tea flavours in China to connect with the traditional tea culture there, as well as recognising that consumers need to be marketed to in a different way.
Leverage Technology to take Advantage of all the Opportunities:
Technology can facilitate international networking by helping to bridge geographical barriers. 3 examples that I’m sure virtually every company has heard of and most have used would be:
- E-Commerce Platforms:
Engaging global audiences through robust e-commerce infrastructure has propelled Amazon’s international growth as well as that of companies such as SHEIN.
- Social Media and Digital Marketing:
Leverage social media channels and digital marketing strategies to engage international customers. Instagram has allowed fashion brands like Fashion Nova to reach a global audience through visually captivating posts that draw them in without the need for a lot of verbal translation.
- Video Calls:
At the latest since 2020 pretty much every white collar company has embraced video calling for many meetings and accepted that you don’t need to be in the same location in order to collaborate effectively. Video calling certainly doesn’t replace personal interaction, but it can certainly reduce time and costs spent on international travel, making it more accessible for many companies.
Create Engaging Multicultural Content is a Core Success Factor of your Global Business Expansion Strategy:
Creating engaging cross-cultural content creation is integral for building an international brand that resonates with various target audiences across a multitude of markets. Content serves an invaluable function by drawing audiences in, communicating brand values, and cultivating emotional ties between diverse groups of people.
It’s easier said than done to produce really well-crafted multicultural content as one size most certainly doesn’t fit all. Make sure that you consider the following aspects
Cultural sensitivity has to be the baseline of ALL of your international content creation. You need to have an awareness of your target audience’s cultural norms, values, and taboos so as not to offend by mistranslating phrases. When Schweppes began selling its carbonated water in Italy the question seemingly posed to customers was “Do you ever want to just sit back, relax and crack open a can of nice refreshing … toilet seltzer?” ???? Apparently, the company made a translation error and used water (meaning “toilet” or “bathroom”) instead of acqua (“water”), so “tonic water” became “toilet tonic”.
When creating content, make sure it resonates positively with your target audience by being mindful of cultural sensitivities. I could tell you countless other examples similar to the one above where linguistic fails have resulted in insulting messaging or where the audience have felt the brand was being racist…
Stories can transcend cultural borders and foster emotional bonds across cultures, so incorporate storytelling into your content strategy to engage and captivate international audiences. Airbnb’s “Belong Anywhere” campaign is a prime example, featuring tales of hosts and guests from diverse cultural backgrounds to illustrate a sense of belonging and cultural immersion for visitors from other regions.
Tailor content specifically to local markets by localising it. This involves adapting not just language and tone but also imagery, humour (hard to do in an appropriate and clever way), and cultural references. For instance, McDonald’s “I’m Lovin’ It” campaign successfully localized its content by featuring famous local celebrities across different countries. This created a sense of familiarity and relevance among audiences who viewed its message.
Encourage your international clients to share user-generated content that allows them to tell their stories and experiences with your brand. This underlines your authenticity for customers across borders. GoPro used user-generated content effectively by featuring videos and photos sent in from all around the globe as part of its strategy of global expansion and adventure spirit.
Visual content has a more universal appeal and can effectively convey your brand message across cultures. Consider investing in high-quality visuals that reflect cultural diversity as this will resonate more strongly with target audiences – just consider Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” campaign featuring culturally diverse names on their bottles for increased inclusivity and personalisation.
Remember you have to apply cultural sensitivity though – just including a bunch of individuals from a range of cultural backgrounds isn’t going to guarantee you instant success, and whilst visuals “translate” often more easily than words, it’s not a 100% given. So make sure somebody with a deep understanding always looks over your visuals before that big campaign you’ve invested in hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons!
Work With Localisation Specialists:
If you can’t afford to work with localisation specialists who can offer cultural insights and effectively adapt content for local markets then you should consider whether you can afford international expansion into that market. Building an international brand needs resources – it doesn’t have to be a Coca Cola sized budget but there are certain things you shouldn’t try and save on.
Working with these experts ensures that brand messaging, imagery, and tone align with the cultural preferences of target market consumers. It’s often an underestimated part of the internationalisation journey but essential that you get it right, as you proverbially only get one chance to make a first impression.
Social listening exercises assess how international audiences are viewing your brand and content. Keeping tabs on relevant social media channels, online forums, customer feedback forms, and customer ratings help you to gain insights and adjust your content strategies appropriately. This allows you to stay in contact with audiences whilst adapting your messages as required.
Of course you can also carry out more formal qualitative market research with say focus groups to check the impact of your brand or specific marketing campaigns, however this is a more expensive option than monitoring socials for the signals your clients are giving there. Yes, it allows you to ask specific questions but you need a big sample size for it to be representative as well as professional survey design to avoid “leading” the participants.
If you can produce consistent engaging cross-cultural content, you can form strong emotional ties to international audiences, build brand loyalty and stand out in the global market.
Which of these global business expansion tips do you feel will help to build your brand in international markets?
As part of your efforts in building an international brand, you must gain an in-depth knowledge of customer behaviour, correctly position your brand, and understand how to translate your brand values for the audience in the country you are targeting. Broadening your thinking capabilities by recruiting partnerships where needed to give additional perspective as well as staying adaptable and flexible in business practices will help you to gain a foothold in your export markets.
Don’t forget to harness technology above and beyond the simple approach of ecommerce. Above all else, be mindful of local cultural nuances whilst adhering to your core brand values and principles. Without brand integrity it doesn’t matter how many global business expansion tips you apply, your customers will sense the lack of authenticity and without trust it’s virtually impossible to sell.
International brands that can create emotional connections with customers regardless of where they’re based are among the strongest international brands. Your strategies should aim to develop a global brand that resonates with customers from multiple cultures – with proper execution, your brand may become an international phenomenon that transcends borders and brings people together. It’s not usually something that happens overnight but with consistent action and multiple small steps you can grow your success and brand name.
If you’d like to read about some brands and their international success stories, you might enjoy this book. As an Amazon associate I earn a small commission at no cost to yourself, should you buy through this link
Thinking that working with a consultant would accelerate your international expansion?
If you’d like to learn more about working with me for support on your internationalisation projects or personal export knowledge, you can book a 30 minute international clarity call here.
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