Building brands in International markets
STEP 1) Re-Examine Offerings (Ensure Demand)
Proven success with your current target audience, that doesn’t automatically mean that your new target will connect in the same way with your products or services. Use the questions you used to build your initial business plan and re-ask them for the new market.
First and most important you’ll want to determine if a market exists for your product? If so, make sure the want or need isn’t already being well met by someone else. If there are existing competitors, what (in the perspective of your potential customers) makes you remarkably different? If you do see a need, but competition does NOT exist, make sure you find out why. (e.g. It is not permitted by law, it is provided through another method, etc).
If you don’t have a formal business plan from your first go around, pick-up a guide on how to writing a business plan or use online resources. A formal plan will ensure you don’t forget to ask any important questions. (Inc.com has a great section called “Business Plan Building, Section by Section”
STEP 2) Determine Your Logistics (Ensure Supply)
Make sure you can get your product to, or manufactured within, the new market. Import and manufacturing laws vary from country to country. Before you go any further, ensure you can make your products reliably and consistency available to your new target markets.
STEP 3) Re-Examine Your Identity
Now that you’ve established demand and supply, continue asking relevant, appropriate, and remarkable filtering questions (mentioned above) with regard to your identity. You now should ensure your company and product names, logo, packaging, registration, and trademark status are relevant in your new market.
- Company / Product Names
Ensure product names make sense to the customers in your new markets – this includes both in their English form and/or in the local translation. Re-brand Locally – Similar to the way auto manufactures change the names of their cars to appeal to local markets, perhaps you need to re-brand your key product to be locally relevant. Many companies re-name their products to find the local language equivalent. Don’t simply use translation tools for this stage.You don’t want what you think is an effective name to mean something opposite or offend potential customers. Work with someone locally who can help make sure you communicate what you intend. Here’s a true story. One of the most popular Christmastime lattes at Starbucks Coffee in North America is the Gingerbread Latte. However, the first year it was offered in Germany it was surprisingly unpopular. Germany nearly invented gingerbread – they love it! The marketing team realized in Germany that flavor isn’t called “gingerbread” but rather, lebkuchen. So the next Christmas they changed the name on the menu to Lebkuchen Latte and they sold like crazy.
Ensure that any logos or symbols you use have the same meaning locally and don’t offend. Do research to make sure your logo isn’t similar to that of another international company. Ensure your use of color is culturally appropriate. Color choice to make packaging stand out from competition in the US may not suit the color meanings in your local market. Consult a local marketing or design firm to confirm.
- Packaging / Labeling
Does your packaging permit your products to exist among your competitors? (e.g. Your package uses a clear plastic shell that hangs from a rod, but the competition puts theirs in a box that sits on a shelf). While packaging may help to differentiate you, be sure it doesn’t prevent proper merchandising. Do your labels contain the legally required and locally desired information? Learn the local standards and ensure your packaging includes any necessary regulatory information and meets transportation standards.
- Registration / Trademark Status
Follow the process in your market to ensure you preserve patent and trademarks. Thanks to the NAFTA Treaty your marks may already be protected in Mexico and Canada. If you’re doing business in the European Union filing for a Community Trade Mark (CTM) will protect you. (Please find an expert to help you with registration and trademark – this is not my expertise.)
Find local resources to help. It is nearly impossible to understand local culture simply by visiting a country. If you don’t speak the language, don’t assume you can translate – Google translator ain’t gonna cut it. Find local customers, local translators. Two years of French language in high school doesn’t make you qualified to understand the French market, nor perform your own French translations.
In the same way consumers’ needs are different in Rhode Island from those in Florida or California, so differ the needs of customers in Paris from Marseille. (And perhaps completely different from those in Italy, or Ireland, or Spain).
See how the best of the best do it. Download the Interbrand Surveys & Research “Best Global Brands” study [PDF] as a guide to research great global brands.
Step 4) Communicate & Build Awareness
The manner and tone in which you engage your potential and new customers is as important as the words you choose. What will be the tone of your conversation? Manner and tone will come across to customers through your packaging, advertising, online, through your sales people, and the way you answer the phone.
What types of interaction you will have with them? What will be the tone you choose? What types of sales process and policies will you use? Be sure to take note of what the competition and other businesses are doing. What may have seemed witty or charming in the United States may be misunderstood in your new market. Be careful playing the “old and established” angle. “Old” is a relative term. An old company in US can sound impressive, but you may be doing business in a country that has cheese older than your company.
The key to building awareness, trial, and sales is the same all over the world. Craft and communicate a message that is relevant to the needs and wants of your customers. 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.
The research you do during Step 1 should provide nearly all you need to know to do this successfully.
For your website, while a domain ending in “.com” is the universal, truly being relevant to local customers includes registering your website to the country domain as well as translating to the local language.
Using these key four steps as a guide will help you build your brand in a way that is locally relevant and will create a positive reputation for you.
Questions to Ask
- Do your homework – Be sure to fully research and understand your new markets. Look before you leap.
- Visit before you commit – Spend some time where you want to sell your products. See what the competition is doing. See what they’re doing with the competitions’ product.
- Find a local ally/resource – Don’t go it alone. Get advice from someone locally who can help you fill in any gaps in understanding the local market, customs, and customers.
- Make no assumptions – What seems logical and “a given” to you may be completely different in your new market. Ask too many questions.
- You are the foreigner – Local traditions and customs – as foreign as they may seem to you – represent the local way of doing things. Add value where you can, but realize you’re the outsider and should respect the way it is done locally.