It can be tempting in these days of online markets to believe that any brand with a website is automatically international. In reality, building a brand beyond your national borders is more complex than many realize.
The first question I always ask brands that want to expand is – what are you looking to gain here? Before anything else, it’s critical that you have a clear strategy for building out your brand beyond local and that you have clear goals that quantify what you stand to gain, when, where and how. The answers to these questions will help you decide what you should be prepared to invest and over what period of time. Too many brands are tempted to grow because they consider that a symbol of success. Perhaps it is, but if it costs you profitability and distracts owners and resources away from the local market, it can be a high price to pay for an ego-boost.
If you’ve done the groundwork, and expansion still beckons, here are five simple principles that will help you stay true as you take your brand to the world.
1. Understand What You’re Selling – if you’re looking to shift from a local market to an international presence, it’s critical to evaluate how your brand will translate, literally and culturally. Too often brands are simply looking to transpose what they have to somewhere else, particularly if they have been very successful in their country of origin. In reality a brand is often a spirit expressed in a product. So in addition to all the obvious viability factors (like demand, level of competition, access, regulation, distribution and organic growth), it’s important to know what changes if any you should make to your core line-up. Naming is a classic example of how a word or idea can have very different implications when used elsewhere.
2. Have A Single Philosophy But Tailor A Powerful Story – sometimes the story that you tell inside your local market is not the same as the one you can use beyond your borders. That’s because people in other countries may see your country differently, the market itself may have different expectations of participants (for example, a luxury market at home may be a more price-sensitive market elsewhere), customers may exhibit quite different behaviors based on different habits or attitudes, or there may just be aspects of how you came to be that take too much explaining for those not familiar with your original context. My advice in such circumstances is to adjust your story to the local market. It comes back to the previous point about understanding what you’re selling. In some markets, you may want to highlight some parts of what you’re about more than others. It’s a question I often ask brands when they are looking to reposition – where are you looking to go with this brand of yours, and what will people in other markets most want to hear in order to be convinced? Don’t get me wrong. This is not about lying or having a different story. You absolutely need to have a consistent philosophy, it’s more about emphasis – it’s about making sure that the narrative that underpins your brand has enough substance to enable you to highlight different things in different places.
3. Have A Progression Plan – most brands landing on foreign shores will need to think about how they use their new presence and their historic legacy to best advantage over time. New Zealand brands for example entering Europe or the Americas often lack the volumes to fulfill sizeable demand. Pacing yourself so that you align your brand with your ability to fulfill is critical. You might start out as a market outlier and look to become more mainstream over time and/or you might initially undercut the competition before looking to introduce more premium products and pricing over time. Chances are if you are a smaller brand, you also need to use the fact that people don’t know you to your best advantage – portray yourselves as a secret in order to create intrigue, market yourselves in non-traditional places in order to reframe what you offer or present yourselves as a challenger determined to bring a new spirit to a staid sector.
4. Embrace The Serendipity – sometimes you can over-think opportunities. This is an increasingly interconnected world after all and today, it can be customers, not companies, that make the decision around entering markets. As Nataly Kelly points out, Apple’s international expansion was actually started by international visitors buying their products at their US stores and taking them home. “While it’s true that many companies make a concerted decision to enter a given market, it’s actually more common to see the reverse scenario take place — their customers make the decision for them, or at the very least, these customers play a significant role in steering the company toward those decisions. As a result, more and more companies are going global without any sort of grand master plan.” Kelly’s advice if you find yourself in this situation? Translate key pages online, ease your way into in-market support, look at increasing sales and marketing in key locations and then decide whether to establish your own presence or use distributors and resellers.
5. Prepare For Neighborly Competition – The moment you take your local brand out of your own market and into another, the dynamics around your competitiveness change. Now the very things that enabled you to succeed against international brands in your home market are the very advantages that others have as you enter theirs.
Research by BrandZ shows that as brands compete in more countries, they attract less and less loyalty among shoppers. That’s not a reason to automatically dismiss expansion but rather a reminder that as you do so, you need to plan to counter the home-field advantages: understanding and meeting local needs and tastes; nostalgia; operational and logistical advantages for locals; strong community ties; and of course cultural identity. Factoring counter-measures to these advantages into each of the factors described above will help you find your footing and successfully build your brand in new places.
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