Achieving Global Brand Success

Dan WhiteJune 3, 20244 min

For a brand to succeed internationally, it usually needs to tailor its product and communications to local markets. If you browse the top ten programs on Netflix by country, you’ll see little overlap between the most popular content in the US and India, for example. Netflix excels at providing high-quality content and a great user experience, but the content it promotes varies by market.

A brand’s global growth opportunity depends on whether people in different countries have similar needs, priorities, and preferences related to the category. What, when, and with whom people eat varies hugely by culture – whereas people’s use of mobile phones is relatively similar the world over. This explains why the food and drink brand Knorr has different ranges of products in different regions. Samsung, however, can launch the same models across many markets and use similar advertising.

Brands that succeed globally tend to have an offer that is universally relevant. Take Red Bull, for example. People all over the world have the need for an energy boost from time to time. Red Bull originated in Thailand as Krating Daeng (literally ‘the Red Bull’). It contains caffeine to keep you alert and taurine to make you calm and focused. The original drink was popular among laborers looking for ways to help them get through the working day. Austrian entrepreneur Dietrich Mateschitz discovered the brand when it helped him recover from jetlag on a trip to Asia. He added the fizz and launched the drink across Europe at a premium price. The brand gained distribution through positioning as the first in a sector that was new to Europe – energy drinks. In the UK, the brand achieved early sales not from laborers but from party animals. Clubbers started using Red Bull to keep their energy levels up all night by using it as a mixer.

Alongside its product benefits, Red Bull’s long-term growth has been attributed to the strength of its promotional activity and advertising. The company has done a phenomenal job of building a strong brand. In How Brands Grow, Byron Sharp introduced the concept of ‘mental availability’ – the probability that a buyer will notice, recognize, and/or think of a brand in buying situations. Red Bull is an example of a brand that has built high mental availability by using a consistent set of distinctive assets in all its communications since its launch. By sponsoring Formula 1 and other extreme sports both globally and locally, Red Bull has created a vibrant and compelling brand in consumers’ minds globally. Launched in 1987, the brand reached sales of more than 8 billion cans per year worldwide by 2020.

Red Bull Brand Strategy

Some brands take a lot longer before they thrive in overseas markets. The chocolate snack Kit Kat, created by the UK company Rowntree’s and now produced by Nestlé, was launched in Japan in 1973 but only took off in the mid-2000s. By 2014 it had become the country’s top-selling confection. Success came from leveraging two cultural phenomena.

Omiyage is the tradition of travelers bringing home local delicacies as gifts. Kit Kat saw an opportunity to draw on this custom and create interest in a category devoid of innovation by producing flavor variants inspired by the cuisines of Japan’s different regions. In 2000, a strawberry Kit Kat was launched exclusively in Hokkaido, a popular holiday destination. It was a big hit. Since then, there have been more than 300 variants – mainly regional, seasonal, or limited editions. The desire to try these variants, like collecting rare Pokémon, is amplified by the ‘scarcity bias.’

Kit Kat Brand Strategy

Omamori are lucky charms sold at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. ‘Kit Kat’ is pronounced ‘kitto katto’ in Japanese, which as it happens sounds like kitto kastsu, a phrase meaning ‘you will surely win.’ Nestlé found that Kit Kat sales spiked every January because parents gave the snack to their children before their exams to wish them good luck. This inspired Nestlé to promote the brand as a token of good fortune. Nestlé’s success in Japan has encouraged greater innovation within the KitKat brand in other markets.

Diaper brand Pampers shows how a brand can have a consistent global positioning but tailor its messaging to local markets. Pampers had become a market leader in many Western markets by focusing on the product’s superior dryness and comfort. In the West, parents see these as priorities for keeping their baby happy and healthy. In China, however, this messaging is less effective. Following a couple of false starts, Pampers took off in China in 2007, nine years after launch. Market research revealed that the quality of a baby’s sleep, and its impact on child development, is more important to Chinese parents. This inspired the highly effective “Golden Sleep” advertising. The campaign highlighted clinical research proving that Pampers enables babies to get a better night’s sleep. It featured a photomontage of babies sleeping that broke records in terms of the number of photos included. According to David Aaker, the campaign resulted in a 55% sales increase.

Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Dan White, author of The Soft Skills Book, The Smart Marketing Book and The Smart Branding Book

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