What is common between a Visa credit card, a bottle of Pepsi and an iPhone? Well, all the three are brands that feel familiar, no matter where in the world we are. The sense of comfort that one can draw from spotting certain brands in distinct parts of the world is a result of robust global brand management strategies. For successful names, branding is not an afterthought or a task relegated to externally hired agencies. Brand building is at the very core of the marketing strategy of businesses that enjoy consumer loyalty on a global scale.
If you are struggling to take your brand to the rest of the world, or are suffering from a diluted brand image in some geographies, you probably need to take another look at your brand management process. A strong brand is backed by a powerful branding strategy which includes a fool-proof execution plan. Take cues from these 7 steps that will help you build a brand that is not only recognized across the globe, but also loved by its users.
Know and Profile Customers with Cultural Context
Before you even begin designing your global brand management strategy, you should spend some time studying your customers. End-users of the same product or service are not the same everywhere. Culture and socioeconomic demographics play a significant role in customer behaviour and the choices they make in different areas of the globe.
A regular consumer feedback mechanism can shed some light on what works with buyers that drive brand loyalty for your business. On the other hand, market research will help you gain insights into the preferences of potential customers, especially if you wish to foray into a different market segment or country altogether.
Strategic brand management begins with knowing your customers. After you have gathered all the data, it is time to profile the consumers according to socio-cultural buckets. The statistics you get from customer segmentation will provide answers to the marketing strategy you should assume.
Data is also important to bust the biases or preconceived notions that management might have with regards to using the same branding strategy everywhere. One might suppose that an idea that appeals to the West may not excite the East. But sometimes, we tend to overplay the culture lens, forgetting that we live in a borderless society today. Be ready for surprises when you dig deeper into the minds of your customers!
Build Relevant Partnerships
We live in times where the average attention span of the audience looking at an advertisement is so short that you cannot afford to be irrelevant. Relevance is the key not only to maintaining loyal customers but also to building a brand that is timeless and scalable. The partnerships you form along the way must tie in with your brand story. Your associations will gradually begin to define you, shaping (or reshaping) your brand image.
Partnerships include agencies that work with you to build your brand and play a role in how your brand is perceived in various markets. Partnerships may also mean co-creating with internal stakeholders or (external) customers. Evergreen brands such as Frito-Lay have invested in personalized packaging of their Lays chips packets for influencers as part of the global ‘Smile’ campaign. In India itself, the campaign garnered over 200 million impressions, adding to the brand equity of this already loved name.
The decision to co-brand is a challenging one, but often one that brings invaluable rewards with it when successful. It is important to partner only with brands that match the core values of your business, whether the partnership results in increased brand recognition for you or not. A misstep or a hastily pulled off association can also hamper your brand image.
Position to Win Geographically
Global winners can be identified by how they position their brands. They don’t always look at brand extension but reinforcement of what their brand stands for. Your brand personality shouldn’t change every time you change geographies. To build a global brand, your narrative must stay the same wherever you go. When you stay true to your core principles, you tell your customers that you are reliable. Aspirational brands stick to their guns and are unified by a single purpose across countries.
IBM is a case in point. The name is synonymous with intelligence. While IBM has changed both its logo and tagline multiple times over the past few decades, their message essentially remains the same. It is okay to tweak your tagline for a particular culture if you are able to make those customers relate better to you. However, you must not compromise on what you are globally recognized and loved for.
Align Internal Stakeholders and Departments
When you operate across the globe, your coordination must be spectacular. Consistency is the middle name of globally loved brands. This can be achieved only when your internal stakeholders share a passion for the brand. A top-down approach works best when you have to align all your departments and work towards a common goal.
Your customers should not get mixed signals from your brand when they travel from one continent to another. A strong brand will not only resonate with the target consumer but also remain relatable across regions. Cross-border offices must share market insights and be willing to leave their culture-biases aside in order to accept novel solutions that have proven successful in a particular country.
Cultivate an Ecosystem for the Brand with Designated Guardians
Customers will take your brand seriously only when you do. There must be a strong culture of brand development and maintenance throughout the organization. Having disjointed brand management teams in different countries is not enough. There must be a Brand Leader who champions the cause of brand promotion and nurtures an ecosystem that makes it rewarding to share consumer insights and the results of marketing exercises across geographies.
If the CEO does not have a Marketing background, it is essential to designate brand guardians in different regions. These Brand Guardians should work together to ensure that the brand narrative does not change from country to country. Even if different contexts are used for the advertisements, the message must remain the same.
Balance Brand Governance with Contextual Flexibility
One cannot ignore the important role of governance that ensures standardization across the organization and adherence to brand guidelines. However, your protocols must not be so rigid as to stifle creativity. There must be enough space for experimentation and scope for flexibility in geographical contexts.
There are several examples in F&B that show how contextual flexibility can be a good thing without compromising on the brand’s USP. McDonalds and Starbucks customize their menus and even apply brand extension to offer new products specific to the countries they operate in. A pumpkin spice latte may not cut much ice in Indonesia even when promoted around Halloween, but the same results in huge sales in the USA.
Brand Guardians must act as custodians of the brand, allowing for tweaks where it makes contextual sense, while also upholding the golden rules when a potential change threatens to dilute the brand altogether.
Leverage Technology both Internally and Externally
In a highly connected age, if you are not digitally savvy, you will be left behind. Make the most of technology to take your brand to new audiences. Embrace social media and connect with your customers. If you are bold enough to seek honest feedback and work on any constructive criticism you receive, you will reap the benefits over time.
Leveraging technology is not only about going viral. It is mainly about remaining relevant and accessible to your valued consumers. The brand that is responsive and sensitive to its clients is the one that ultimately wins their hearts. Invest in social media management teams or outsource this to agencies that understand the voice of your brand.
Technology is also quite useful to engage teams internally. Shared portals, shared drives or co-working on OneNote or SharePoint can dissolve any physical distance between teams working out of different time zones. The more information you are willing to share across teams, and the more feedback you are willing to work on, the stronger your global brand management strategies will turn out to be.
Finally, you should remember that building a globally loved brand requires patience and continuous effort. If you plan a robust brand management strategy, you will be much more likely to experience success and grow your presence. Your brand will take time to find a loyal demographic who will not shy away from speaking up for you, so don’t obsess over statistics or get tempted to increase your brand visibility through inorganic means. As long as you are seeing a positive response from customers, it means you are moving in the right direction. All you have to do is follow these strategic brand management techniques and ensure consistency in your efforts.