What if you could consider the whole world as your operating market?
Without borders for branding, your company could reach people from many different countries and cultures.
Do you like the idea? Then you need to learn more about global branding!
To arrive in a new country and make your brand relevant is not exactly an easy task. You’re like the outsider cowboy in bang-bang movies: you get the locals’ attention, but everyone seems suspicious of your presence.
If you want to be welcomed, you need to demonstrate what you have to offer.
In the case of global companies, they need to show their value and adapt to each region where they want to act, while keeping their identity and their values.
Complex, isn’t it? But nothing that good international branding management can’t solve.
This article will explain everything you need to know about global branding, showing how brands can trace an efficient strategy to conquer markets worldwide.
Global branding refers to the management of a brand in different regions of the world, intending to increase its strength and recognition in the markets in which it operates. This strategy may also be called global branding or international branding.
Global branding involves planning how the brand wants to be perceived worldwide and how it will position itself in each market to generate such perception.
With global marketing strategies, it is possible to transform this idea into concrete actions that impact contact points with consumers (price, product, place, and promotion).
Branding is already a challenge in local markets. It is hard to obtain your space in the consumers’ minds in your own city or country and make your brand recognizable and remembered.
Imagine, then, doing this in several different places — each one with its culture, demands, rules, and organization’s logic.
It was globalization, from the 1980s, that allowed brands to cross their borders. Until then, only giants could do that.
But the reduction of transportation costs and a new means of communication (just look at the internet!) enhanced the integration between countries and facilitated the expansion of brands of all sizes.
While globalization has affected local cultures, it has not standardized local customs, cultures, and rules.
As a result, brands found themselves faced with the challenge of entering markets in different regions without overlooking their particularities, which would be a recipe for failure.
That’s the importance of a global strategy: more than creating a .com site or delivering to several countries, global branding consists of orientating which brand elements should be preserved globally and which should be adapted to each region.
For brands that have already increased their regional market share and want to grow, expanding to other countries could be the natural way to go.
This decision can bring a series of benefits to brands, as we will see below:
The most obvious advantage for brands that become global is to reach more people in new markets.
The brand becomes well-known worldwide, attracts more clients and enthusiasts, and becomes stronger in sales.
Globally recognized brands gain market value. Just look at the list of the most valuable brands in the world, according to Brand Finance:
Most of them are famous worldwide. Many of them are probably part of your everyday life, right?
This indicates that, as the company expands worldwide, the brand itself becomes its greatest asset.
When exploring new countries, you may find excellent opportunities. Does your product meet any unanswered needs in any part of the world?
Perhaps you can enter this market free of competition barriers and position yourself as the reference for the local population.
Take the example of Uber, which has explored a market in which the public was poorly supplied: public transportation.
Through an aggressive expansion strategy, the brand has become a reference in the ride-hailing market, and its name is even used as a synonym of the category in several countries.
Global branding also tends to generate more room for marketing and branding investments.
Global brands can launch a single campaign that fits each region, rather than creating several separate campaigns for different markets. Thus, they have lower costs with advertising, packaging, and promotional materials, for example.
They also usually focus all their advertising budget on hiring an international agency, bringing together the best global talent — fewer costs and more efficiency.
Brands that become global also tend to gain a reputation. They become symbols of status and quality and are often more desired than local brands (although this perception changes in some markets, as we will see below).
Also, a global brand strategy strengthens identity. By adapting to each region, the brand manages to win the people’s trust without losing its essence, which is reinforced in all places of operation.
If the brand gains prestige and improves its reputation within the market, it also gains bargaining power. This yields much more profitable negotiations with suppliers, clients, and partners.
Global branding is an ingredient to build a competitive advantage over your local competitors.
Global brands are stronger and more valuable, generating greater consumer awareness. Thus, they stay ahead of the competition.
Global branding brings several benefits, but only for those who can overcome the obstacles involved in its implementation. It is not a simple process, and it is not every brand that manages to succeed.
Let’s see now what are the main obstacles!
The first obstacle a brand faces in trying to expand globally are local cultures.
You’re already used to your domestic market, you know consumers, have people’s confidence, and knows how to offer value to them. But the moment you cross borders, everything will be different. Habits, expectations, demands, and problems are different.
In this new scenario, how does one earn the population’s receptivity?
It was this challenge that big fast-food chains faced in Vietnam. McDonald’s and Burger King have restaurants in almost every country, but they couldn’t prosper in Vietnam.
There are several reasons for this, but some of them have everything to do with the local culture:
In the video below, you can better understand the situation:
Local legislation is also one of the biggest challenges in new markets. Like culture, internal rules also change from one country to another.
Can your company arrive in a certain region and act as it does in its own country?
Airbnb, for example, faces this obstacle. The platform’s global growth has been so significant that it has even altered the dynamics of local housing — in some places, it has caused a gentrification process.
The map below shows the concentration of accommodations listed on Airbnb in Berlin’s central and wealthy areas, which forces local residents to the outskirts.
In reaction to this, Berlin eventually banned short-term rentals via platforms such as Airbnb. Paris and Amsterdam established limits of 120 days and 30 days, respectively. Barcelona requires that hosts have a license to advertise their properties on the platform.
Public authorities and Airbnb are still in dispute at several locations. But it is clear that local legislation can become a barrier to global expansion in some cases.
One of the great economic and behavioral trends for the coming years is the appreciation of the local economy.
More and more people are becoming aware of the importance of going to small markets near their houses and buying from bakers in their own city.
This moves the entire local network, generates jobs for city residents and values regional production.
In this context, global brands lose ground in sales and branding. That distinctive appeal of global brands now tends to be transferred to local brands, handmade, organic, which perhaps today are already more desirable.
Therefore, a global branding strategy that understands and respects each region’s particularities, without imposing the rules and lifestyle of other nations, becomes even more important.
Another obstacle to global branding is the internal structure of companies. Imagine the challenge of making teams from around the world connect and share their learning.
There are differences in language, timezones, and working methodologies that make communication and planning of global strategies harder.
Besides, there is always some skepticism: “it worked there, but it may not work here…”. So, each team acts in its own way, creating inconsistencies for the brand’s image.
Finally, an obstacle that companies can face is the fear of taking risks. Acting in other countries is a great leap for the brand’s growth and involves big, bold strategies, which can scare stakeholders.
It makes sense: the higher you fly, the bigger could be the downfall.
However, we are talking here about something that can minimize this movement’s risks: the planning of global branding.
This strategy outlines the steps you must follow to stand a better chance of success in every region you want to explore.
Your brand is already a success in the United States; it already has a solid and consolidated consumer market. Many companies would think that it is time to cross borders and seas to reach other countries, right?
But maybe you think you don’t have such a big company to do this. Well, be aware that global branding is not exclusive to giant companies.
All the company has to do is find a promising market in another country (and global branding doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere).
Now, let’s see some tips on how to start a global branding strategy, regardless of your company’s size.
The essence of a global branding strategy is the balance between consistency and flexibility. It seems contradictory, but it is not.
You need to have a coherent and consistent brand image in all regions you are present in order to reinforce your position in the minds of consumers.
At the same time, you must have the flexibility to adapt strategies to the local culture without losing your essence.
The search for this balance is vital to the success of a global brand.
In this search for consistency, it is important to reinforce the values, the mission, and the vision of your brand.
These are the founding elements, the pillars of branding, which sustain the brand identity.
The brand’s founding elements are non-negotiable: they need to be very solid and reinforced in each local team to not be modified in the different areas of operation. In Spain, Japan, or the USA, the brand must be the same.
However, having a consistent brand does not mean that identity and marketing strategies cannot change according to each location’s culture.
If you try Coca-Cola in other countries, for example, you may feel different flavors — this is because some components (sugar, for instance) vary according to regional ingredients and local taste.
Strategic planning is the process that defines identity (mission, vision, and values), but it does not stop there.
A company diagnosis also defines the goals and KPIs, action plans, and ways of monitoring and analyzing performance.
Thinking about global branding, it is important that strategic planning remains consistent in the whole brand’s operation. Companies should adopt a system that links global brand strategies to the specific strategies of each country.
According to HBR’s report, there are two ways to do this: from top to bottom or from bottom to top.
The top-down approach is to create a global strategic plan that guides the local strategies. From the global strategy, each local team can add or modify elements to adapt the approach to its own reality.
The bottom-up approach means a global strategy built around each country’s brand strategies.
Global brand management bundles country strategies by similarity, such as market maturity (emerging, developed, underdeveloped) and competitive context (whether the brand is leading or challenging), while maintaining common elements in all regions.
One of the main resources for strategic planning is market research. In the case of global branding, this study must be carried out in each location in order to determine its particularities and define how to position the brand in different regions.
Each area has its own way of functioning. In the same sector, competition in South Africa is different from the competition in Italy.
For example, Ford, the sales leader in several countries, has to position itself as an alternative in Germany, where Volkswagen dominates.
To better understand this, you can perform Porter’s strengths study. This framework analyzes the competitive scenario and the relations between players — clients, competitors, suppliers, substitutes, and potential new entrants — that vary in each location.
In market research, you also analyze the public. How big is your market? How many consumers can you reach? What are their needs, behaviors, demands, beliefs, and expectations?
Once more, global branding demands that you do this research locally. Each local culture influences the tastes, habits, and behaviors of consumers.
Companies must have quantitative data to size up the market and qualitative data to understand the local public and uncover market niches.
From this knowledge, the brand understands what is important to those people and how to deliver value to them. Each new market demands that you understand a new public and tell a new story.
From deep market research, you can define the brand positioning in each location.
It is worth remembering: brand essence doesn’t change because it is sustained by the same values, mission, and vision anywhere in the world.
However, a local strategy must include adequate brand positioning, considering the specifics of each region.
Would you like an example? The attributes associated with Honda’s brand in the United States are quality and reliability.
In Japan, where quality is intrinsic to any vehicle, Honda represents speed, youth, and energy.
Notice how the brand image, built by global branding, varies according to the market characteristics.
Among the obstacles surrounding global branding, we discussed the recent appreciation of local economies.
Instead of collaborating for the growth of companies that are already global, people are turning to small markets, stores, and artisans in their own city.
So how can brands overcome this scenario? The answer may lie in understanding the local economy as an ally, not as an obstacle.
You can partner with local businesses such as suppliers, distributors, small partner brands, regional events, advertising agencies, among others.
Through this, you build a win-win relationship: the small business gets stronger, and your brand wins the local public’s trust.
Johnson & Johnson, for instance, found a good opportunity in Brazil. In partnership with the Brazilian brand Pantys, it has launched an affordable period underwear.
While J&J has associated its brand with the environment’s agendas and female empowerment, Pantys has reached a new public with no access to its products.
The success of a global branding strategy also depends on the company’s internal organization.
It is no use, for example, for managers to define a global strategy if they are unable to communicate their guidelines to local teams.
Therefore, it is necessary to define an internal communication strategy between teams from different regions.
They need to understand the global planning guidelines and absorb the brand identity elements that need to be preserved in any local strategy. They also need to talk to each other, share insights, and learn from other teams.
It must not be forgotten that the brand is a single entity, and teams must collaborate to build a stronger brand anywhere in the world.
So, it’s up to the company to provide communication channels, promote events, and hold periodic meetings for exchanges between teams, creating a collaborative culture among them.
It’s time to look at some cases of brands that could expand around the world with a good global branding strategy.
They maintained their brand’s strength in all markets but had to adapt their approach in each place of operation.
Amazon is today the most valuable brand in the world, ahead of giants like Google and Apple.
It is the first to exceed US$ 200 billion in brand value. Therefore, we could not start talking about any other brand.
Amazon has impressed since its first steps. Jeff Bezos was a visionary when he created an online store in 1994, as the internet took its first steps. Over the years, the store that sold only books has become a giant e-commerce in the United States.
In its domestic market, it consolidated a brand image associated with value, convenience, and choice.
After becoming a leader in its country of origin, the brand has adopted an aggressive strategy to win international markets.
The brand’s value proposal was maintained in all the markets. But Amazon looks with a magnifying glass into each market in which it operates, intending to take the lead through competitive pricing strategies, quick deliveries, and an extensive product portfolio.
Amazon also expands beyond retail, including cloud services, artificial intelligence, digital streaming, and logistics. Therefore, the brand is also associated with technology and innovation.
Amazon invests heavily in countries where it wishes to operate. In Brazil, Amazon Web Services announced an investment of $ 1 billion in the expansion of cloud computing infrastructure in the state of Sao Paulo.
In retail, the investment is in logistics: in India, the company has built more than 60 distribution centers and 150 delivery stations to ensure agility and service capacity.
Amazon is gradually taking its place in all the countries and sectors it enters, with heavy investments in technology and infrastructure that local competitors cannot afford to outperform. Amazon’s global branding, therefore, is based on competitiveness.
Heinz is known worldwide. In this HBR article, the company explains the strategic guidelines that have strengthened the brand in emerging markets.
They are based on 4 As:
In this way, Heinz has transcended the United States and amplified its participation and brand awareness in emerging markets, which it hadn’t explored until then.
Recently the brand has passed through a global redesign, aiming to be recognized in any part of the world. Check it out:
Havaianas is a Brazilian brand that has crossed the South American nation’s borders and attained success in different regions worldwide.
Created in 1962, the brand successfully dominated the local market in its early years.
In the beginning, it was simple working-class footwear, which made itself famous for being durable, comfortable, and affordable.
In 1980, Havaianas were being distributed free of charge by local governments to people in need.
In the 1990s, with design changes and new models, the brand advanced in the fashion world and reached new audiences — from then on, the slogan “Everyone Wears It” (Todo Mundo Usa, in portuguese) became part of the brand identity.
This was the turning point, creating the platform for Havaianas to explore the international market. But what made it a success in other countries?
One possible explanation comes from the very identity the brand has preserved: Havaianas incorporates the fun, vibrant, and spontaneous spirit of Brazilians, which charms so many tourists.
Besides, in the 2000’s the brand adopted a global branding strategy by opening offices in different countries — the USA, Spain, China, France, and England, among others.
This way, it became possible to understand local needs and take more relevant actions in each country without losing its Brazilian essence.
By the way, creative and daring marketing actions are one of the main forms of transmitting this identity worldwide and gaining notoriety.
The brand has introduced a collection of Swarovski crystal sandals, and gifted Oscar winners with its products.
It promotes an annual event in Australia with an infinite number of inflatable slippers — which took the brand to the Guinness Book!
From a basic product to the fashion world: today, Havaianas is probably the most famous Brazilian fashion brand in the world. The cheerful and festive Brazilian spirit, combined with a vision of global branding, was the path to success.