Exporting Your Brand: A few pertinent tips

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I was interviewed by Adeline Teoh from Dynamic Export Magazine for a story they’re running on international branding.

I was asked to comment on the headings below.  The article will be published in February 2011, however my points are below.

Adapting/translating a brand for an international market?

  • You can only rely on the visual aspects of your brand to a degree. You have to consider the delivery of your product or service and examine the cultural considerations of that delivery.  You’ll learn quickly that ‘branding’ is not all about pretty pictures, so don’t focus solely on your intangibles. Your tangible elements such as offices, showrooms, packaging, sales people are vital in your brand marketing and sales processes.
     
  • How we judge information is based on our cultural background and upbringing.  What we perceive as high or low value in our market can be quite different in other countries.  There’s no substitute for research, you need to get on the ground to ensure your strategy is sound.
     

Piggybacking Existing Brand Heritage

  • Examples of this can be found in the car market, a great success for General Motors (GM) Australia was the export of the Holden Monaro (a wholly Australian design) into North America.  The car got rave reviews here and in Europe they often compared the Monaro and its variants to vehicles more than 3 times its price. However for the US market it required some minor aesthetic alterations and was renamed the Pontiac GTO as that name evoked a lot of history and muscle car pedigree, instantly recognisable in their market, whereas ‘Monaro’ would have made it an unknown quantity which would have resulted in higher marketing costs and slower sales.
     
  • Don’t separate commercial and marketing strategy. An area of failure in the translation of a brand comes in the the delivery of the product or service. Both the executive and marketing teams from the country of origin need to fully appreciate the markets they want to trade in.  You can’t rely on the marketing and brand strategy alone to sell in your country of export, cultural differences may require you to adjust your administrative, operational and sales processes to trade smoothly.  Marketing efforts will be futile if trust is lost in the delivery.
     
  • Ensuring both the spelling and sound of your trading and product names are a vital step in your export strategy.  Ensure they’re not offensive or associated with another locally marketed product or have a meaning in your export market that will be detrimental.  Don’t simply check to ensure names are not culturally offensive, as part of any brand naming strategy you need to align the sound and look of a name in accordance with your target price point and market position e.g. does it need to evoke an image of luxury, technical capability, budget price, does it need to sound friendly, aggressive or take a middle ground. 
     

Nomenclature - Looking 10 Years and Beyond

  • If you look at true international brands, particularly European automobile brands such as Mercedes Benz, BMW and Audi - they use letter/number combinations to delineate models and price points. Their cars are marketed globally so they don’t have time to continually develop unique names that work in each export market.  The other advantage in recycling model names is easier management of intellectual property. Plan for expansion at the outset to ensure growth is not hindered in any way.

Identifying a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) in an International Market

  • You first have to understand how your market ticks. What are their values, what do they consider to be luxury, what do they consider to be budget? What does their society value?  The rule is never assume anything. 
     
  • You have to get on the ground and see for yourself, understand the culture, the people and what they’re receptive too.  The process you used to successfully brand in your country of origin needs to be applied to those markets you wish to export to.
     
  • Divide by region and country, not by continent. When developing your strategy, you can’t ask ‘how will we market in Asia?‘  There are 12 countries in South East Asia alone, each with different cultures and values. Focus on the particular countries and regions you’ll be operating in.
     
  • Test your USP in your target markets. Just as you would run focus groups in your local market, you need to test your approach as best you can in your export markets and make adjustments where you can prior to launch.  You can’t expect perfection however you can make sure it’s a success if you prepare.

Protecting Your Brand Overseas

  • Legal: Depending on which countries you plan to use your brand, Australia is a signatory to the Madrid Protocol which means that when you lodge an application for an Australian trade mark, there’s an option to file that application concurrently in other countries who are part of the Protocol (there are more than 65 nations participating - with more to come). Essentially this makes for less paperwork to speed up the process. - Always seek legal advice when trade marking overseas, and never leave home without proper legal protection!
     
  • Non-Legal: The best defense you have in any market is to clearly promote brand strengths and competitive difference.  In countries where the legal protection of intellectual property (IP) is a relatively new concept, you may have to battle with local organisations who’ll copy your product.  In these cases you can’t rely on legal avenues to combat this as you would expect to do in Australia. The best defense is strong and cohesive marketing that convinces your market that buying the real thing has distinct advantages.

    These could be things as simple as warranties, guarantees, technical support, knowledge or build quality. 

Own your brand value. Successful airlines are a testament to this. Anyone can obtain a fleet of jets from Boeing or Airbus, but only a handful of companies can own lucrative market positions and be known for ‘safety’ or ‘luxury’ - images that take years to build but are not easy to copy.

    Your product is only as good as the systems, processes and communications that support it. If they can copy your product, combat the situation by ensuring you can provide superior delivery, execution or manufacturing- and further strengthen that by communicating it properly.

     

Dealing with Overseas Partners on Branding Issues

  • The key to effective export brand management is having trust with your partners that they can translate your brand to suit the target environment.
     
  • Traditional brand guidelines are not effective unless they can clearly articulate your brand values, competitive difference and positioning objectives.
     
  • Instead of trying to dictate what you presume will work, collaborate with your partners on how to translate your brand values into the different forms of marketing and advertising you need for that region and allow for cultural nuances.

 

© Hamish Chadwick, Image Substation 2011

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