Some (or perhaps even most) of the most successful brands are global brands. These are brands that you see everywhere, no matter where you go. Developing a global branding strategy has a lot of benefits, like cutting down marketing costs and eliminating the need to retool your brand when you enter a new market.
But it’s not without its challenges—creating a brand that’s as appealing to other cultures as it is to your own can be incredibly challenging. In this article, we’ll cover the challenges of global branding, the benefits and a few tips to help you get your global branding just right.
What is global branding?
Global branding is a consistent brand strategy across all marketing, advertising and product packaging materials, taking into account geographical and cultural differences to promote the brand no matter the country or city. The goal of global branding is a consistent brand look and feel around the world while appealing to customers in different locations.
Benefits of global branding
The biggest benefit of global branding is only having one brand identity, which streamlines branding and marketing efforts all over the world. Benefits that stem from this unified brand identity include:
- Immediate brand recognition around the world
- Saving money on branding expenses
- Positioning yourself as a powerful international brand
- Branding consistency across markets
No matter where you go in the world, Starbucks’ logo is instantly recognizable. Like the ones pictured above in Kyoto or in Brazil.
The same is true for the Coca Cola logo.
H&M is one of the most well-known global brands in existence today. Take a look at how they do global branding with their logo below.
No matter where in the world you enter an H&M store, you see this same exact logo and branding that communicates their core values of being fashion-forward, inexpensive, trendy and embracing Scandinavian minimalism, yet their collections and ad campaigns will vary depending on the region or country.
Global branding challenges
Perhaps the biggest challenge of global branding is that it’s nearly impossible to create a truly culture-neutral brand. No matter what, people in one country will perceive your brand differently from people in another—multiply this by as many countries as you’re working in and you’ve got quite a challenge on your hands.
Different cultural norms, access to technology and expectations for products and services can make it difficult or even impossible for a brand to succeed in certain markets. A few of the most common global branding challenges are:
Getting lost in translation
One common challenge that arises with global branding is translating your brand name or tagline in a way that makes sense to the new market’s consumers and doesn’t inadvertently shock or confuse them (or even just make them laugh).
Coca Cola ran into this problem when they first started marketing the soda in China. Initially, the Mandarin translation used the characters pronounced “ke-kou-ke-la,” which meant “bite the wax tadpole.” When they realized the mistake, new characters were selected: “ko-kou-ko-la,” which translates to “happiness in the mouth.”
Translating a brand name or tagline can be particularly difficult when words in the target language tend to be much longer than words in the original language. This is often true when translating into German or Finnish, languages well-known for lengthy compound words. Get a few of these words together and you have a lengthy, complex sentence that literally might not fit on a website banner or product packaging without significant reworking.
Adapting to many markets
Another challenge is adapting brand assets, like ads and product packaging, to fit local norms and expectations. Gerber’s first foray into the Ethiopian market horrified consumers because in Ethiopia, product packaging typically depicts what’s inside the package. Gerber’s baby food labels famously feature an adorable baby—so you can probably guess why the consumers were horrified.
Sometimes, the challenge to finding success in many markets is how to adapt to every single market. Being successful can require tweaks, adjusting and retooling to get it right. When brands adapt to local markets while maintaining a consistent brand, this is called Glocalization.
After decades of success around the world, IKEA opened their first store in India in 2018. But to appeal to Indian shoppers more effectively, the company had to make a few changes to their offerings and store setup. These changes included:
- Offering cabinets and countertops at shorter heights to accommodate the average height of shoppers in India
- More Indian and vegetarian options in the store’s restaurant (including vegetarian versions of their famous meatballs!)
- Offering a furniture construction service because building your own furniture is less common in India
It goes without saying that it can be challenging to figure out what works for each market in order to be recognized as one global brand. How much change can you make for your brand and product before it’s not longer considered one global brand?
Things don’t mean the same everywhere
While many of the psychological associations that go into logo and brand design exist across cultures, not all do. Certain color meanings vary from place to place, like yellow, which is the color of courage in Japan and the color of fun and joy in the United States.
This is why it’s so important to do your research on your intended target market before you bring your brand to a new country—when you get a cultural association wrong, the best case scenario is you confuse people. The worst case scenario is you offend people and tarnish your brand’s reputation in that country.
Take a look at the colors used in Chinese lottery branding versus American lottery branding:
Notice how red is the main color used in the Chinese logos and green is the main color in the American ones. That’s because red is the good luck color in Chinese culture and lotteries in the US tend to use a lot of green because Americans associate green with money and lucky four-leaf clovers.
Getting global branding right
No matter your brand or product, you’ve got to meet people where they are. In other words, you can’t introduce a product and expect them to automatically embrace it—you need to introduce something they’ll enthusiastically embrace. We’ve got some key tips to keep in mind when you are mapping out your global branding strategy.
Do your research
Doing global branding effectively requires you to research your target markets extensively. Take time to determine things like:
- The cultural associations for specific colors and images in the markets you’re aiming to release your product into. Beyond the color associations we discussed above, consider how specific imagery is perceived by different cultures: a cow is perceived much differently in India than in North America.
- Distribution channels in your target market. Where will people see and interact with your brand? Could this alter how you handle branding, like making packaging more subdued?
- Does your brand name sound like any specific word in the local language—and if it does, is it a potentially vulgar/strange/off-putting/inappropriate word?
Look at how other international brands in your industry are presenting themselves in the market you aim to enter. Take cues from them—what are their approaches to global branding, localization or glocalization?
Consider your audience
In many cases, considering your audience means giving people something they’re familiar with. And when one brand acquires another, this can mean holding onto the original brand’s assets in order to preserve brand recognition within its market.
One of the best examples of this is Walkers crisps. Have you ever noticed that Walkers crisps have the same exact packaging as Lay’s chips, except for the name? Here’s why: When PepsiCo acquired Walkers in 1989, they opted not to rebrand the UK snack company as Lay’s because Walkers were so well-known and beloved in the UK, and the company didn’t want to potentially alienate longtime fans. Today, the chips known as Walkers in the UK are known as Lays everywhere else.
Though Lay’s went with a different name in the UK market, they still kept their brand consistent across all their packaging.
Consistency is key when establishing a global brand. Whether that’s the same colors, logo or style, there needs to be something consistent to tie your brand together. It helps your audience recognize and build association with specific elements of your brand.
An example of maintaining consistency is Twix, which was first developed in the UK in 1967. From 1976 to 1991 they were known as Raider elsewhere in Europe, while in the US it was known as Twix. Eventually Twix decided to make the shift for consistency in 1991, and the Raider branding was dropped. The chocolate candy bar is now known as Twix all over the world.
With a wordmark logo, global branding can be tricky, especially when your wordmark uses an alphabet other than the alphabet used in the new market. In a scenario like this, the best strategy is often to translate the text itself, but keep all other branding elements like your font, colors and the overall look of your logo.
Keep a balance of global and local
Sometimes successful branding is a combination of global and local. For some brands like Apple, they have a solid and consistent global brand with not much tailored to local markets. This doesn’t always work, as we discussed earlier, IKEA entered the Indian market with much of their Swedish branding intact, but also made small, local tweaks to make the brand and products more appealing to Indian shoppers. IKEA is far from the only brand to balance global and local branding in international markets.
McDonald’s is one big brand that balances global and local to establish themselves in markets around the world. Because their beef-heavy US menu would not be acceptable in India, McDonald’s retooled their menu to include lamb, chicken and numerous vegetarian options, all prepared to suit local tastes, to connect with customers in India.
Similarly, McDonald’s has developed unique menus and country-specific ads for many of the markets it operates in, offering items like spaghetti in the Philippines and corn pies in Thailand.
How has the internet impacted global branding?
One easy way to see just how much of an impact the internet has had on global branding is to look at the branding for the big internet giants like Amazon, Google and Alibaba. These are brands designed for reaching across borders for maximum awareness and engagement. Online, you reach way more people than you could ever hope to reach offline—people from all over the world. Because you’re reaching such a large pool of people, your branding needs to be clear and consistent for such a large audience.
Yet at the same time, the internet doesn’t just connect you to more people, it also connects you to your audience in a more one-on-one way. Whether your goal is to reach as many people as possible or to reach as many people within a specific subculture as possible, the internet gives you the power to go viral through borderless marketing, hashtags, online communities and internet ads.
Protecting your brand all over the world
Before you take your brand abroad, make sure you legally can. By this, we mean you have to do your due diligence and research similar trademarked brand names, logos and other brand assets in the countries you’re planning on operating in. The earlier in your brand development you can do this, the better—ideally, do this during the concept and planning stages if you know you will—or even if you think you might—want to register your trademarks in more than one country.
We’ve covered trademarking logos and the basics of navigating intellectual property law in past blog posts. Keep in mind that every country has its own laws and requirements regarding intellectual property, so you’ll need to take the time to understand these requirements in each potential market you enter. It might be best for you to consult with an intellectual property lawyer in each of these markets so you don’t end up facing a surprise lawsuit or trademark rejection.
Through your due diligence, you might find you can’t bring your brand to a specific market—at least in its current form. That’s what happened when Burger King tried to enter the Australian market in the early 1970s.
There was already a takeout restaurant named Burger King operating in Adelaide at the time, so the Australian franchisee had to choose another name. Burger King’s then-parent company, Pillsbury, offered up a list of already trademarked names they could choose from to brand the burger chain under. They chose “Hungry Jack’s,” which US readers might recognize as a brand of pancake mix.
Everything else about the restaurant’s branding stayed the same: the logo shape, the logo colors and font and the look and feel of the food’s packaging.
Get great design with global audiences in mind
If you plan on taking your brand global in the future (and if it’s an ecommerce or otherwise internet-based brand, it only makes sense to) plan your branding with global audiences in mind.