Successful global brands don’t just happen. It takes a lot of planning, coordination and tight operations. 10 lessons from top brands on how to get there.
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Every successful global brand took strategic steps and time to get where they are now. So, how did they reach the top – and more importantly, what is their secret for staying so powerful? Let's analyze a few examples of outstanding global branding in action, to help your business find its way to the top, step by step.
1. Find your universal brand values
Just like people, brands also have their own personality. At the beginning of your brand identity journey, ask yourself: What does your brand stand for? Why does it exist, and who does it aim to help? What problems does it solve, and ultimately, which emotions would you like associated with your brand?
The most powerful brands are the ones that inspire with a message that people can get behind, something that aligns with consumers’ own values.
Let's look at two examples:
- A veteran in global branding, Coca-Cola has introduced a “think local, act local” marketing approach in the beginning of the millennium. However, their universal values such as sharing, happiness and active lifestyles have been key to strengthen the expansion of the brand.
- The same goes for brands such as Zara or Ikea, committed to adjust to a broad spectrum of consumers, making fashion and interior design affordable all under the values of functionality, sustainability and beauty.
Imagine a brand values pyramid: the brand’s baseline requirements or the functional benefits delivered are the foundation. Then, the emotional benefits, meaning how your product/services make the consumer feel. At the top, the self-expressive benefits – where a brand is able to reflect its customer's self-concept. A key to successful branding is to make self-expressive benefits part of the brand value proposition, to add richness and depth to the brand and the experience while using it.
2. Focus on the uniqueness of your products and services
Strong global brands have a degree of differentiation. To be noticed, you need to be unique.
- Adobe is the perfect example of product-led brand growth. Throughout their 35 years, Adobe has reinvented itself over and over – continuing to innovate, keeping creativity as the core and stable value of their solutions. From their transition to a SaaS model in 2013 through a recent rebranding, Adobe’s journey is unique.
While you might not expect to launch the next Photoshop, you can definitely work on your product's and services' uniqueness, creating your USP. Develop a unique facet of your business and leverage it in your favor, be it with stellar customer service or a higher-quality product. And make sure consumers are well aware of this.
3. Lead by innovation and inclusion
Diversity and inclusion are top-of-mind for many brands, and that's not just a social justice issue. Diversifying the types of people your brand hires makes your brand better.
- Over the past couple of years, Dell has set a unique example and an inspiration for the promotion of diversity and inclusion. Their “Progress Made Real” social impact strategy established gender and race equality as priority 2030 goals. For Dell, diversity and inclusion are business priorities that support innovation, development and growth.
By diversifying their teams, whether in terms of gender, race, generation, religion or culture, organizations are able to also diversify their talent pools, reinforce their expertise, and promote innovation and new ways of thinking.
4. Deliver consistent customer experiences
Customer experience is a pillar of all global brands. Recent studies prove that companies which invest in employee and customer experience are 4.2 times more profitable than those that don’t. This underpins the need for personalized, omni-channel interactions that engage and build lasting relationships.
- Customer experience centers in Pittsburgh and Munich are GE's way to connect with potential customers on a personal level, demonstrating its manufacturing systems in action and sending representatives to discuss tailored plans for prospects.
Offer your customers a remarkable, predictable experience, regardless of touchpoint. Your customer service level should be seamless, whether you are interacting online or in person. Additionally, repeat customers should be able to anticipate exactly what to expect from your organization each time they interact with you, regardless of product or service.
5. Tailor your brand to local preferences
As a career localization professional, this one is my favorite! To ensure your brand is associated with a positive experience in any part of the world, you need to take into account the culture and characteristics of each of your local audiences. For global companies competing amidst different cultures, the challenge here is to make their brands culturally relevant while also delivering economies of scale, efficiency and shareholder returns.
- Microsoft is an excellent example of a brand that travels across borders and cultures. Targeting over 86 countries and 22 languages, they intuitively adapt their marketing strategies and processes to accelerate time to market for global campaigns and localized content.
- In a completely different segment, Red Bull also stands out with global and local marketing strategies, perfectly aligned with their target customers around the world. They often reach out to their audience with extreme sporting events and focus on digital marketing such as blogs, viral advertisements and social media.
Knowing how to adapt your approach is key. Different cultures, countries, infrastructures and languages require thoughtfulness and research (and a team of experts). While your values and overall message should remain consistent, the language and visuals should be adapted for each individual market in which you do business. Localizing your message is vital.
6. Maximize the power of the internet
To say that the traditional buyer’s journey has changed is an understatement! The predictable, linear phases of awareness, consideration and decision have morphed to a very complex, research based and customer centric journey; digitally-empowered buyers, with access to a myriad of information, now own the majority of their buying cycle, taking their time to research, compare and evaluate, before actually coming in direct contact with sellers.
The internet may now be the most powerful sales tool at a brand’s disposal. It's been the critical enabler for brands to market their products and services on a global scale. A great example:
- A coherent customer experience makes Salesforce stand out for their clients. Marketing, Sales, Finance and Service have been integrated, so that information, purchase and troubleshooting are easily accessible on a single platform.
7. Develop global and local partnerships
Finding the right in-country partners who embrace the essence of your brand is key for international growth. With local partners who know the market, you can adapt your offerings to the respective cultures and requirements, without becoming detached from your global business strategy and quality standards.
Seek out and partner with organizations who share your values or who can augment your business to better serve your customers, globally or locally. Remember the adage: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Oftentimes partners can open doors more quickly and credibly, helping you accelerate growth in key markets.
8. Stay agile
This is absolutely essential in today’s climate. Companies who are able to flex and adapt to the needs of the market will be successful in the long run.
- As the world finally accepted the need to protect our resources, BP practically re-invents itself “from an international oil company to an integrated energy company”. Their new roadmap includes exploration of eco-friendly energy resources, sustainable transport and mobility concepts, and being a solution provider for digital alternatives to physical movement.
9. Grasp and maximize your opportunities
Every so often, new opportunities present themselves that may not seem lucrative at first, but may grow into very promising opportunities down the road. Be open to these!
There are some exceptional stories of brands that were born out of luck or an accidental event, such as Craiglist, Twitter, etc. Although we cannot rely on luck alone to build a business, there’s a common element in all these brands: the constant search for opportunities. Trust your instincts, turn failures into opportunities and take calculated risks.
10. Understand where your customers come from
Finally, one of the most vital things for a global brand is to respect the differences of their customers in multiple markets. The same products, messages, and services are rarely universally appealing.
- By cleverly combining deep R&D with strategic marketing campaigns and distribution, L'Oréal successfully attracted the attention of different kinds of consumers. The brand also values diversity which makes them even more appealing to people in different countries: The company’s products are popular in 130 countries on five continents.
Listen to the needs and desires of your customers, then plan your next moves accordingly.
These insights and examples are great guidelines for every company who strives to establish a global brand. Always remember the most basic prerequisite: To be unique to your customers and prospects, add real value to their lives. Once you have assured that, keep in mind what you learned above about corporate identity, consistency, connectivity, adaptability, an universally-appealing messaging, localization – and partnerships!
Want to continue this dialogue? Please drop me a note! I'd be happy to understand your unique globalization challenges and show some examples on how we’ve been supporting renowned brands to scale their business across geographic and cultural barriers.
About the author
Allison McDougall thrives in the intersection of global business + digital marketing + language. Over the course of her career, she has partnered with several global brands to re-imagine how they engage with customers through Content. Allison is an active Connector, and maintains strong affiliations with U. of Illinois, Middlebury Institute of International Studies, and Women in Localization, where she has served on the Board for 9 years.