Is Your Brand Ready to Go Global?

6 ways to tailor your product, services and image to meet the tastes of consumers around the world

Written by Paul Gallant

Your Canadian customers love you, but how do you win over the rest of the world? Announcing your brand’s arrival in the international marketplace takes more than translating your marketing materials into other languages. You’ve got to evaluate your name, your image and what you’re delivering to hit the right mark in new markets. As Carolyn Ray, managing director of Interbrand Toronto suggests, you need to be to be adaptable, consistent and authentic, as well as relevant to your potential new customers. Here are a few strategies to take your brand global.

    1. Figure out what your name says about you

    Canadian Saskatoon berry producers have recently grappled with an American preference for the name “juneberry,” which is easier for non-Canadians to pronounce even as it abandons the berry’s distinctive origins. Meanwhile, Polish distiller Wyborowa Wódka has started using the nickname Wybo, in case drinkers have trouble getting their tongues around the full name. Even Canadian powerhouse Tim Hortons goes by the name Tim Hortons Café and Bake Shop internationally, to help customers unfamiliar with its offerings have a better idea that Timmie’s is selling the same thing as Dunkin’ Donuts. “Going into the U.S. with anything Canadian-related just goes over their head,” says Brad Breininger, principal and brand strategist at Toronto’s Zync Communications. “You need find something that really stick in the minds of people.

      2. Brace for a bigger pond

      Your company may be all things to all customers in the Canada, but in the U.S. and beyond, you may have dozens or hundreds of direct competitors. Be much clearer about what sets you apart, says Ray. When the Toronto-Dominion Bank bought the Commerce Bancorp in 2007 as a way to expand in the U.S. market, its “comfortable banking” brand merged nicely with Commerce’s promise of “America’s most convenient bank.”

      3. Be flexible

      What you’re selling may mean different things in different markets. While convenience may mean longer business hours in one place, it may mean a drive-through somewhere else. “You have to let who you are go a little bit,” says Breininger. “Look at yourself more as a start-up than an established brand.”

        Read: Can You Pull Off DIY Branding?

          4. Re-examine your position in the marketplace

          In countries with younger populations, do you need to be more trend-conscious? In emerging markets, is your product noticeably expensive? Consider dropping the price or adopt a more upmarket image. Even in the U.S., says Breininger, “how you sell luxury in the Midwest is very different from how you sell luxury in California and New York.”

            5. Adjust to unfamiliar buying cycles.

            While weather is a strong driving force in Canadian purchase decisions, national or religious holidays, or other factors, may predominate elsewhere. In Hong Kong, China, Taiwan and Singapore, the weeks leading up to the Chinese Lunar New Year are a big shopping season, akin to Christmas in the West. While your industry at home may measure production-cycle lead times in weeks, you might need months abroad.

              6. Tailor your brand to the local culture

              Colours, symbols, images, names and numbers can have vastly different meanings in different countries.  In Chinese, Ray points out, the word for “four” sounds like the word for “death.” Also in China, signing a name in red ink can be considered bad luck.

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