Global Business ImageExecutive Performance Solutions (formally associated with Global Performance Solutions) has capabilities to expand a company presence throughout the Western Hemisphere (Americas / Europe), China and the Pacific rim using partnerships in each region where ongoing contractual agreements and contacts are established.  EPS has associations developed with nationals of each of eleven countries where they also extend themselves to additional supporting resources to insure that the project is completed based on detailed agreement terms. Executive Performance Solutions, LLC is a proud seventeen-year member of the World Trade Center of Denver, Colorado and frequently engages their support in matters where trade, manufacturing, client relationships, environmental, shipping matters are in the scope of the EPS engagement.

A brand’s position refers to the way that customers and prospects perceive it relative to the other brands in the same category.

A company’s positioning strategy is a plan that details what the company will do in order to cultivate the desired perception in the market so their brand is compared favorably.

Companies may, and often do, try to achieve the same brand position in the minds of consumers globally. However, in order to cultivate that same position, the company will need to develop a different positioning strategy for each country. That’s because, in each market, the brand will be compared in a different context.  This lesson is hard to learn, even by the largest “brands”. A variety of reasons are responsible for some brands, services, concepts not to translate well across borders.  Disney had massive challenges when they attempted to open their theme park in France, as did Pizza Hut and Burger King. Walmart’s concept was not well received in Germany. Taco Bell’s spicy flavors did not translate in the United Kingdom and portion sizes that Americans consider a good value are considered wasteful in  most other countries.  In 1996 when McDonald’s entered Russia it took years to negotiate the terms of the business with the then newly seated regime. Then it took years to develop a menu that worked with the tastes of the culture.  It wasn’t until close to opening the first restaurant before it was discovered that the size of the potatoes grown in Russia were the size of golf balls, not conducive to making fries the size that McDonald’s is famous for or what consumers expect.

Even the word “positioning” begs the question: In relation to what? That’s because positioning is a relative thing. It is created by consumers in direct relationship to contextual factors such as:

  • target segmentation
  • competition
  • economic conditions
  • cultural norms and purchase behavior
  • prospect problems, needs, options, value equation (needs vs. resources), beliefs, and perceptions

If you have experienced strong domestic growth you may be tempted to simply replicate your positioning strategy in other markets and hope for the same outcome. After all, why reinvent the wheel? The short answer is because the reason your current wheel works so well is because it is fine-tuned to the nuances of your market. As such, it is pretty much guaranteed not to be fine-tuned to the needs of new markets you are entering. The reasons for this include, but aren’t limited to the differences listed above.

This has two main implications for marketers. First, these variables change over time so brands should have a process in place to track and adapt to those changes swiftly. Second, it explains why effective positioning strategies don’t lend themselves easily to globalization. If you are managing a global brand, it is unlikely that the factors affecting you position will be the same in all markets you serve. So you’ll need to localize your strategy.

If we want to cultivate a unified global position for our brands  we’ll need to include a local positioning strategy as part of our marketing strategy. That is, asking ourselves the following question: Given this country’s unique market environment: how do we want consumers to compare our brand to local competitors and what can we do to encourage that perception?

This approach may lead to very different tactics in each market to achieve the same position in consumers minds. Having a strong international brand image can help smooth over differences in positioning and other local market-specific activity.

The brand’s image is the anchor. It should be the same in every market allowing you to fine-tune your marketing mix to local conditions along with your position without appearing schizophrenic. Just make sure that the local position supports your identity and never contradicts it. If you can’t make it so, consider this as an indication that a second brand may be in order.

If you are trying to position a global brand remember that a brand’s position can be international but its positioning strategy must be multi-national (i.e. market-specific). So you are not really positioning your brand globally or even regionally (i.e. Europe). You are actually positioning it one market at a time based on the factors above. This is often a sticking point with brand managers since they are trained in the doctrine of absolute consistency for brands and many lack international experience. But when dealing with multiple countries its important to remember that achieving the same brand position and image can require very different strategies and tactics in each market.

Marketing is tough, International Marketing is Tougher

For many products and services, expansion into foreign markets can be a logical step as part of an overall growth strategy. If you have experienced strong domestic growth you may be tempted to simply replicate the marketing approach in other markets and hope for the same outcome. But it’s important to bear in mind that the domestic marketing approach that has led to your success at home is not likely to work when exported.

Most CMO’s would agree that successfully marketing a brand domestically is a challenge. But for brands that cross borders, that challenge is multiplied by every country they serve. Underestimating that challenge is the #1 reason why many brands fail to thrive outside their home market. This is based on work with many companies, from giant Fortune 500 multi-nationals to tiny basement start-ups. If the company lacks the experience required to effectively market over borders, the fastest and most effective way to compensate is to hire a firm, that specializes in international brand development.

What to Consider

Is the brand an international brand?

First off, you’ll need a product or service whose value proposition transcends the barriers of language, geography, and culture. If that’s the case, then congrats, your brand has international potential. But, that doesn’t make it an international brand … yet. Some argue that any brand with a website today is international since it can be accessed globally. While it’s true that the web affords access, for most brands, it is highly unlikely that access alone will play a significant role in developing the brand. Building a brand across borders requires intent, backed by resources. So we reject the claim that a brand is international by virtue of being online and accessible. An international brand is one where the owners have made the decision to develop the brand in specified markets with a specified strategy, budget, and timeline. We assume you have made the decision to be an international brand.

Is the company small, medium, or large?

When we think of international brands, the Goliaths like Apple, Nike, IKEA, or Google come to mind. While companies of this magnitude still comprise around 45% of the GNP in the US and EU, they represent less than 1% of all companies. The majority of the other 99% fall in the small- to mid-sized range, with annual revenue in the €10 million to €100 million Euro range. Companies in this mid-range face unique challenges to growth, particularly if they have international ambitions. In theory, the internet was supposed to even the playing field by allowing all brands equal access to customers beyond their home markets, even globally. But, in practice, very few mid-sized brands have the bandwidth or expertise to market effectively outside their home market. This guide focuses on the issues and options most likely to be encountered by the 99%.

Centralize or distribute control?

Relinquishing control of the brand to local distributors or local market companies is by far the most convenient option when entering foreign markets. But, the short-term gain can be offset by long-term headaches, especially if the brand succeeds in those markets. The problem is that this decentralized approach often results in multiple interpretations of the brand being communicated in each market. This can dilute the brand’s focus and values, erode brand equity, and make it impossible for the brand owner to manage the brand effectively. For the sake of growth, brand equity, and economies of scale, it makes sense to consider a centralized approach to your international marketing efforts. This is a set-up where strategy, protocols, infrastructure, and core communication are set in place centrally with input from local markets. Implementation and tactics are then handled locally. The recommendations in this guide are written assuming that you are opting, at least in part, for a centralized approach.

Top challenges of building brands across borders

If it’s the first time a brand is going abroad, language is the often most obvious difference between countries and getting it right is absolutely essential. That can be tricky, but with the right process in place, translation can be easily solved.