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Perspectives on Branding and Identity from Franke+Fiorella
Issue No.38

Effectively Managing a Global Brand Identity

Managing global brands has never been more important. On one level, all brands have global reach as a result of the Internet, whether intended or not. But this doesn’t make them global brands. While it is true that the world is much smaller as a result of the Internet, affordable travel and the reduction of trade barriers, a truly global brand takes more than having a multi-national presence. A global brand is a brand that is intentionally marketed, bought, sold and recognized in various countries around the world.

There are many different methods of deploying a global brand strategy. Some organizations leverage one brand, typically their corporate or strategic brands, around the world. Others leverage local product brands that bear the endorsement of the parent company. While some translate the brand name, retaining a consistent trade dress. The challenge arises when managing the brand across a broad range of cultures, trying to achieve a consistent brand image. We have worked with a wide range of global organizations with brands that reach across 60+ countries. While each may utilize a different strategy, their commitment to building a global brand has helped them develop a consistent brand presence around the world.

This edition of identityWise® is not attempting to provide an in-depth primer on global brand management. Our goal instead is to share the following principles, which we’ve found to be critical factors in effectively managing a global brand identity:

1. Find the common ground. Effective global brand identity management begins with understanding your customer — their needs, their values and their culture — in every country in which you do business. This insight is critical in defining a single vision, position and promise for your brand around the world. Together, these form the framework of your brand to guide all future decisions.

2. Be relevant. We cannot overemphasize the importance of cultural sensitivity and understanding how your brand can fit into the local way of life. Tailoring your communications and product and service offerings to fit within the social mores of the local culture will go a long way to ensure you are approaching consumers the way they do business, on their terms, in theirlanguage. While it’s important that your product, marketing and communication efforts be managed within the framework of the global brand strategy, regional flexibility in implementation is critical. Consider Cargill, for example. They promise solutions that nourish ideas and people. That promise is relevant around the world. But what constitutes “nourishment” to people in China versus North America, Russia and Africa may be extremely different. To ignore these differences, and make decisions based on one country's experiences alone, could mean missing enormous opportunities.

3. The name impacts the strategy. Certain names work globally, while others do not. To have global appeal, the less descriptive the better. Acronyms, names of organization founders and those that conjure up images of global locations are frequently effective. BMW, LG, Gucci and Barilla are examples. While descriptive names are enticing because of the meaning associated with them, they lose relevance quickly and are often difficult to pronounce in other countries. For this reason, many product brand names, which need to have meaning, are translated into local languages while leveraging a consistent trade dress for global recognition. Whether the brand leverages a global name or a global trade dress, the name is a critical element of the global marketing strategy.

4. Be consistent and flexible. Consistency breeds familiarity and trust. Yet flexibility allows for cultural relevance. It is our position that all the elements leveraged in shaping the perception of a brand need to be implemented consistently. This includes the name (to the extent that this is possible), logo, trade dress and copy tone. Though imagery style should remain consistent, global brands must be allowed flexibility in imagery content and messaging to be relevant in various regions and cultures. To support this effort, we strongly encourage creating online, globally available identity standards. These standards should define those elements that must be applied with consistency and those that allow for flexibility in order to give brand and communication managers the tools they need to implement the brand identity over time. This type of strategy allows for flexibility with enough structure to instill brand recognition worldwide.

From discovering new markets to uncovering new possibilities, global brand management is a journey. It takes dedication, perseverance, hard work and a deep understanding of different cultures and ways of life. One size does not fit all and every brand will follow its own path. But, whichever path is chosen, these principals will help lay the foundation for managing a successful global brand.

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