Building Your Brand Internationally: What You Should Know

Nicolas Farman

There are more and more global brands every year. But the process of internationalizing your brand cannot be done without proper localization and cultural adaptation.

Finding the right balance between adapting your brand to the local market and maintaining a consistent image worldwide is a hard task. By essence, the brand identity must stay the same and ideally, the aim is to keep a relevant but differentiating positioning wherever the brand is present. The common mistakes that could be made are twofold: to ignore local specificities and remain a “foreign brand”, or to launch low-key, ordinary products without a strong brand identity.

Luckily, there are some tools that can help.

But before such advanced tools are considered , you must first have a thorough knowledge of your target customers, whether in B2B or B2C, by using classic approaches (qualitative and quantitative studies) or more innovative approaches (such as ethnology or semiology).

We can take the example of Club Med who, on the basis of detailed consumer insights, chose to launch an entirely new brand with a localized positioning for the Chinese market: Joyview by Club Med.
Essential elements for a successful international brand development:

  • A clearly defined global identity: define who you are
  • A strong and consistent positioning
  • An in-depth knowledge of your clients
  • A real cultural adaptation to the market (logo, packaging, name, etc)
  • A strong command of digital channels
  • A solid support from management teams with ongoing internal monitoring, firstly for the local launch phase, and subsequently for the brand’s consolidation and expansion phases.

The final step is crucial: you need to ensure that the decision-making teams and the project implementation teams cooperate closely. Spreading the brand’s values internally should be a priority and can be done through brand engagement programs.

How to adapt your brand experience

Branding is about all the brand actions that are implemented to offer a unique user experience to customers. Once the local positioning has been approved based on local market dynamics, the brand’s identity should be evaluated across a variety of touch points.

Brand activation will take cultural differences into account in order to adapt the verbal identity (name and tagline), visual identity (logo and design ststem), as well as audio and olfactory identities if applicable.

It is also essential to define a proper digital strategy: while brands used to have separated, isolated positioning strategies for each country, continue globalization and digitalization now allows users to compare the same brands across different locations and languages. In addition, the increase in international trips offers new opportunities for consumers to compare brand experiences in different parts of the world.

Thus, the link between local and global needs to be precisely defined to prevent general confusion. Everything must be implemented to avoid any cultural faux-pas that could cause bad press for your brand.

Are emerging markets fertile grounds for building a global brand?

Emerging countries should not be simply seen as markets with strong potential anymore, but also as laboratories for developing new strategies. Innovation has become essential to nurture and transform brands.

Let’s illustrate this through the Chinese market: since it is a fairly young market, many brands compete there on a (comparatively) equal footing. It won’t necessarily be easier for a 200-year-old brand to enter the market than for a newly established start-up. For instance, despite its status as an iconic, long-established international brand, Chanel is identified by consumes with its Chinese name 香奈儿 [xiāng nài er] on the web and on social media rather than with its original name.

This type of market requires branding specialists in China to be humble, imaginative, and willing to adapt – more so than their foreign and local competitors, if a brand is to be successful.

The key to success lies in the ability to question some of your assumptions and develop new strategies that will be implemented in more mature markets. Nestlé has, for instance, already opened three R&D centers in China!

Brands cannot afford to simply stay focused on what they know best, but rather must adapt to the new while staying true to their essence. They will eventually be threatened, even in their historical markets, by worldwide competition. Such is the trajectory for brand innovations!


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