international branding

Will Brexit damage ‘Brand Britain’ or British brands?

Fortnum & Mason boss, Ewan Venters, claimed “brand Britain has been firmly damaged” by Brexit and the uncertainty it has brought.

It’s evident that the political and economic picture painted during the aftermath of the referendum is not an edifying one. However, it may not be accurate to tie ‘Brand Britain’ too closely to British brands. Brand Britain is a signifier for a set of values and qualities whose influence on products and services created in the nation may be far more tenuous.

Looking at the world in general we see a social, political and financial turmoil which does not seem to impact brands. Germany, USA, Japan and others are hardly enjoying a smooth ride on the world-stage, but brands such as BMW, Apple and Toyota seem relatively unaffected.

It is curious that national cultural characteristics are often associated with brands, yet political dimensions seem to be overlooked by the consumer, except where they impact norms of social responsibility. While the use of child labour, endangering life and limb or flouting environmental legislation may result in brand damage, governmental disasters or ineptitude appear to inhabit a separate realm.

I worked on major UK brands during past economic storms more damaging than those that Brexit portends – yet none seemed to suffer in terms of brand stature. That is not to say that profit performance was not affected by political climate and activity, but brand values and attributes were little affected.

In the consumer’s mind, brands exist in a different emotional category to that of national brands – such as so-called, ‘Brand Britain’. Fortnum’s do not seem to be suffering so far, despite Mr Venters’s warnings –  posting  a 14% rise in sales to £113m in the previous year with pre-tax profits rising 23p% to £7.6m.

International appetites for quality British brands are unlikely to be diminished by either the complexities of negotiations in Brussels or their outcome.

While politicians and economists negotiate, ponder and speculate, businesses and brand stewards will just get on with the job. It’s time for them to get on with brand dimensions they can affect. Businesses can be far more responsive to change than governments ever can.


Will brand values be as unpredictable as political values in Europe?

Does branding in Europe have a unique flavour?

I’m going to be looking forward with interest to the Transform conference, given that ‘Brand Europe’ itself seems to have undergone significant changes. Are Europeans’ values shifting – paricularly those of consumers?

Brand management seems likely to have become a contentious issue, closely linked with corporate governance, which has the potential for challenge by value perceptions.

Brand evolution in Europe – Transform magazine

At the 2015 Transform Conference Europe, influence, reputation and creativity were key topics. Sustainability as a core brand positioning laid the groundwork for the current rise in purpose …

Read more …

Top tips for international branding.

Building brands in your own market takes time, application and sheer hard work.

The world today is a small place – brands have to exist and work on a much bigger stage. This may appear a daunting prospect, but there are a few simple things that it’s critical to get right. Once these are addressed export branding becomes a much more manageable activity.

The fundamental point to remember is that every market is different. Not just the far-flung and exotic markets, but even those closer to home with whom you may perhaps share a common language. The underlying variable is culture. Cultural norms, values, narratives and mythologies go to make up what a market actually is.

The more time you devote to understanding these subtleties the more successful you are likely to be. Peoples’ main attachment to brands and key influencer of choice is emotion. The semiotics of your brand is bound up in shared emotional and cultural values. In turn these are manifest in language, symbols, colours and the whole catalogue of brand communications.

The seven pillars of export branding

sevenpillarsAt its core, all branding is the same – however, when a brand moves into the international arena, there are some critical dimensions that must be considered.

1. Language

This may seem obvious, but does your brand name translate into your target languages? Even proper names may have an unintended meaning. Don’t just think of the spelling – when pronounced, even seemingly harmless words may have unintended meanings.

Do you use descriptive words in your brand such as, ‘Norfolk Car Parts’ or ‘Budget Printing’? Will these words be meaningful in your selected markets.

You may not need to change a brand name, but it may help to emphasise just part of your title.

Also consider any statements or strap-lines that form part of your corporate signature; these may need adapting in translation.

2. Culture

While language may be easy to check, culture is rather more subtle, and potentially a bigger trap. There is no quick fix. You need to do your research and immerse yourself as far as possible in the culture of your market.  Look at the media, both online and offline; look at your competitors.

Best of all, expose your brand to nationals of your target markets. Discuss your ambitions. Use your partners in-market; agents, distributors etc. Talk to embassy staff.

You’ll soon appreciate how culture impacts upon many of the other dimensions of your branding activity.

3. Brand Story

Is your brand narrative relevant to your target market? Things that may seem unimportant at home may be leveraged to advantage internationally. While your location may have little relevance to home customers, it may be a strong plus abroad. Consider the cultural context: for example, history of a family business may be very important in certain markets.

4. Competitive positioning

The perception of your brand position relative to your competitors from market to market. Be aware and be sensitive, you can often use this to your advantage. Don’t assume that your positioning will be the same as it is at home.

5. Core Values

Your core values are what makes your brand what it is. They should be strong and consistent wherever you do business. You must be clear about them and communicate them to all you work with – your staff, your partners in market, your customers and supply chain. Don’t tinker with them, but just be aware that certain values may be more important in some markets more than others.

6. IPR

Intellectual property rights – consider them all; brand names, trademarks, patents, designs, copyright etc.

Legal protection may be difficult or costly across export markets, but you must give them consideration. It is important to give your brand all the protection you can apply or afford. It is equally important to make sure you don’t infringe the IPR of others.

Remember, a strong brand can often be the best protection you can get – be first to market, establish a strong presence and leave potential copyists playing catch-up.

7. Visual communications.

Though language is important, visual and non-verbal communications have an equally powerful part to play. When you see the ‘golden arches’ of Macdonalds, or the Apple symbol, you don’t need the name. Strong visual symbolism can be a means of transcending language difficulties.

Consider the elements of your corporate identity, symbols, colours, typography. Maintain rigid visual standards.

It’s important to look at the cultural context of your visual elements. What semantic connotations do your colours have? In many cultures colours are far more important, and signify different states.

Now Raleigh has gone Dutch does nationality of brand ownership matter?

There is a good deal of breast-beating when a fundamentally British brand is bought into foreign ownership – but perhaps the thing we should be focusing upon is heritage rather than ownership.

Over recent years we have seen many brands that may be considered quintessentially British fall into foreign ownership – Jaguar, Harrods, Cadbury, Manchester United, and now Raleigh. The same is true with other countries’ national brands of course, and UK companies have also acquired some important names. Obviously this is good for the shareholders and the businesses that have stewardship of those brands, or they would not have made the commercial decisions. Does the nationality of ownership adversely affect the brand? Of course there is the possibility that new owners might act foolishly, but that is just as likely with the indigenous ones.

Part of our emotional attachment to brands concerns their history and heritage. It is embedded in their narrative. But these stories do not change – the ongoing story might, that is part of a brand’s evolution – but you can’t kill the history. So, BMW may now own the Mini brand, but they have bought into more; they have bought into the Mini’s heritage – Alec Issigonis, the swinging 60’s, rally wins, the Italian Job. You can’t kill the back story.

Raleigh has a wonderful heritage – a leader in cycle design, exemplifying British engineering; working with steel in Nottingham (and pioneers of composites and carbon fibre); ridden to unique world championship success by Reg Harris. Raleigh’s story is not unique. Great British heritage, but rather than be crushed by economic pressures, the brand survived by shifting manufacture to the far East. Now, it is back and reaping the benefits of the cycle boom and a presence in top-level cycle sport. So, let’s not worry about the ownership – that can change in a heartbeat. The legacy, the heritage, the brand narrative is set in history and will endure.

HSBC – aligning brand values with national heritage.

HSBC signageIt’s interesting to note how HSBC is capitalizing on its Chinese roots in its current brand promotion. I used to be a customer of the old Midland Bank, when it was taken over by HSBC many years ago. The new owners were very low-key about the branding, reassuring customers that little would change and they would be like every other bank on the high street. Those were the days, of course, when banks were fairly universally respected.

HSBC is now promoting itself as a global bank – but more significantly as an unashamedly Chinese/Hong Kong bank. Advertising and promotional material employs oriental actors and artifacts, and Chinese metaphors abound in the creative concepts.

We can only speculate upon the strategic thinking behind this subtle shift in positioning, but it does seem to make sense to build upon a point of differentiation in a crowded and muddy marketplace. With European banks mired in debt turmoil and the Chinese economy still relatively buoyant, it may make sense to differentiate yourself from the western banks.

It is not a unique strategy to build upon your national roots. If those national values have international currency and also accord with your brand values, it can make a great deal of sense. We have seen German brands build upon their national characteristics and reputation for engineering expertise, while Italian brands have exploited a distinction for style and design. Banking, however, has been a strange category where reputation and probity have always been key brand values –  one might almost say critical success factors. British banks used to delight in their traditional values.  Sadly, recent history has tarnished many reputations and banking brands  in general are viewed with caution and suspicion.

It might seem curious for a Chinese heritage to be considered a brand asset – certainly it would not be the first characteristic to spring to mind. But it certainly creates a valid platform upon which to build a brand definition. At the moment the chinese economy is still some thing of a tiger so perhaps it makes sense to ride it. However, there is a Chinese proverb ”Ch’i ‘hu nan hsia pei”, which may be translated as ”He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.”

Export marketing communications strategy – free download.

A strategy should not be a weighty document.  It is a single outline of an objective and the means of achieving it. There may be a lot of work behind it – researching, thinking and planning. However, the strategy in itself should be all that hard work filtered down into a simple action plan – ideally a single sheet of paper. The strategy is not and end, but a starting point.

On our sister website there is a free, interactive, PDF guide  to help you gather your thoughts and filter your thinking down into a strategy to help put your export communications plan into action.

It is based on a tried and tested approach to marcomms planning for home markets, but also flagging up issues that need special consideration when approaching export markets.

  • What market environment facts do you need to consider?
  • What market facts and data do you need to collate?
  • What is the media arena in your chosen market?
  • Who is your audience (or audiences)?
  • What do you want to say to them?
  • What action do you want them to take in response?

The interactive guide takes you through the process step by step. Use the link below to visit the site and download your free guide.

The Delta Plan – free download.



Brand propositions – internationalization v localization

All brands operate on an increasingly international stage – thanks to a great extent to the internet. Whether the brand seeks to perform internationally or not is a commercial decision for the organisation behind it. But as more and more brands choose to operate in lucrative global markets, the spotlight is thrown on the brands’ preparedness for the challenges presented.

The first challenge is how far the brand should be internationalized. Most major brands have already taken this decision very seriously. A careful analysis will show if the brand’s core values have international appeal in the major world markets. Beyond these deep core values are a set equally important subsidiary values that go to make up the brand’s proposition. A key issue for international branding is the struggle to be all things to all people. To strive for one brand proposition is likely to result in an anodyne, toothless offer at best.

Let us be clear, I am taking about brand propositions not about values: brand values are intrinsic and should only change slowly over time if they are to be credible. What is fundamental, is that some brand values will be more important in certain markets than in others. Let’s take the obvious example of a brand’s national heritage. A UK brand’s ‘britishness’ may be unimportant in its home market, but may be extremely important in certain export markets while being irrelevant in others. This does not mean the values change – you cannot easily change your heritage – but its prominence and strength as part of the proposition will change from market to market.

It may be useful to consider the ‘Key’ model:

Brand propositions and the key modelThe ‘core’ brand values – what the brand is fundamentally about can be thought of as the shaft of a key. These are the foundations of the proposition and relatively unchanging and are usually emotionally rooted..

Branding key - subsidiary brand valuesThen we have a set of subsidiary, but nonetheless important brand values. These are often the most visible elements of the proposition. They are normally associated with more declarative and pragmatic dimensions of the brand offer.

Branding key model 3These brand values will also be reflected by values in the respective markets. The proposition must carry values that are important to its audience.

Branding key model 5However, these brand values, while they may be common across the majority of markets will not carry the same importance in each. Where environmental credentials may be very important to one market, they may be less important in another. Size may be reassuring to one country but irrelevant to another.

Branding key model 6To be successful, the brand must adjust its proposition from market to market. Let me emphasise, the brand’s values do not change, but the proposition must recognise the difference in relative importance of these values to the local markets. The values are international but the propositions can be local to varying degrees. The key is still the same just cut slightly differently to fit the lock.