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Building an international b2b brand – what three things can’t you afford to get wrong?

  • by Upp B2B
  • 5th Jan 2019
    • Brand Creation, Strategy

We’re back with more insight and opinion from our Insider Magazine feature. This month we’ve been discussing what it takes to build an international b2b brand with some of the region’s top b2b marketers. Who better to kick off this month’s feature than our very own Director of Brand, Ann Rimmer…

Take a look at Insider Magazine to read the full column, or read on for inspiration.

Question: Building an international b2b brand – what three things can’t you afford to get wrong?

Ann Rimmer, Director of Brand, Upp B2B.

Speak your customers’ language but stay true to your brand promise

I was impressed to read that Manchester United’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan is fluent in six languages as well as his native Armenian. Perhaps a career in international branding awaits him after football, because being able to listen and then speak back to your customers in their everyday language is a crucial skill for building great global business brands.

Finding that balance between a consistent global brand message and the ‘co-creation’ of this into the local market, is the first thing you can’t afford to get wrong. Start by listening – speak to people ‘on the ground’ and ascertain what their challenges are in terms of your offer. Question how they feel your product or service meets those challenges, and how they see the market dynamics. It’s critical to study the language – the words they favour, the phrases they use and the way they express their challenges to be able to connect in an empathetic way.

The next challenge is adapting to the local context while maintaining a tone of voice that is recognisably yours. Some ideas simply won’t translate for a new audience, no matter how perfect they seem in the original. I can remember several meetings where I’ve told a crestfallen creative that their brilliant design or clever copy line simply won’t resonate when the campaign is launched in the US!

In my experience the potential branding pitfalls are riskier when UK businesses make a concerted push to ‘go global’, rather than growing organically. There’s a greater temptation to cut corners because the number of markets they’re entering can seem overwhelming and budgets are often tight. In this scenario, many businesses cut out the localisation altogether and simply translate their core proposition, or worse just the words across brand touchpoints. But the cost of getting it wrong will be much higher than the opportunity of getting it right.

The third big mistake is not being genuine. Your brand will suffer as soon as you start changing your stance on an issue, or using tactics that don’t fit your ethos, simply to meet the demands of a new market. So in a nutshell, always stay authentic and true to your brand promise.


Next up – Angela Critchley, International Marketing Director of Radio Systems Corporation gives her take on what not to get wrong when building your b2b brand…

You really have to understand the intricacies of every country you do business in. It’s easy to talk about the importance of getting to know your new markets, but actually doing it with the thoroughness and commitment it requires is a different story. I’m not just talking about the nuances of customer behaviour either – the mechanics of the industry and standard business processes can also vary significantly from country to country. For example, when promoting new products in Canada we’ve found that media contacts are much more receptive to personalised ‘pitch documents’ than the standard-format press release we use in the UK.

That would be my first point. But some of this local knowledge only comes from experience – you can’t possibly know everything when you start building your brand in new markets. So the second thing global marketers can’t afford to neglect is building a strong support network on the ground. These people can fill any experience gaps you have and provide a vital sounding board when you start to translate your core marketing strategy into different markets. There’s a practical element to it as well – sometimes you just need someone in the right time zone with the ability to respond urgently if required. It could be an agency partner, freelancer or your own local office – the key thing is finding partners you trust to represent your brand.

My final point is to avoid being over-cautious. Coordinating marketing activities across multiple territories can seem challenging, but you shouldn’t let it stifle the creativity of your team or your willingness to try new things. It’s natural to be prudent, but potentially great ideas will always be left on the shelf if you get too conservative. And even when things don’t quite go to plan, you’ll come away with plenty of insights for your next campaign.

Gareth Williams, Marketing and Communications Director at EMR gives us his opinion…

Make sure your brand experience doesn’t get lost in translation

You’ve got to be smart to build an international brand in 2017. As the world continues to process the political events of the last year or so, global brands are reassessing their strategies in a climate that suddenly feels very different – and in some ways less conducive to growth across borders.

For me, this means doing the fundamentals better than ever before. The world has changed, but the basic tenets of doing international business remain the same. It’s all about knowing your markets inside out, providing a genuine point of difference, and delivering your brand experience with consistency.

So local market knowledge is the first thing brands can’t afford to get wrong. When researching new global markets, my advice would be to apply the same processes – with the same rigour – that went into the initial domestic market research during the early days of your business. Don’t make assumptions based on how you currently operate, because a completely different set of customer needs or buying habits may apply in the new market. A famous example is Walmart’s difficulties in China, where it failed to recognise that many consumers still prefer to shop in local stores rather than large US-style retail parks.

The second thing is standing out with a brand proposition that captures the imagination of people in your new markets. This might be one for the business strategists to argue over, but if you genuinely can’t identify a point of difference in a new market, should you really be targeting it? Global digital platforms make it increasingly difficult for companies to follow different brand strategies in different countries. For this reason, your core brand promise must resonate with any new country audience, whilst staying true to your overall identity. Not always an easy feat!

The final point is consistency. You need to deliver a recognisable brand experience that won’t get lost in translation. Working closely with employees on the ground is the key – whether they’re based in Salford or Singapore, make sure they buy into what your brand means and have the right tools to deliver this.

Finally, offering her view on the matter is Lucy Foster, Marketing Manager at ATG Access...

Find the right in-country partners who understand the essence of your brand

When looking to build an international brand, all the different elements you need to consider can seem overwhelming. In reality though, building a global b2b brand is not that different to building a b2b brand locally. The customer is key and their evolving purchasing needs, habits and desires should be at the heart of any branding strategy. Having a strong brand proposition, identity and tone of voice that speaks to your target customer group and stands out within the wider competitive landscape is a good basepoint.

One specific challenge for global brand strategy, however, is finding the right in-country partners to support your brand. You won’t be able to do everything on your own, but you need partners who understand what your brand represents and who can also deliver the services that make your brand competitive or unique.

Your services may change to suit different cultural requirements, but there needs to be a level of standardisation and quality control to deliver a consistent experience across countries. The key to controlling this is carefully feeding your brand through partners, controlling documentation and messaging and ensuring that international representatives receive the level of training and support required to do your brand justice.

A strong positioning strategy should evolve according to the international territory you’re targeting. Product needs and b2b purchasing habits may differ from one international market to another, so it’s vital that you know your customer and understand the different cultural behaviours you’re likely to encounter. Product offerings, routes to market and messaging will likely always need to be tailored to be effective.

In summary, I believe the three things you simply can’t afford to get wrong when building an international brand are understanding your customer, developing a strong brand proposition which can be adapted effectively and finding the right partners to represent your brand in each new market.