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Brand Beckham: Five Lessons on International Marketing From David and Victoria Beckham

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to expand your brand internationally
  • A winning example of growing your brand without compromising its core appeal

Brand Beckham —the husband-and-wife partnership of former England soccer captain David Beckham and former Spice Girl Victoria, aka Posh Spice—is worth an estimated £145 million ($226 million).

How can this team of "formers" be more famous and worth so much years after their prime, you ask?

The answer, quite simply, is brilliant international marketing. The fame of "Posh and Becks" straddles five continents. Beckham is the second most-recognizable foreign word in Japan (Coca-Cola is first).

So what can David and Victoria Beckham teach us about international marketing?

1. Set up base abroad

It's not enough to regularly travel to a new market. If you want to really succeed in that market, somebody has to live there. You never really understand a culture until you've lived it. Someone in your company has to be living and breathing the culture, getting to know the people: how they speak, what they like, and how they respond to marketing.

David Beckham first left England to play for Real Madrid in 2003. He was already a well-known soccer player in Europe, but by no means the most popular European star.

Beckham's time at Real Madrid secured his popularity outside the UK and Europe, most notably in Asia. The Spice Girls had already had remarkable success in Asia and reasonable success in the US. The Beckhams knew, however, that they had to conquer the US, as a couple, if Brand Beckham was going to be around for the long haul. So, in 2007, Posh and Becks moved to the US, as David signed a contract playing for LA Galaxy—a team most of his fans had never even heard of.

It was a controversial move. Most of the British press wrote him off and predicted a significant devaluing of Brand Beckham. Did that happen? Just the opposite. Becks retained a fierce commitment to England and captaining the England team at the same time he watched his US popularity grow. His regular visits back home kept him on the front page of newspapers and magazines, and he came to be one of England's most loved captains.

Lesson: Expanding abroad doesn't mean ignoring your original home. Give both the attention they deserve, and you'll be sitting pretty.

2. When the cat's away, the mice will play

UK readers won't remember Posh's reluctance to move to Spain as much as they'll remember David's alleged affair with Rebecca Loos, his Spanish personal assistant.

Lesson: If you want to take your business abroad, you have to be committed to it and you must be prepared to make the right sacrifices. If you're not there to manage the operation, trouble could easily brew.

3. Learn the local lingo

David fully committed himself to learning Spanish when he went to Real Madrid. His kids learned it, too. At the time, Becks joked that his kids were teaching him Spanish slang.

Lesson: Learn the language, learn the slang, and learn the cultural references. Although David was criticized for his relative lack of fluency, the Spanish accepted that he was making a genuine effort and loved that his kids were picking it up. Even if your CEO doesn't speak the language of every market you're in, you should have local staff who can speak to local customers in their own language.

4. Make friends with the locals

The first thing Posh and Becks did when they landed in LA was to be photographed with Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The gesture loudly told the skeptical British press that the Beckhams had been welcomed into LA society. It also made Posh and Becks visible to an audience that had never heard of them before.

Lesson: It helps to make powerful friends early on.

5. Don't lose your identity

You may now think that to succeed abroad you have to entirely alter your business's identity. That's not true. If you've ever heard David or Victoria speak, you'll know they haven't lost their English accents. David has polished his speech, no doubt, but he's never lost his east London accent. He's still a footballer, a former England captain, and he still accompanies the England team to the World Cup. And Posh, while now a fashion designer, is still, well, Posh.

Lesson: People are attracted to your brand in the first place for a reason. You don't have to lose your brand essence to be successful abroad—you merely adjust your marketing to achieve the same feeling with the appropriate cultural references.

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Gary Muddyman is CEO of Conversis, a UK-based translation, localization, and international-marketing services provider.

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