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Six Steps to Global Growth: How to Plant Your North American Brand Equity in Foreign Markets

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How to maintain cultural relevancy when reaching global markets
  • Six tips to consider before you go global

Before taking your brand into the global market, make sure you've done the proper market research, hired the right staff, and implemented the necessary cultural checks needed to succeed. Here are six steps all brands must consider before going global.

1. Look for fertile ground

The world is a big place. Decide which markets are ripe with low-hanging fruit, and start there. Research your target audience in your target country. Solid market research will provide the foundation for your new empire.

What channels are your target markets paying attention to? Does the demand exist for what you have to offer? Understand that breaking into new markets takes seed capital, and cultivate the patience to let that seed grow.

2. Plan before you dig


Tailor your marketing strategy to each new market. Blanket strategies can be effective if resources are limited, but we all know that segmentation rules.

Will you be implementing a support team for your new markets? What training programs will you need to keep your brand's level of service consistent across all borders?

Will your expansion into new markets include an online integration, TV spots, a sales team, and billboards? Know the scope of your project before you begin. Develop a solid market strategy and budget, and stick to them.

3. Plant indigenous varieties

Choose the languages you will use in your campaigns based on your market research and your region. Many companies get this step wrong with their use of Spanish, for example.

The cultural terminology and mannerisms of Spanish are very different in Spain than they are in Mexico, for example. Even within South America, many variations of Spanish exist that you must consider.

 If you're targeting India, for example, you should consider that the 22 official languages spoken there can be broken down both by region and by education level.

4. Use better food

The best gardeners always have an ace up their sleeve—a special way to nourish their plants with nutrients. Just like them, identify ways to best your competition in foreign markets. What language solution is your competition using? Translation? One-up them by using transcreation. Use transcreation effectively, and understand it better than the people who sell it.

Transcreation is the process of breaking down a brand into its basic parts, and recreating the brand in a new culture. The translation industry tends to be a bit behind the times. Transcreation has been a buzzword picked up by many. Companies are popping up everywhere touting their offering of marketing translation.

Be smart, and ask those companies who will do the work. Translators and linguists are not marketers. They should be perfectly capable of creating culturally relevant, and, possibly, creative copy... but you can't expect them to understand the psychology of click paths, lead forms, calls to action, and so on.

When developing marketing materials, you don't need a linguist; you need a marketer. One marketer overseeing your project throughout multiple target countries just isn't enough. You need at least one marketer for each target country on board.

5. Keep your weeds in check

All marketing materials should pass a rigorous cultural-relevance check. That can include evaluating informal language, metaphors, taboos, and even color symbolism and imagery.

In China, for example, it's considered disrespectful to raise your glass above the glass of an elder while toasting. So the beautifully selected multicultural stock photo that Company X just picked out to project its celebration of 25 years in business is a dud because the youngest guy in the crowd has his glass raised high above the rest.

Now, the company looks disrespectful and inconsiderate. Even though its website is translated into perfect Mandarin, the photos haven't been cleared by anyone from China who can offer a cultural perspective.

6. Cultivate wisdom from your neighbor's wilted vegetation

Corporate marketing teams have run into trouble in the past. The list of examples is never-ending.

For example, Gerber, which sells baby food, kept the image of the famous smiling Gerber Baby on its jars and packages. When the brand entered the African market, some people were disturbed. Only after launch did the company realize that as a result of the low literacy rate across Africa, many companies in Africa use pictures on labels to denote what's inside. Gerber also met resistance in other markets; it found out that "gerber" is French slang for "to vomit."

Pepsi had its share of blunders with global marketing when it made changes to campaigns in Asia. Pepsi's tagline "Pepsi Brings You Back to Life" translated to "Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back From the Grave" in Chinese. Pepsi also lost market share in Southeast Asia when it changed the color of its vending machines from deep blue to light blue. Light blue symbolizes death and mourning in Southeast Asia.

* * *

Don't translate marketing materials. Translation is completely adequate for technical copy that is void of innuendo, slang, or inflection. I sincerely hope that does not include your marketing copy. In general, anything designed to sell needs a bit of panache, and even very good translation will make it sound awkward.

Marketing is all about relevancy. If you translate your campaign, the intended message could become slanted because of cultural disparity.

Transcreation is the key to foreign expansion, but, surprisingly, few have heard of it. Transcreation is that magical place where translation merges with marketing to make your dreams of global growth come true.


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Ivy Mills is marketing manager for Consell Translations, where she manages transcreation projects and writes for the WorldWide Words blog.

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  • by Alyssa Mon Apr 23, 2012 via web

    Enjoyed your reference to transcreation and the importance of "recreating" a brand for new international markets. Going global involves so much more than just translating words - it can also mean reinventing products and the brand itself to adapt them to local needs and preferences.

    One thing I would add is the importance of a glossary/style guide when expanding into new markets. Even though you want to transcreate your brand, you don't want to lose its essence as you move into new countries. A style guide and glossary can ensure that you keep brand communications consistent across cultures. Here's a blog post on the topic: http://bit.ly/fi4qrh

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