“We are working to build a global brand.” A sentence heard often in marketing circles, and it’s easy to see why. 

Having a solid global branding strategy that takes into account geographical and cultural differences will help you save on costs and eliminate the need to retool everytime you enter a new market. Done right, it can also have huge payoffs in brand recognition and customer trust.

However, creating a brand that can scale across continents and cultures takes careful planning. Having grown our creative platform into a truly global community and product from its humble Australian roots thirteen year ago, we are all too familiar with this process.

Below are a few of the most important things we’ve learned that should help you navigate the tricky, yet rewarding, waters of global branding. 

Do the legal legwork first 

Developing a global brand requires extensive research upfront. Some of the most important early legwork should be focused on whether or not you can actually legally operate with the same registered brand trademarks in specific countries. Keeping in mind that each country has its own laws and requirements regarding intellectual property, it’s a good idea to consult with a locally based intellectual property lawyer as early as possible to avoid a costly lawsuit or other problems down the line. 

Unfortunately, you may find out that you’ll need to pivot or shift your brand from its current form in order to operate in a specific country. For example, when Burger King entered the Australian market in the early 1970s, it soon learned that a takeout restaurant of the same name was already in operation there. The chain was simply renamed “Hungry Jack’s” in Australia, while all the rest of the brand assets, such as packaging, logo color and font remain the same, keeping it recognizable and familiar to consumers. 

Research your target markets – extensively 

Legal due diligence is just the first step in research needed to successfully extend your brand internationally. It’s also important to look into whether any potentially problematic or simply different cultural associations exist for specific product name translations, colors, mascots, symbols and other brand elements within the country you’re entering. For example, while green is often associated with money and luck in America, Chinese culture and consumers favor red as a symbol of good luck and fortune. 

You’ll also need to consider distribution channels. Where will people see and interact with your brand? For example, will your product be sold on grocery market shelves or only in boutiques and specialty stores, and is this different from how or where it is sold in the US? How should this affect your packaging design? 

And don’t forget your company name. Be sure to find out whether it sounds like any specific word in the local language—and if so, whether that word is potentially vulgar or inappropriate for your brand’s target customer.  

Be consistent and considered

Consistency in branding is always important for developing recognition and trust with your target audience. But consistency becomes critical when extending your brand across global borders – especially if you are unable to use your brand name and wordmark due to differences in local alphabets or word translations. In this instance, keeping all your brand elements such as typography style, colors and design style of your logo consistent with your brand identity, while translating (or even changing) some of the text in your word mark can help navigate localization issues and still keep your brand recognizable.

Balance global and local elements 

Successful branding can often be a balancing act between global and local, but this isn’t always the case. Tech brands like Apple and Microsoft rarely differ, if at all, from market to market – in both product and brand experience. But for many, this doesn’t work, so your global branding strategy should be a combination of all the elements that make your brand what it is, with subtle changes to help make it more appealing to your new market.

For example, a McDonald’s store might appear and feel the same in different countries – the golden arches, the red and yellow branding, the bold packaging. But take a closer look, and you will see specific changes as the brand draws inspiration from local cuisines and preferences. Step into McDonald’s in India, and you will see a less beef-heavy menu with more chicken, lamb and vegetarian options. However, visit the chain in Singapore and you’ll find that coconut pie is the star of the show, rather than apple pie. We’re not expert chefs, so we can’t tell you how to retool your menu, but we can stress the importance of keeping it on brand while being considerate of local consumers.

No matter what you do or sell, as a brand you’ve got a responsibility to meet your customers where they are. Think of your customers as round pegs and your business as the square hole! In other words, you can’t simply expect them to automatically embrace your business if it doesn’t speak to or resonate with them.

It’s never too early to get planning on your global strategy. Even if your current business seems anchored to a specific region, you never know what the future might hold. Particularly given the opportunities afforded today by ecommerce and social media to extend the reach of even the smallest of businesses to a truly global audience.

Shayne Tilley, Head of Marketing at 99designs 

Shayne is Head of Marketing at 99designs, the global creative platform that makes it easy for designers and clients to work together to create designs they love. Wrangler of collaboration, diversity, and creativity to help bring more opportunities to people all around the world. 

Global brand stock image by My Life Graphic/Shutterstock