How to maintain brand identity in a global SME

October 06, 2020

But what happens if things are going well in your home province or country and you want to grow your business overseas? 

Can you maintain your current brand identity and achieve the same results? Possibly, but this is not always the case. Let’s delve into brand identity, what it is and how your business may have to adapt it to overseas markets.  

We often think about brands in terms of their physical representation, logos, packaging or colours but there is more to it than that. Brand identity also encompasses messaging, it is more closely aligned to reputation. Like a person, physical image plays a part in our reputation, but so does how we interact and communicate with the world around us. 

As a business, you have spent time and resources building your brand personality within your home market. As a result, your customers know what to expect from your business and trust your brand promise. 

The fundamental goal of your business will not change with global expansion, but you may need to adapt your brand strategy to appeal to different target audiences with distinct needs. The real challenge is doing this while maintaining a level of brand consistency and a strong brand identity. 

To maintain a strong brand identity overseas your goal as a business should be to adapt rather than compromise how your brand appears and communicates in new markets. The secret to successful global expansion is to look before you leap by completing due diligence:

1. Ensure you have a market

Research the market or markets you hope to move into carefully to understand if there is a similar audience for your product or service. If they exist, look at your competition in the market. Is there something about your offering and brand identity that makes you stand out from them? If you do not find any direct competition it is important to ask why? Are there laws or regulations that prevent businesses like yours operating in that market? Is the market lacking necessary infrastructure? 

2. Be relevant

Once you know there is a market there, you need to get to know your new target audience. Do their motivations differ from your domestic audience? From a brand perspective can you communicate with them in a similar way? Is there anything about your product or service that may be viewed as inappropriate or offensive? While maintaining the essential elements, plan to establish a brand position that is relevant to the needs of the target audience in that country. 

3. Localise don’t translate

Revisit all the physical elements of your brand when planning a move into an overseas market, particularly if they speak a different language. Learn from the international marketing fails of others by not translating anything directly. Work with a specialist localisation business to help you correctly adapt the elements that make up your brand to your target market. There is plenty to consider:

Logo: Does it use colours or symbols that may be unlucky or offensive? Is it similar to an existing company in that market or does it contain any symbols that may be culturally inappropriate in that region? 

Product names and slogans: There are a myriad of examples by household names who made marketing mistakes when it came to translating product names and related slogans. Don’t rely on online translation tools and always consult a native speaker.

Communications: Similarly, tailor all communication to your local audience. You do not have to lose the essence of your brand identity, just adapt it. If your brand tone on social media is casual, keep that but within the context of your new market.

4. Make sure you can deliver

There are a multitude of logistics to consider when it comes to expanding into a new country. From domain registration to ensuring you can get your product to or manufactured in your new market, there is a lot to plan. Research local laws and regulations related to your industry and ensure your goods comply with local standards. It is best to work with your legal and accounting professionals on this.  

5. Consider expat employees

Once you understand the lay of the land and have made the decision to proceed there is the question of how you expand? If you plan to open an office or manufacturing plant, you may wish to inject your company’s values and common practices in the form of internal branding. An effective way to do this may be by having a senior member of your team move to the destination country on an expatriate basis. If you do send an employee to work as an expat, protect their health and wellbeing with international health insurance while they are overseas.



International expansion isn’t easy but with the right preparation and planning, you can see success as an SME without damaging how your brand is perceived.