As the world has become more connected, so more and more brands have become international. The advent and continual advancement of the internet has made borders unnecessary. With the click of a button you can access the website of just about any brand anywhere in the world.
As more brands have become international, it has become clear that maintaining a brand across borders is vital to its success as a cross-border entity. Brands lose their effectiveness when they differ too vastly across countries. So how do you maintain a brand across borders? Beyond that, as a branding agency, how can you maintain brands in countries where you don’t have offices?
Well, you need to keep it consistent and reflective of the same brand values and purpose, and this needs to come across in the visual identity and in practice. The visual identity of a brand is what communicates the brand identity to potential clients. For this reason, it is vital that your brand is consistent. You need to take extra care when it comes to keeping brand messaging the same in multiple languages. “I think culture and language are always challenges – especially when working remotely. But we are firm believers that we cannot implement and maintain a brand by sitting in our offices in Johannesburg. We need to be there, in the mix – we need to engage and immerse ourselves in the culture and from that comes this mutual understanding,” says HKLM head of Brand Consulting, Zahra Mirza.
“Don’t ever believe that you understand the client and their cultural intricacies better than they do.”
It is important to keep the visual identity elastic enough to reach many cultures meaningfully. The important thing is to keep the message of a brand consistent, how that message is conveyed in different countries and cultures is, and should be, variable. An ad run in South Africa must be different to an ad run in Nigeria to meaningfully reach out to and connect with consumers. Cultures differ across borders. As a branding agency, HKLM works with brands that span multiple countries, like Globacom in West Africa, MUA in East Africa. Zahra says “Don’t ever believe that you understand the client and their cultural intricacies better than they do. Our job is to marry the two – our expertise in brand and their expertise in culture.”
In the same way, certain expressions of brand identity like collateral, social media, and investor relations, need to be specific to each of the countries in which a brand operates. This will establish the brand’s relevance, as well as shape lasting relationships, in each country.
It is also important that the brand’s message comes across in all platforms of marketing, from social media to ad campaigns, and these must not be repetitive or muddled. This can be achieved by a cohesive style guide detailing use of the logo, brand colours, and tone of voice, so that even across cultural and language differences, the brand message and feel is consistent.
When it comes to building relationships, trust and confidence, Zahra believes engagement is the key: “Listen, understand and then deliver. Try and avoid emails etcetera. Pick up the phone, get on a plane, engage!” The only way to truly collaborate with a culture across borders, and to bring this into branding, is to get involved.