When fast-moving, growing organizations think about international expansion, translating content often trumps thoughts of building a global brand. Here’s how you can establish your brand identity in any market without losing momentum and why it matters.

Successful startups are distinctive, they’re disruptors. They have a clear sense of who they are and how they sound. They’re also short on time and resources and simply need to deliver results by providing and iterating minimum viable product to keep stakeholders and investors happy. When you’re at the tipping point of gaining momentum domestically and abroad, it’s easy to overlook a critical step of scalable marketing: building a global brand. Regardless of the pressure, developing your brand is key. It takes only a short time-investment up front and can accelerate your growth, not delay it.

WHAT’S GREAT ABOUT YOUR BRAND?

You already have the makings of a great brand. You stand out from the crowd. You do things differently from your competitors. And the way you sound reflects this. You may use simple, casual, humorous or even provocative language to distinguish yourself from corporate rivals.

So far, so good. No doubt everyone in your company “gets” who you are, what makes you unique and how you sound. But as you grow and more people become involved in creating and adapting your domestic and international content, you’ll want to protect those things so your brand doesn’t become diluted.

To control your brand voice, start by creating a tone-of-voice guide, a style guide and a glossary. With these practical guidelines, everyone in your company can get, and stay, on the same page.

And when time is short and you’re moving quickly, an iterative approach works well. Establish some simple tone-of-voice principles first. This won’t take long if you already know who you are and what you’re about – it’s just practical guidance to accurately conveying your brand in writing. Then, when you have more time, you can always expand your guidelines to include more channels and audiences both domestically and internationally.

WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU GOING WITH YOUR BRAND?

Once you’ve identified your brand’s voice, the next step is to work out what this sounds like in international markets.

72.4% of customers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. So if you want to be successful in taking your brand global, you can’t afford not to localize. However, to do this effectively your in-country linguists and content stakeholders will need clear brand reference points and guidance.

Don’t overlook practical considerations around that. If humor is your thing, how will you convey this in different markets? If you’ve cultivated a rebellious image domestically, how will this go down in Asian markets, where honoring family and community is valued? What local adaptations do you need to make to your brand voice to stay true to your brand identity while maximizing your chances of engagement in-market?

Without thinking through these considerations, your startup could struggle to engage with international consumers and miss out on growth opportunity. When you’re going global, there’s loads of pressure to launch fast and the temptation is to translate everything as quickly as possible. But if you really want results, it’s best to prioritize your marketing localization efforts based on the local market landscape and factors that affect in-market engagement, such as English proficiency, cultural differences, market maturity and the level of competition you may be facing.

For example, Russian consumers have an English proficiency level of 12% and don’t typically engage with overtly American brands. Japanese shoppers also have low English proficiency and are careful consumers who will do more pre-purchase research before they trust a brand and its products. British consumers enjoy witty humor when it comes to connecting with a brand, whereas a German audience prefers modest and direct language. For countries like Sweden, which has 71% English proficiency, you could launch in English initially, assess demand levels and then localize once you’re sure it’s worthwhile.

To get the most out of your target markets, it’s important to recognize these differences, consider local market preferences when making your localization investment and localize your brand voice as well as your content. Otherwise, you risk being misunderstood or rejected.

By prioritizing in this way, you can take the time you need to get your voice right in every market while getting results. In the long run, this will help you engage with customers, grow faster (with a better return on your localization investment) and build your global brand on your terms.

WHO ARE YOU TRUSTING YOUR BRAND WITH?

Whether it’s for your core market or overseas targets, you need to work with in-market experts who have the linguistic and subject matter expertise to support your goals. They know who you should target, what you should say, which channels you should be on and what your competitors are doing. They’ll also tailor your brand identity for maximum impact because there are some things you can only learn from being on the ground.

To get the best results, think beyond translation. Working with industry and channel experts, along with experienced linguists and copywriters, will deliver top results. This critical insight at the local level can be applied creatively to in-language content without breaking your budget, maximizing your chances of success from day one.

For example, when localizing Maserati’s brand voice for Switzerland, our in-country Swiss team told us to dial down the brand’s luxury factor because “everything is luxury in Switzerland.” This enabled Maserati to find a different niche that was far more effective. This is just one of many examples of how working with in-country marketing resources who understand the brand and its goals can make all the difference.

FINAL THOUGHT

Building your brand is key when it comes to international expansion. Even if you’re under loads of pressure, the time you invest in your brand upfront will pay off. Take the time to create brand guidelines. Share those with your people and empower them to communicate on-brand. Then, when it’s time to expand globally, you’ll have laid the foundation for the strategic adaptation of your brand, messaging and unique proposition for your international audiences.

Think beyond translation and focus on engagement. With the right partner and resources, you can keep the momentum going and deliver results on-brand and on-budget in any market.