Exporting your brand overseas can often feel like a choice between protecting your individual brand voice or adapting to culturally specific attitudes. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a bit of creativity and the right team behind you, you can advocate your brand while still conquering new markets.

We’ve worked with many brands over the years with brand personalities that are distinctly unique to their home country. But when it comes to expanding into new markets, the trick is to capture that character in a way that’s relevant and engaging for the target audience.

BODEN: A CASE STUDY

Let’s take the British fashion brand Boden. We love their approach to producing smart, quirky content aligned with very British characteristics.

They’ve localized their website into French and in terms of cultural adaptation, they’ve done it brilliantly. In the UK, their tagline reads: ‘Boden: New British.’ For their French site, this has been adapted to: ‘Boden: Le New British.’ This is a great move as it instantly identifies the brand as being British to the French market. But British with a French twist.

Boden has a unique tone of voice: chatty, fun and engaging that builds a good rapport with their UK customers. This approach is less common in France. Cyrillus and similar brands, for example, adopt a much more formal approach, suggesting Boden’s chatty style won’t always translate well for the French audience. When the UK site was recently updated, the following copy (from the ‘About Us’ section) was translated into French:

After five burglaries, a dog in our offices, nine Christmas quizzes, 12 nights spent in the warehouse, a delivery of clothing accompanied by a lot of refugees, four moves, an occasional lack of humour, a few referrals (fortunately), two investors, six rewards, twenty positively unbearable customers (who were mostly related to me), a pair of crooks, 520 king-sized pizzas (the “Continental”), an excellent team spirit, an incredibly tolerant wife, hours of sweat and even more of laughter, we are still here!

The feedback from our senior brand consultants for France is that this story is too informal and too British. One commented:

It feels like it reflects a certain type of work atmosphere and environment you don’t really find in France, where the work culture is more formal. (There are no pub quizzes or office jokes and there definitely isn’t an “award culture.”) I can tell that the section is trying to be funny but you don’t really understand who is talking, about what, when etc. Johnnie Boden may be a charismatic business leader in the UK but no one knows who he is in France so this doesn’t feel like the best way to introduce him or his brand. Also, the joke about refugees is quite inappropriate. Of all the content, this part should have been written specifically with the French audience in mind. It should be an introduction (which doesn’t have to be super formal and can give an insight on the work environment like it is trying to do) that says more about the brand and its founders.

And here lies the solution. Get to the heart of what the brand is trying to say. Establish brand truths, values and an underlying brand ‘story,’ and then consider what to dial up or down, based on local market sensitivities and requirements. Translating source language is never enough – you need to go beyond the actual words and consider their meaning and overall impact.

UNDERSTANDING THE LOCAL LANDSCAPE

Boden is a great example of a fantastic brand personality that just needs some slight tweaking for its content to really make an impact on an international audience. Generally, when considering how to adapt your content for foreign markets, there are two key things to bear in mind:

1) Channel strategy

Understanding how each market interacts with your brand, and what channels they use, will dictate how you express your brand overseas.

Take Chinese millennials, increasing numbers of whom are traveling the world and consuming foreign media. China is a truly mobile-first country. These two factors combined have contributed to the growth of “zhai” (homebody) culture, where the external world is experienced vicariously through mobile phones and online consumption. To take advantage of this and increase brand awareness, your brand heritage should be leveraged through social media channels in a game-like and interactive manner. In this way you can explain where your products come from, your goods’ production journey and what your brand represents in your home culture, all while keeping your customers engaged and entertained.

For example, Hugo Boss built an interactive gift-hunting game on WeChat for the 2016 Christmas shopping period. Players had to find the four parts of a new character named “Bossbot” in its virtual store to finish the game. On completion, users were directed to a landing page with product information, pricing and styling tips as well as a link to the eCommerce site. This approach appealed to the preferences of Chinese consumers and increased exposure to the new range of Hugo Boss products.

2) Cultural differences

Understanding the cultural characteristics of your target market must form the basis of how you adapt your brand.

For example, Russian consumers tend to be more impulsive, while Japanese shoppers are more cautious and willing to invest in a lot of pre-purchase research. British customers enjoy witty humor, whereas a German audience prefers modest and direct language.

To get the most out of each target market, it’s important to recognize these differences and tailor your brand personality accordingly; otherwise, you can risk being misunderstood or rejected.

TOOLS

Once you’ve defined how your brand should be projected to the target market, it’s important to adopt the right infrastructure to ensure consistent implementation of your brand personality.

We’ve tackled this in more detail in our blog on ‘How To Avoid Brand Dilution’, but the general premise is:

Define your voice – By writing a Tone of Voice guide for each market, you can ensure that the way you speak to your customers is on brand, culturally appropriate and suitably engaging across all channels.

Define your terms – Building a multilingual glossary enables your translators to consistently use the approved target-language terms.

Ensure consistency – A translation memory guarantees approved segments of content are consistently used across all content types, saving time and money.

CAPTURING YOUR PERSONALITY

To use an architectural analogy, the tools above provide the scaffolding for building your brand personality abroad, but the artisans (copywriters and linguists) must be able to tell your story.

Wordbank’s Personality Matching

Firstly, we use the Five Factor Model, or the “Big Five,” which is a personality classification system that bases its framework on major traits: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and emotional range (sometimes called ‘neuroticism’).

We score your native brand voice based on these measures, as well as your desired languages for any target market. If you’re looking to change your narrative for a target market, we will work with you to define that image.

To join our network, each linguist’s tone is analyzed and scored based on the Big Five. We then shortlist linguists who match your desired tone.

From there, we add two extra layers of pairing:

Firstly, we pick linguists with relevant industry experience. This may seem obvious, but surprisingly it’s not always the case.

Secondly, we look at the nature of content the linguist is used to working on to assess whether they are more comfortable with legal copy, highly creative content, or something in between. We want to make sure the linguist has extensive experience of working on content that’s similar to yours.

The result is the assembly of teams with the right tone, industry experience and content capability. We may have different teams for different types of content, depending on your content portfolio.

During our initial setup phase, we pick three teams and run a test for you to review and select your favorite. The winning team then becomes your dedicated content team going forward. We developed this tried and tested system to allow us to truly capture your brand personality abroad. But don’t just take our word for it:

SIPSMITH (BEAM SUNTORY BRAND)

Sipsmith came to us in April 2016 to take their brand message global, with a distinct voice and story. They are both proud and careful with how they speak to their audience, and have even created some of their own Sipsmith language. To build trust, we initially carried out test translation pieces, with three versions per language. And to date, we have supported Sipsmith with a series of print, social and online assets, including their signature brand book, in French, German, Spanish and Italian. Here’s what they had to say about our partnership:

What distinguishes Sipsmith from other London Gin distilleries is our character. Getting that character message across and for people to be able to discover our story in different languages is absolutely critical to our mission.

Overall you guys had the best attitude toward capturing the Sipsmith brand voice, and justification for word choice on the more challenging test samples, and that really made you stand out.

~Felix Von Hurter, Head of Ginternational Business Development
Sipsmith (a Beam Suntory brand)

Read more about our work with Sipsmith.

FINAL THOUGHT

We love being involved in the creative side of defining a brand personality for overseas, but we also place a great deal of value on the importance of maintenance and governance.

A Case For Maintenance is great further reading on sustaining an efficient localization system.

We also highly recommend quarterly content audits as well as setting up a reporting system on translation memory and glossary use. The content audits we provide our clients help us feel assured that our target brand personalities for each market are being accurately portrayed across all markets and channels. Similarly, TM and glossary reports will give you confidence that markets are buying into the tools, processes and new brand personality.