10 May 2021 • 20 min read
International Brand Building For Export Business
Learn about brand awareness & its benefits for export import business. How to build an international brand using social media strategies & attract foreign buyers.
What is a brand? The dictionary defines it as “a type of product, service, etc. made or offered by a particular company under a particular name”. But there’s more to it. When a customer recognises your product/company easily, trusts it and is loyal to it, that’s what a brand is. In an overcrowded market, a brand is the best way to stand out.
You don’t need to be a huge conglomerate to be a trusted brand. Many small and medium-sized businesses have managed to become household names, not just in their home markets but globally. This is true for exporters as well. Many exporters are now serious not only about expanding further into markets abroad but also about building an international brand identity.
This blog takes a deep dive into the importance of building an international brand to grow your export business overseas. Read on to learn about:
- Brand awareness and what it means
- How to build an international brand
- How to increase brand awareness among foreign buyers
- Social media strategies to build brand awareness
Branding benefits for your export business
Why should I take the trouble to build an international brand? There are many reasons:
- Customers recognise your product more easily
- They associate it with good quality and customer service
- They are willing to pay more for it
- Branding gives your company greater credibility
- It drives new business – customers are more likely to trust a branded name
- It attracts talent, boosts your company’s confidence
- It increases brand awareness
What is brand awareness?
Recognising a brand from visual indicators (logos, colours) is called brand recognition. Now take that a step further. When the customer not only recognises your brand but knows what kind of product you sell, at what price, your principles and values, and what kind of buying experience you offer, that is called brand awareness.
To understand how brand awareness works, let’s take a look at some of the world’s top brands and their level of brand awareness:
- Coca-Cola: When you want a fizzy drink, do you automatically ask for a Coke? With Coke now synonymous with cola, it’s no wonder Coca-Cola is the most recognised beverage in the world with a brand value of $64.4 billion in 2020.
- Apple: The half-bitten apple on your Macbook or iPhone is easily one of the most recognisable logos. Thanks to the brand awareness it has created, Apple can afford to price its products way ahead of its competitors.
- Amazon: When you shop online, you probably go to Amazon – the world’s largest online retailer.
- Nike: This sportswear brand not only has one of the most easily recognised logos (the swoosh) but also an iconic motto (Just Do It).
- Netflix: Set up in 1997, Netflix has become a household name in the streaming and content business.
- Marlboro: When it comes to cigarette ads, most of us remember the Marlboro Man series. Though the commercials are now outdated, Marlboro remains the top tobacco brand with a brand value of $26.8 billion.
- Amul: Not as famous as its global competitor Nestle, but Amul is India’s top dairy brand and among the top 20 dairy companies in the world. The Amul Girl, who has featured in its ad campaigns for more than 50 years, is an advertising icon.
How to build an international brand
So, how do you build an international brand? In the export business, this is a tough task. You might be a well-known brand at home. But, when you set foot on foreign territory, you are suddenly an unknown entity. The challenges of building a brand in a new export market can be daunting:
- You need to build trust among customers from scratch
- Few customers will actively search for your brand. You have to reach out to them first
- Website traffic in export markets tends to be low
- Most importantly, there is no shortcut to building a brand in a foreign market
That’s not to say it can’t be done. Here’s what it takes to build an international brand for your export business:
1. Find a market: Step 1 is to find a market for your product. It doesn’t have to be the largest. What’s more important is that the demand for your product in that market is consistent and that this demand is not easily met by a rival. When considering a potential market, ask yourself:
- Is the demand consistent or growing?
- Will I make a profit with the price I get?
- Who are my key competitors? How do I stand out from them?
- Will I face trade barriers exporting to that country?
- Does this country have a climate conducive to business?
For more details on finding foreign buyers for your product, read our blog here
2. Deliver the goods: Can you consistently supply goods to that market within its laws and rules? Do your products meet local standards on safety, health, environment and so on? Only enter a market you know you can deliver to.
3. Adapt: This might include changing your product name, logo and/or colours to adapt to cultural differences or to avoid causing offence even by accident. French cheese brand Kiri underwent a name change in Iran and became Kibi because the original name in Farsi meant rotten. As you can see, understanding cultural differences is key. Use local resources and hire specialists who will ensure you aren’t lost in translation.
4. Be consistent: While you might need to embrace change in certain areas, make sure your core identity and principles remain consistent so that your customers know exactly what to expect when they buy a product from you, no matter where you are located.
5. Pay attention to packaging: No matter how good your product, it might be defeated by faulty packaging. Find out if your target country has packaging requirements. For example, do they demand additional nutritional information on food packaging? Or, does the information have to be in the local language?
6. Protect yourself: File the necessary trademark and patent protections to preserve your international property overseas.
3 easy ways to create brand awareness
So you’ve established an international brand. What’s next? You need to build brand awareness. To do this, you need to communicate with potential buyers, let them know you exist and that they need to buy your products. There are many ways to communicate with customers. But for a first-time exporter or a small business testing a foreign market, your budget will probably drive your choices. Here are three affordable options for you:
- Localise your website: Your website is the face of your brand in a foreign market. And studies say customers are more likely to buy on a website in their native language. Website localisation doesn’t end with translation. Other localisation tactics include offering your target audience the option to buy in their own currency, or changing your website’s colour scheme for cultural reasons. For example, if you export bridal wear, remember that western countries associate the event with white while in China, the colour is red. Some popular website localisation tools include SDL Trados Studio, a computer-assisted translation (CAT) tool; XBench, a quality assurance tool that verifies your website’s translation; and Adobe Photoshop, a desktop publishing (DTP) tool that helps you with your page layout.
- Form local partnerships: Partnering with a trusted local business is a great way to build goodwill among the community and increase your brand awareness. You can co-sponsor local events (festivals, contests, etc), even donate to local charities. Customers tend to view businesses that give back more favourably than those that just sell. Thankfully, it’s not that difficult looking for a local business partner even if your exposure to your new market is limited. Trade directories like GlobalTrade.net hosts listings of hundreds of businesses and companies in specific regions. You can also tap government institutions (embassies, export promotion councils) that help exporters network with businesses abroad. Additionally, there are government portals (FIEO GobalLinker, International Trade Administration) that provide a platform for exporters to connect with entrepreneurs overseas.
You can read our blog on digital tools to help run your import/export business here
- Be social: Work the social media. This goes without saying. More than 3.8 billion of the world’s population uses Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn or some other social network. Pick the platform best suited for your market rather than randomly using them all. Each of them works in a particular way:
- Facebook: You can join one of many groups/communities relevant to your brand. This will not only give you an opportunity to spread the word about your business but help you gain valuable information on how things work in your new market and even generate leads that result in sales.
- Twitter: With 187 million daily active users, Twitter is an obvious choice to market your brand. You can use its search engine to look for potential buyers (if you export liquor, look for users who tweeted about wine). By liking/retweeting their tweets and messaging them directly, you’ll build your own following.
- Instagram: A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Instagram – with over a billion monthly users – is the answer if you export visually appealing products such as jewellery, furniture or clothing.
- YouTube: You can create your own videos or advertise. What’s great about YouTube ads is that they reach a very targeted audience – customers looking for a specific product in a specific location. Also, having your ads appear on a particular channel means access to the channel’s fan base.
- LinkedIn: You can join Campaign Manager, LinkedIn’s advertising platform, which guides you on setting up your ad campaign and even has a brand awareness feature.
Build an effective social media strategy
Social media is key to brand awareness. Consider this: social marketers say increasing brand awareness is their biggest goal, ahead of generating sales and everything else. Here are some ways you can use social media to build a buzz around your brand:
- Post regularly. Your content must be engaging and visually appealing for you to get noticed, liked and shared. Instead of dishing out boring information, ask questions and start a conversation. Be quick to respond. Don’t use the same content across platforms. Different networks call for different tones. LinkedIn is serious but Twitter and Facebook allow you to be more casual.
- Use hashtags. Hashtags are easy and a great way to make your posts searchable.
- Tag others. It’s a simple yet brilliant strategy to get others talking about you.
- Use paid ads. Facebook and Twitter ads help you get noticed and aren’t expensive.
- Work with influencers. Get your brand displayed and discussed by influencers. For most exporters, celebrities might not be in their budget, but that’s okay. There are hundreds of influencers who are regular people with large, established followings who can be just as effective.
- Don’t just be about the sales. Bombarding your audience with content focused solely on driving sales will turn them off. Engage them with stories, photos, videos and infographics.
- Go viral. It’s easier said than done. But if you manage to create unique content that quickly catches on, your brand will be all over social media.
- Watch out for bans. There might be restrictions on certain platforms in certain countries. China, for example, has banned Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. But it has Weibo, a microblogging service that is extremely popular.
And that’s how easy it is to create an effective brand awareness strategy. With a little time and effort, you could turn your export business into the next big brand on the global stage.
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