Tips For Global Brand Designs

by: | February 23, 2012

Global marketing is often fraught with pitfalls and missteps — and for good reason. Nearly the opposite of the global marketing approach is localized marketing, which focuses on the needs and ideas unique to a region. In contrast, global marketing attempts to connect a brand with a broad set of ideas, which don’t always translate from region to region or country to country. The result of many global marketing efforts often places the global message in conflict with regional branding.

For example, in the book Harvard Business Review Case Studies: Marketing Through Minefields, a global cosmetic company considers advertising through a Hollywood-based blockbuster film. Several groups within the company who would need to fork over money from their marketing budgets aren’t so enthusiastic about the idea. In some regions, the existing market connects much more with local beauty queens while in other regions, the market tends to reject anything out of Hollywood.

So how do you manage a global design project? How do you create a brand that transcends regional differences and still connects customers with the value proposition? The good news: simplicity is the key. The bad news: “simple can be harder than complex,” said the late Steve Jobs.

Start with the Value Proposition

This can be an intimidating way of saying, “Why would someone buy our stuff?” Common answers are it’s the best price or that it’s a quality product or service. But “value proposition” goes beyond just cheap or good.

Think about the cosmetic company in the above example. They have a pricey line of makeup and want people to connect their brand with movie stars — and hope that customers will pay more to wear what movie stars wear. So, the value of the brand extends beyond just the price or quality concept and goes into social and other systems.

Yes, it’s complicated. But that’s why you have to step back and understand what exactly is the core value. “Cool and trendy” may not be the right brand for upscale cigars. And “comical and colorful” might be exactly what that stuffy, overly corporate accounting firm needs to connect with consumers.

The key here is to understand what impression your design should be making on potential customers. Leaders within an organization should know what this is through research, a general idea, or from mirroring competition. Take their lead and make sure this is clearly defined upfront.

Identify the Market

Who is going to be seeing your designs? Better yet, who do you WANT to see your designs? Even global marketing has a select group of customers in mind. This will dramatically reduce the range of your designs. It’s impossible to design a brand for males and females, ages 15-55, with little to a lot of education, etc, etc. That’s far too broad of a market!

With your value proposition in mind, work with the marketing team to narrowly define who it is you want to get excited about your brand. This definition will help later if you have the opportunity to test your brand — to see how well this market responds to your brand and if they respond as expected.

Without a definition of your market, you’re going to have a hard time understanding how to pull the design together. With it, you can focus your efforts and simplify the design direction.

Distill to the Most Basic Forms

Can you find the core visual themes that translate from culture to culture and still connect with the value proposition? This can be a huge challenge — possibly the biggest challenge of designing a global brand. The concept of and colors of “fun” may shift wildly from group to group, but there are still images that translate. Finding these can take time. This is where your expertise is so critical. You have the tools and experience. With the value proposition in hand and a clearly defined target market, you can start building out some designs.

A real key at this stage is not getting stuck. Experimentation is critical. You likely have your own process, but consider looking at outside sources for inspiration. Study other global brands like Colgate, Nike, Coca-Cola, Apple, and Google to see how they have a global, overarching brand while regionalizing sub-brands.

Build Consensus

So, you have some ideas together, some sketches, maybe some completed logos and brand definitions. Now what. Here comes the criticism, so be ready for it.

The fact is that you likely have a great deal of very experienced people who can provide invaluable feedback. Not everyone is going to be thrilled, but listen carefully and don’t be afraid to push back.

You will likely not have the final say in the end, so it’s important to gather ideas and incorporate feedback. This shows you care about opinions. Building consensus is critical, especially when you have very strong and opposing opinions floating around.

Define Carefully

Brand definitions are the end result of your design efforts. Logos and their possible variations, fonts, colors, and other definitions are carefully documented and organized. Some organizations go to great lengths and have entire portfolios developed for their brand definitions, but a few pages of notes and descriptions will do the job for most firms.

This is your starting point for the next couple of phases and serves as the standard. If changes are proposed and accepted, the brand definitions are updated until you have final sign off. A well-defined brand should be reproducible by anyone, so make sure it’s simple to follow with enough detail so that others can understand how to apply the brand properly to any medium.

Test, Test, Test

Once you have a formal format of your brand in hand, it’s time to start testing. This can be a formal, long-winded process involving test groups and double-blind research or as simple as posting on Twitter and letting followers comment. The key is to get valid results.

It’s very important to measure how well your target market responds. If someone outside your target market gives great feedback, then keep it in mind, but focus on your ideal customers. See how they respond and whether or not the value proposition translates. The more testing, the better. Here you may need to engage in experts who can set up tests and interpret results, but if you’re on a small budget, testing can remain a low-key process.

The end result of testing your brand should leave no question that your brand design connects the value proposition to the target market. Period.

Final Thoughts

Global brand design is one of the most challenging and rewarding areas in which designers can hope to find themselves. Some realize they are in over their heads and crumble under the pressure, while others rise to the challenge and become brand champions in major organizations.

Have you managed a global brand? What other considerations should be a part of this mix? Any resources you would recommend for global brand managers?Marketing Zeus

Posted in: B2C, Branding, Campaign Development, Content, E-Commerce, Lead Generation, Usability

About the Writer:

Tara Hornor began her journey to freelance writing with an English Education degree. She taught high school English for one year before tutoring for three years. When looking for a work-from-home career, she quickly got settled writing web content mainly on marketing, advertising, branding, graphic design, web design, and desktop publishing. Currently, she and her husband own Creative Content Experts, a company that specializes in guest blogging and building backlinks. She also writes for, an online printing company that offers postcards, posters, brochure printing, business cards, booklets, and more printed marketing media. In addition to her writing career, Tara also enjoys spending time with her husband and two children.

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