Back in the old days, having “global reach” meant businesses had to (literally) set up shop and ply their wares on foreign shores. Fast forward a few short generations later and practically any business can rightly claim to have a worldwide presence without ever setting foot in the places where their customers are.
To really achieve strong global reach, however, you need to develop and follow a sound brand expansion strategy first. This allows you to clearly define the image you want actual and potential customers to equate with your company or solution, as well as to set your product apart from those of your competitors.
If you take a look at global B2B brands that have managed to carve out a decent slice of both market share and mindshare in different parts of the world today, you’ll find that their brand expansion activities all boil down to the following 10 key ingredients:
#1. Local Audience and Market Segments
Named the world’s most valuable B2B brand for the second consecutive year by WPP and Kantar Millward Brown, Microsoft is a company that’s able to balance its global reach with a local focus. To help it stay locally relevant within its many different markets worldwide, the company employs a Global Readiness team that enables Microsoft to respect and comply with various geographic and cultural requirements arising from its worldwide operations.
Because customers’ priorities and experiences vary from one market to another, it’s important that you “localize” your brand expansion strategy to suit a particular area’s profile. Craft a brand message that appeals to specific niches or segments in your target region, and deliver that message in the language and tone that that particular audience uses.
#2. Identity and Values
Another global B2B brand that consistently tops rankings is General Electric (GE). The company owes much of its success maintaining its strong global presence to its uniquely recognizable brand identity and values. For an organization that offers a diverse set of products and solutions in over 180 countries, defining an overarching identity can be a bit of a challenge. That’s why GE always goes back to its brand story to communicate what it stands for.
Brand expansion requires a unique identity that your prospects and customers can readily associate with your company. Find that promise that your company alone can deliver and place it at the core of your brand’s narrative.
With operations in 220 countries and territories worldwide, logistics titan DHL is a case study in global branding consistency. During the company’s transition from domestic mail to global logistics, DHL ensured international consistency by touching all aspects of its rebranding efforts–from the color of its delivery fleet all the way to its company-wide brand ambassador employee program. Today, the entire organization strictly adheres to a set of corporate identity and design rules that govern every marketing campaign and material it uses.
Offering a consistent brand experience for your current and upcoming customers across borders goes beyond using the same set of colors and typography in your marketing materials. It’s about letting people experience your company as a whole, wherever they come across your brand.
Coming up with a compelling promise forms only one part of branding–being able to deliver on that promise is another. Few international B2B brands can do logistics and supply chain management quite like Intel. Aside from manufacturing industry-leading processors and chips, the company is also known for supply chain innovations that guarantee its products reach customers no matter what or where. So, carefully planning how you ensure that your solutions get delivered is a vital part of the brand expansion.
There’s an old saying that goes: “Amateurs talk tactics; professionals study logistics.”
#5. Scale and Scop
SAP is a global B2B brand with scalability at the core of its reputation. Not only does the company enable its customers to scale operations and business activities effectively, SAP itself is the end result of a massive scaling-up strategy that transformed the organization from an ERP company into the end-to-end digital solutions powerhouse that it is today.
The real measure of scalability for your brand expansion is how well your business is able to meet the demands of growth in a market–such as pursuing more opportunities or keeping up with tighter production schedules. If your organization is unable to handle scaling properly, your brand can suffer as a result.
Related: Expanding Business in Asia
One B2B brand that’s clearly crushing its competition is Amazon, particularly its Amazon Web Services (AWS) division. With over 1 million active enterprise users under its fold, AWS clearly leads the cloud services market while rivals like Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud lag way behind. Gartner points to AWS’s significant competitive advantage in terms of core services, geographic coverage, and sales strategy as the main reason why the brand has such a dominant market position.
Expanding into new markets means inevitably going head-to-head against competitors (both local and foreign). Whatever your relative strengths are over your competition, these should serve as guideposts for shaping your brand expansion strategy.
#7. Outreach and Exposure
Oracle stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the world’s most valuable global B2B brands today. This is in no small part due to the level of targeted outreach and exposure the Oracle brand maintains, especially toward C-level and executive segments where brand visibility matters most. Oracle uses a combination of educational and promotional content to help position its brand as both a trusted resource and a reliable partner.
It goes without saying that social media and the Internet have leveled the playing field when it comes to brand visibility and exposure. The tools to reach out to and engage any target market on the planet are readily available out there (most of them at almost no cost). The key challenge is knowing how to use these platforms in ways that align with your brand expansion strategy.
#8. Thought Leadership and Influence
Consistently ranked as one of today’s most valuable and influential B2B brands, Salesforce is comfortably perched as the CRM market’s undisputed leader. It owes a great deal of its brand value to its reputation as an innovator (for pioneering and shaping SaaS) and as a trusted source for business and technology insights.
In the current B2B setting where the buyer mostly leads the way, the best thing you can do during brand expansion is to try and influence how your audience perceives your company’s image. Control is pretty much out of the picture. Brands that thrive today are those which their audiences view as reliable experts.
Related: 5 Ways B2B Startups can Become Thought Leaders
#9. Company Culture and Commitment
Cisco is a great example of an organization with its brand seamlessly weaved into its company culture. It’s “People Deal” relates the company’s mission to “connect everything, innovate everywhere, and benefit everyone” into its worldwide workforce, ensuring employee buy-in of Cisco’s values.
Brand expansion requires firm support and commitment from your team or organization. That’s because, as a Fortune report points out, company culture is “incredibly important” in building B2B relationships and hence needs to reflect your branding message, too.
#10 Barriers and Hurdles
What do you do when the government of a country you’re trying to expand into labels your company as a security threat and severely restricts operations?
That was the situation communications equipment manufacturer Huawei once found itself in when the company tried to enter the $30-billion U.S. telecom equipment market but got mostly banned because of alleged links to the Chinese military. Huawei was able to find another way to tap into its target market and is now supplying smaller (regional) U.S. carriers, with equipment sales steadily growing each year.
Regulations and restrictions are only two of the barriers to entry you need to take into account when trying to expand your brand into new markets. Language and cultural barriers can significantly influence the outcome of your brand expansion efforts, as well as factors like the costs of doing business in that region and the amount of risk you’re taking on.
With the right brand expansion strategy, global reach is well within the grasp of any business, regardless of size or maturity. While we’ve focused on relatively large and well-established B2B brands in this post, the fact is that physical distance is no longer an obstacle for anyone when reaching out to your target audience and customers.