Why international expansion needs to localise not globalise

A globalising world ruled by TNC’s has allowed individuals in any country to connect through shared experiences of brands products and services. Somewhat sadly, you can now travel to different sides of the globe and experience a deja vu of storefronts making you feel you aren’t quite so far from home. 

It’s incredibly important that brands don’t assume the PR and marketing tactics used in their local region will be successful when expanding into new territories. Differences in cultural norms will drive the localised PR strategies as the tone of voice, messaging and subject matter needs to be relevant for the new audiences in order to be lucrative. 

Literal or physical translation is not enough, cultural norms are an unspoken ingrained language in everyone’s everyday lives, simply ask yourself if you dunk a biscuit in tea or gravy? And these differences become clear. 

Big brands may appear simply identical in different territoires on the surface but the reality is more complex. Looking at a McDonalds menu across the globe, from McKroket in the Netherlands to poutine in Canada, highlights it’s really just the infamous golden arches that go unchanged. 

After spending years working across countries and languages to create award winning campaigns, let’s dig into a few highlights you need to think about:

Media Mapping

No traveller sets off without a map. Understanding the location’s media landscape is crucial. Get to know how different demographics both nationally and regionally consume their news, is it TV, raido, podcasts, magazines, websites, print papers, or social media? Don’t let “monthly traffic” rule your prioritisation, a local paper can have more of an impact in building a brand presence than numbers suggest.  

Considering Communication

Networking and connecting is crucial yet even more complicated when thrown into unfamiliar surroundings. You need to ensure you know how to approach different stakeholders like retailers, reporters and residents. For instance, in the UK, the smaller country size allows London to be a honeypot of journalists and PR’s meaning a quick face-to-face coffee (or pint…) is more realistic than crossing state borders in the enormity that is the US. 

Don’t spread yourself too thin 

Know your resources and capacity. Pacing yourself will enable more flexibility to capitalise on your resources and manpower for each location. Individual strategies for each location should be crafted with tactics from the overall company plan and goals that can be executed by PR’s. 

Consider an internal audit of resources, think about whether you can practically execute this in-house without your home territory suffering or whether bringing in additional support is needed. 

Spell check again…AND AGAIN 

While we’re all used to yelling “Hey Siri!” at our Apple products, if you were to do that in Japan you’d end up receiving some very funny looks. Due to the Japanese language not having a “si” sound in their alphabet, it’s substituted by a “shi” sound, so “Hey Siri” becomes “Hey Shiri” which in Japanese translates to “Hey Buttocks”. So as a result, Apple has resorted to using romanji (English letters) when mentioning Siri rather than hiranga.

Don’t skimp time on blindly plugging press releases or slogans into Google Translate. Messaging is powerful, and interpretation of that messaging can make or break your brand. Translation needs to consider literal and cultural meaning to every country. 

Know your surroundings

Using analysis models like SWOT and PESTLE for each location can help in avoiding disasters and exploiting opportunities. Any expansion needs to consider not only global competitors but local offerings on the market. Be realistic, perhaps a gap in the market is there for a reason, could it be behavioural or even legislative?

Don’t undercook yourself 

Analysis might highlight you’re not ready, which is ok as it’s better to launch prepared than too early and struggle publically. A delay in a product or service launch might be due to various reasons including hardware production, international delivery or even software bugs. Whatever the case it’s better to discover early on rather than regret later down the line when you PR and marketing is already live. 

Plan for everything

“Nobody plans a crisis” is accurate, because if you have a plan you can avert a crisis. It’s  important to be prepared, no matter what the case. Having a strong and robust crisis communication protocol will allow risks to be identified, and remain simply as risks, not crises. 

Heather Delaney
Heather Delaney
I run things