Ten Rules of International Branding


By Anthony Mitchell, Guest Contributor,
Posted, June 18, 2007



The most common and least understood marketing barrier facing high-growth-oriented transnational firms is the absence of a strong brand. Ten recommendations are presented here on how to use branding to create competitive advantages for companies seeking to market products and services globally.

In its broadest sense, the definition of a brand can extend beyond the name of a company or service or product line to include the attributes of brands expressed as graphic logos, slogans and color schemes. Here the focus is on the core aspect of a brand—as expressed as a name of a company or a product or service line.

The Ten Rules of International Branding

Failure to follow any one of the following ten rules makes it difficult to market a company successfully internationally.

Any company that violates one of these rules needs to spend more money on sales and marketing to compensate for poor branding choices.

1. Focus on target markets

The first rule of branding is that a brand has to work well in a company’s target markets. This rule is often ignored in favor of brands that confer status in locations where a company is based.

2. No coveting of another’s brand

A brand should not borrow or approximate a brand name from a firm already known in a target market, regardless of how dissimilar each company’s product or service offerings may be. Violating this rule drives away clients that are afraid to depend on a company with a brand that is tenuous or shady. When a lesser-known company is infringing on an established brand name in a target market, nothing else is or should be relevant to potential clients.

3. Match brands exactly with domain names

A brand should be identical to its corresponding domain name. For example, a brand for news and services to protect against software vulnerabilities could be expressed as SoftwareVulnerabilities.com, not Software-Vulnerabilities.com or iSoftwareVulnerabilities.com. The dash can help in mirror sites put up for search engine optimization, but not for a primary brand.

Unless a company is government owned or streaming video is involved, only dot-com and dot-net names should be used for global markets. A separate domain name with a specific country code extension can be used for recruiting, sales and investor relations in that country.

The main global brand needs to be secured with a dot-com or dot-net name, with the dot-com extension preferred. If a dot-com name is not initially available, attempts should be made to buy it and point the domain name to the main corporate website, which InternationalStaff.net had to do when InternationalStaff.com was not initially available. Submitting anonymous bids on a dot-com name is cheaper than initially identifying yourself as the dot-net domain holder.

Country code domains can and should be acquired for each country where a firm may conduct business on a retail or production and service basis. Localized, linguistically and geographically targeted websites can then be constructed to address local sensibilities. Examples of country codes are .eg for Egypt, .ae for the UAE, and .us for the United States.

Emirates provides an example of a strong brand of a multinational company that uses country code domain names to draw in business from throughout their numerous markets. Emirates is the international airline of the UAE. It is based in Dubai.

Emirates has registered numerous individual country code domain names such as http://emirates.ae that draw in local customers from each of the countries it serves (in this case from the U.A.E) to be subsequently processed on the airline’s main website: http://emirates.com/.

4. No silly prefixes

Unless a company has been in business for more than five years, it is generally recommended that a brand should not contain the prefix ‘i’ or ‘e’. eBay has built up immense brand equity. Other companies with other lower-case prefixes in their brands have not.

5. Escape the background noise

Avoid over-used words such as global, tech, soft, serve or solutions. It is estimated that more than 300 businesses use the word ‘global’ in their brand names in the Indian state of Maharashtra, for example, with at least half as many again doing so in the UAE. A company seeking to distinguish itself from competitors is not going to escape from the background noise if it uses the word global in its brand.

6. Obey grammatical rules

Do not violate grammatical rules, including the use of capital letters. When your company becomes bigger than eBay, then it can break this rule.

7. No negative or controversial connotations

Brands should not carry confusing, controversial or negative connotations for people in target markets. This extends to overtly sexual and religious connotations.

For example, Safiy (best friend—in Arabic), Mamnoon (trustworthy), Naajy (safe), Haashim (generosity) and Majdy (glorious) are portable and brandable top-tier names. Muaath (protected) Muayid (supported) and Ridhwan (acceptance and good will) also carry positive connotations. In comparison, Mujaahid, Dhulfiqaar and Dhulfiqar may not travel well as global brands, despite being strong, catchy names that are easy to remember and pronounce.

Rather than use an acceptable but bland, forgettable name as a single brand identity across the globe, attractive and locally relevant brands can be used in specific national or regional markets. Automobile companies are experts at giving the same car model a different, localized name in each country or region where it will be sold.

8. Memorable and easy to spell

Brands should be memorable without being difficult to spell. It is easy to direct potential customers to visit a company’s website once, especially by spending money on advertising. It is harder to inspire customers to return on their own without a memorable brand that is easy to spell. If misspellings are possible, then common misspellings should be registered as domain names.

9. Understood and accepted internally

The exact name of a company and its brands need to be accepted within and communicated throughout that company’s organization. At a call center and software services firm in Pakistan that I’m working with now, there are uncertainties and disagreements among managers about the formal name of the company. This is not uncommon in the fast-moving ITeS outsourcing industry, especially in smaller ITeS firms in India that operate locally on a largely cash basis.

10. Tested prior to deployment

Test several potential brand names among members of your target market before a selection is made. Important high-tech project deliverables should experience rigorous quality assurance testing prior to delivery. Branding choices should be subjected to no lesser scrutiny.

Many firms attempt to enter international markets with brands that detract from their credibility. Don’t be one of them. Enable potential clients to remember you positively and to be attracted to your firm because of its brand identity, not in spite of it.

Rather than come in with an indistinctive, over-used or hard-to-spell brand name, choose a brand that gives meaning to your firm and its founders.

Brand Management

Outsourcing of brand management is the safest option. Hire an international brand consultant in your target market, not where your company is based. The brand consultant can suggest brand options and screen out words with negative or restrictive connotations. A brand consultant can confirm that preferred brand names are not already claimed, test the names in target markets, and handle trademark and service mark registrations.

Trademark and service mark protection is harder to achieve for brands consisting entirely of generic, dictionary words. The widespread use of these brands in commerce makes protection easier over time, especially for financial institution brands and brands expressed as dot-com domain names. PanArabBank.com and BanqueIslamique.com for example, would be easy to protect and would be easy to protect in commerce and would achieve primacy over second-tier names such as BanqueIslamique.info.

Trademark protection does not extend over shorter versions of a brand. For example, ownership and commercial use of HaarithEngineers.com or HaarithConstruction.com is not going to protect against another firm’s use of Haarith.com in the same market and service area. However, either of those two names should protect against the use of HaarithEngineersLTD.com or HaarithConstructionCompany.com respectively.

Brands represent the most important and often the most lasting investment that entrepreneurs can make. For companies such as Atari and Pan American World Airways, their brand names ultimately became their most valuable and durable asset.