Experience trumps product when it comes to taking your brand global

Experience trumps product when it comes to taking your brand global

Successful international expansion is not so much a matter of taking a product to the world, it’s more about selling an experience that’s adaptable to the new market

Four words define the essence of what it means to be a global brand: Naughty. Green. Pork. Burger.

The Naughty Green Pork Burger was a sandwich sold in China, by the iconic American-based fast food franchise, Burger King, which has enjoyed a lengthy reign in the top 20 global franchise brands. With its green-colored bun and pork patty, the Naughty Green Pork Burger was developed specifically for the Asian launch of Angry Birds, and was all about the local Chinese consumer.

Successful marketing is always based on a deep understanding of a brand’s consumer above all else. While the world is growing homogenous in many respects, thanks to social media, communications technology and international travel, the differences in cultural preferences can still make or break a franchise desiring to go global.

What has defined top global franchise brands’ success is multi-faceted, and often contradictory. Many global franchising consultants caution brands not to begin global franchising just because someone in another country approaches them with the flattering offer to become their first global master license. However, Gold’s Gym succeeded in that very scenario when two Americans living in Russia saw an opportunity for a fitness concept there.

It is precisely this unpredictability that makes international franchising so fascinating, challenging, and worth exploring. Any franchise considering going global, or who have become international but might be uncertain of how to ensure their success, should be aware that checking off all the recommended globalization preparedness boxes does not exempt it from having a struggle, or even failing, internationally.

That is why Burger King’s Naughty Green Pork Burger is such a classic example of what it means to be set up for international marketing success. Here are the three key lessons this sandwich teaches franchise concepts considering amplifying their global presence:

Successful global brands market an experience

It is seductive to believe you are selling a product, whether you have a flame-broiled burger or a hotel room.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Successful international franchise brands understand that what they are selling is an experience, which far outweighs the product. Brands that understand this have what in marketing is known as “brand intimacy”. Brand intimacy, identified by the MBLM Agency, recognizes how vital the emotional bond between consumer and brand is. From McDonald’s to Ace Hardware and from Aussie Pet Grooming to Kumon and ReMax there are universal emotional experiences customers all over the world have when they interact with these brands.

The most intimate brands have been shown to outperform in revenue and profit annually and also over a duration of time. The goal of brand intimacy is to create long-term purchasing relationships between consumers and the brands they choose, which starts in their primary country, and readily crosses borders when that consumer experience is clearly understood by the brand. Then it can be appropriately adapted according to cultural preferences. According to Dr. Cassandra Hill, Executive Director of the Choice Hotels Owners Council, “Every hotel room ultimately provides a guest with the basic needs: a bed and bathroom. What is happening now is that we are selling a unique experience that begins at the point you make the reservation throughout your stay, and concluding with the checkout experience.”

Successful global brands are consistent – not rigid

In order for a brand to be flexible and adaptable in its product offerings – just as Burger King was – it must be crystal clear on what defines its essential culture and identity in its home country first. That essential reason to exist then translates universally across all cultures. It is what Simon Sinek made famous as the organizational “Why”. So, when Gold’s Gym, which is focused on health and wellness, entered the Russian market, it could incorporate a “banya” (a popular Slavic steam bath with a stove) into its concept in that market without detracting from its original brand in any way.

Successful global brands are humble

Regardless the success a system has experienced, each new country presents a new set of laws, regulations, economics, cultural preferences and biases that simply cannot be studied superficially from afar. Additionally, whether a brand is first in the market, and must educate consumers about themselves, or are competing with thousands of franchise concepts in the US, gaining traction is rarely an overnight event, and almost never effective without local resources.

Humble brands also understand that they will inevitably make mistakes. A former Director at global marketing giant, Coca-Cola (infamous for the mistranslation of its name as “Bite the Wax Tadpole” in some Asian markets), put global branding this way, “There are going to make mistakes – we know that. But don’t take yourselves too seriously. Mistakes almost always come from not researching and listening to local experts. Never assume they are just going to love us no matter what.”


Stacey Ruth is the founder of Inside Out Marketing. She is a leadership and branding speaker on the Unstoppable Leader and The Unstoppable Brand. She is a brand consultant and author of Truth and Dare: Inside Out Marketing.

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