How do you build a successful international brand?

A panel of experts discuss why it is vital to understand the culture and dynamics of the markets you tap into for optimal results

How do you build a successful international brand?

How can businessessecure international deals during a politically and economically volatile time?

For any growth-minded business, taking your brand across territories can be an incredible opportunity to expand your brand and tackle new markets. In a politically volatile and economically challenging time, is taking your brand international a wise decision? What factors come into play? And what is the best way to secure winning deals with international clients? Speaking on the second day Elite Business’ live event on March 10, Chris Forbes, Co-founder of The Cheeky Panda, Jordan Kensington, President at Invincible Media, Sarra Bejaoui, Founder and Managing Director at SmartPA, Macro Forgione, Director General at the Institute of Export & International Trade and Michael Altom, General Manager at Virtuo spoke about the challenges that come with expanding to international markets, the risks involved, and the steps you can take to secure successful cross-border opportunities.

With the uncertainty of Brexit and the coronavirus pandemic, how can businesses navigate overseas expansion during these challenging times? Despite the perceived doom and gloom, businesses can maximise opportunity and minimise risk by understanding the laws and regulations of the countries they aim to invest in. And with business, the risk is inevitable. Companies must rise to challenges and obstacles that come in the way for continued growth and success.

Speaking about the challenges of Brexit, Michael, General Manager at Virtuo, said: It’s a bit of a challenge. For the business, the way we’re looking at it is that we’re operating the business in different countries almost independent entities. We moved to the UK because we thought the market could be a great opportunity. We see London as our biggest market. So, we’re trying to see it as business as usual, and just trying to keep our brand as European company, even if some of our bases will be on the EU or the UK side. Meanwhile, Sara, Founder and Managing Director at SmartPA, added: Operationally, we don’t see any great challenges. Our biggest challenge is more around the uncertainty. Nobody likes uncertainty of what’s going to happen, and how it’s all going to play out.

As we are more digitally connected than ever, it is easy to send an email to an international client hoping to score a winning deal in an overseas market. However, meeting clients face-to-face far outweighs a cold email, the panel of experts said, as building solid relationships with clients is the way forward. Businesses must learn to adapt to different cultural norms and practises when approaching clients in different countries, as practises can differ tremendously from country to country. It is also important for businesses to understand the buying culture of customers in different markets to truly see if the market if it is the right investment.

You have to go to the places and have meetings with people that do similar things that you do in your country, Jordan said. You have the same access to the government, to newspapers, to media, to the people you want to work with long-term. And then you use your gut instinct, every entrepreneur knows that. You partner with people who you believe and trust. People who have honesty and integrity and knowing they’re going to be successful in making sure your business achieves financial success. Speaking about the cultural differences, Chris added: It doesn’t make a difference with my product if someone is in Stockholm, Milan, Hong Kong or New York ‘ everyone uses tissue. We have a universal product. But the cultures and buying habits of various countries are completely different. Whether the Americans may be quite quick to make decisions, or the French will work it through for a year… And you just need to be patient with that. You need to understand that this is how the Swiss work, and this is how the Germans work, etc. If you’re not meeting people it’s hard to build that long-term partnership. It’s a balancing act as a start-up because travel costs money, so you’ve got to be able to be very protective of your time and very protective of your budget and understand what the risk is going to these places.

Reiterating Chris’ point, Sara said: In the early days of our business, we were trying to get a couple of deals over the line and win some contracts but it just wasn’t happening. And we had to take a step back and understand why were these meetings not fluid? What was what we were offering not quite right? But, when we took a step back, we realised culturally we were seeing different things. And we weren’t aligning it. And it was like a square peg in a round tool. So, that was a real learning curve for us. We said, ‘wait a minute, let’s just scrap it right back’. And any geography we go into, we need to understand how this country does business. And as business service providers, we need to understand how people do business.

It is also important for businesses to understand the rules and regulations when it comes to exporting their products across the border. Expanding to international markets will come with several legal and regulatory challenges ‘ and the quicker you know the laws and requirements, the sooner you will be able to overcome the obstacles that arise.

You have to understand the rules and regulations that exist within international trade, and the world is moving to a more regulated trading environment, Marco said. So, understanding that if you’re a shipping commodity, what the commodity codes are, what the implications. So, things like Incoterms are fundamental to understanding what your contractual obligations are. There was a large turbine manufacturer who used the wrong Incoterms with regards to exporting their turbine into North Africa. And when it was delivered, they realised that they, as the exporter were responsible for the transport of the turbine to the point where it was going to be installed. Which normally wouldn’t have been a problem, but the road wasn’t strong enough to transport the turbine. So, they had to build a road to deliver the turbine to its location. So, things like that need to be avoided. And you can do that by making sure you’ve got the skills, knowledge and training within your organisation. It’s just sensible good business practice… Make sure you know exactly what it is that you’re exporting and the rules and regulations surrounding it.

Despite the challenges that come with expanding your brand to international markets, a strong brand, vision and purpose will keep you forward-thinking no matter the challenge. With a loyal customer base, integrity and credibility in your brand, your business will be able to rise through tough times. Mistakes in business are inevitable, and as an entrepreneur, you have to build a ‘thick skin’ when it comes to succeeding in a new market. Mistakes will always be made in any stage of any business you do. You just have to have that confidence to take that risk, Jordan said. There is huge importance in building a strong brand… A brand can stay going. A Mercedes will be a Mercedes ten to forty years from now. There is an importance of when you start if you want to think about going globally, think about the ethos of the brand, the culture of the brand. And when you make mistakes, it’s easy to defend yourself and defend the brand when the brand has had a loyal number of clients and customers and integrity for a long time. 

He added: You will always be responsible but mistakes will always occur. I think before you start a business, you know you’re going to make mistakes. I love making mistakes, and you have to embrace making mistakes, and you have to realise any territory you’re launching, you are going to make mistakes. You’re not going to get it right first off, there will be so many things that will happen. But you have to be ready for that, and you have to get a thick skin.

If your brand has got a purpose, then you’ll be more likely to stay committed to it, Chris said. Entrepreneurs take risks. And not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur. Some people just don’t have that gambling mentality of ‘I’m going to put all or nothing into building something’. Probably one in ten entrepreneurs in their first business will be successful. And you’ve got to be prepared to lose everything. On the flip side, if you get it right, you can win everything. It’s a real high stakes game.

Latifa Yedroudj
Latifa Yedroudj

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