Why Going Global is a Dead End for Some Caribbean Brands

Before changing your markets, change your mindset.

I was heading to a client meeting recently. Because of a roadblock I had to detour off the familiar route and find my way there. I took a chance and drove down the street, business as usual, although I was uncertain about where I would end up. My comfort behind the wheel quickly dissipated when I realised that I had hit a dead end. I was stuck with nowhere to go, and I had lost precious time.

Uncertainty and risk are part of business, but dead ends can be costly. Many Caribbean-born brands are able to identify with this experience. When they try to go global they ultimately end up having to return to their home markets and re-strategize. In navigating the roads of entrepreneurship, recognizing the signs early enough enables you to make better decisions on when and where to invest your resources. There are many tell-tale signs, but here are a few you should look out for in your own business.

Global is really a mindset, not a destination.

Bound by local thinking

If your definition of global is skewed, you will hit a roadblock. Global is really a mindset, not a destination. The tendency though is to see ‘global’ as a destination. At first glance that sounds correct since your objective is to sell more products in more countries beyond your home market. But global is really about thinking beyond yourself — your immediate circumstances, your territory, and your local problems — and becoming more ‘other-minded.’ It’s this global thinking which allows you to identify specific territories, understand their markets, and then sell solutions that are meaningful to and in that market.

The branding blockage

From my observation, our Caribbean product brands are often not very strong. I’m referring to the visual appeal of your brand, not the Caribbean aesthetic. Take a walk through your supermarket of choice and look on the shelves at the local brands next to the foreign brands. There’s often a clear distinction of a perceived quality difference.

(Try doing it with a three-year old in the snacks section and you’ll see what I mean. “Uncle, I want that one!”)

A customer’s experience with a brand starts long before they consume or use it. Though our brands may perform well in our local Caribbean context, what works well here as a “good, affordable, local” brand, may be perceived as a “low quality cheap foreign” brand in other markets. The problem with the perception of low quality in other markets is that it does not earn the trust of foreigners as something worth trying. Your brand should be assessed for appeal and relevance before you take it global.

Too much ‘sameness’

If you are planning on selling your product in another territory your product should be differentiated in some easily discernible way from what exists in your targeted foreign market. A global strategy should clearly identify how your product will add new value to the consumers and buyers in the market. It is sub-optimal to merely add another product option amidst a crowded space.

Deliver something recognizable that satisfies a need in a way that competitors do not.

Before you begin to focus externally, you should do an internal check for these and other elements that lead to a dead end in your global pursuits. Our Caribbean products can do well in the global marketplace. Shift your mind-set to a global one, fine tune your brand for appeal in your target territories, and differentiate your products and services. Perhaps these would help you to better navigate your way to global success.

The End.

This article was originally written for the iAlum magazine of the Arthur Lok Jack Graduate School of Business. It has been updated to suit this platform.