Solving the challenges of designing a brand for international markets

Photo by Keila Hötzel on Unsplash

If the decision to internationalize a brand wears down the mind of business owners, designing and adapting a brand identity for international markets poses a significant challenge for designers. Without a correct approach and sufficient insights, a brand designer risk making decisions that may severely damage the brand. In this article, let us look at the two major approaches a designer can employ to adapt a brand’s identity to new markets. These approaches are adjusting the current brand identity and creating new brand assets. Furthermore, we will also look at some aspects that a brand designer needs to consider when designing and adapting a brand for international markets.

Adjusting a brand’s identity — what to keep?

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Often, a brand must adjust to ensure that its products and services are well-received by international audiences. This, in turn, leads to significant strategic revision to the management system, the services, the products, and the brand identity itself.

When tasked with designing and adapting a brand’s identity for international markets, a designer usually have to decide what elements from the brand she can keep, what should be adjusted, and what must be removed. Oftentimes, there are no restrictions on the designer’s decision. If her reasons are justified and supported, a designer can go as far as changing the brand’s name and logo.

Take Sony as an example. Starting as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (東京通信工業) in 1946, Sony changed its name to its current name in 1958. This decision was made to ensure that the brand name can be expanded and remembered in foreign markets. Along with this new name, the business also abandoned its old Japanese logo to adopt the new Sony logo that we know and love today.

Photo by Nikita Kostrykin on Unsplash

The Sony example shows that nothing is impossible when a brand needs to internationalize itself. However, with great flexibility comes great responsibility. A designer must be extra careful to avoid removing the values or characteristics that define the brand. Failing to adhere to this requirement will lead to severe and, in extreme cases, irreversible damage. The question then is how a designer should make her decisions.

The best practice for making good decisions is to start from insights. Before beginning to design or adapt a brand’s identity, a designer should research both the domestic and the targeted international markets. Through research, a designer should be able to answer the following questions:

  • What elements make the brand unique in its home market?
  • Can these elements be transferred to the targeted markets? Can they make the brand memorable in the new markets?
  • What are the similarities and differences between the targeted markets compared to the brand’s home market? What are the communication opportunities?
  • Can the identified elements be utilized to seize the said opportunities? Can it be done effortlessly? What adjustments are needed?

Through these questions, the designer should have a pretty good idea of what she can keep and remove from the brand to adapt it to international markets. However, are adjusting and removing the only options a designer can take? No. Depending on the project’s needs and context, a designer can also create new assets for the brand. In the next section, let us take a look at how this can happen and what a designer should pay attention to when she’s creating new assets for an international brand.

Creating new assets — insights and simplicity is the key

Photo by Aleks Dorohovich on Unsplash

Creating new brand assets gives a designer more creative freedom than simply adjusting assets. Through new brand assets, such as graphic motifs and illustrations, a designer can quickly fulfill the brand’s needs in new markets. Depending on the execution, such assets may also support the brand in its home market. However, despite these lucrative advantages, a designer must remember that it takes time, effort, and significant investments for a new asset to be fully recognized by the audience. As a result, a designer should try her best to minimize the number of new assets while maximizing their effectiveness on the brand. Let us take a closer look at how we can achieve this.

An effective asset must satisfy the following requirements:

  • Unique to the brand
  • Easy to implement
  • Flexible and can be expanded as needed

To meet the first requirement, the asset must be devised from the brand’s characteristics or unique features. Some examples are a special ingredient employed in the product, a quirky trait that makes a service unique, or a communication tone that makes the business stands out from its competition. Thorough research into the brand will give a designer the hints she needs to create new assets.

For the second and third requirements, the asset must be simple. If an asset is too complicated, chances are it won’t be implemented correctly or will be ignored by the designer and the management board in charge of the target market. Furthermore, a complicated brand asset will require more time and effort to be recognized by the target audience. This fact alone reduces the asset’s effectiveness on the brand.

Let’s take a look at an example.

Recently, GSK plc., a London-based multinational pharmaceutical company, went through a rebrand with the help of Wolff Olins. The rebrand project is launched for two primary purposes. First, to give the brand’s identity a refresh. Second, to help the brand better adapt its identity to the broad portfolio of markets it’s available in. The new brand identity features the “DNA twist” as the core concept. From the logo to the graphic motif, the brand identity is designed with clarity and features the most simple rules for implementation. This, in turn, helps third-party vendors, designers, and internal employees to be able to use and expand the developed assets if needed.

Image courtesy of Wolff Olins & GSK Plc.

The GSK example is but only one of many primary examples of how modern brands employ flexibility and simplicity in internationalization. As more brands pry their way into new markets, designing for flexibility and simplicity will become a vital task for every designer.

Some last words

In this article, we looked at the two approaches a brand designer can use to adapt a brand identity to international markets. These two approaches are adjusting, removing assets from a brand, and creating new assets. Depending on the approach she chooses, a designer’s decision will differ. However, regardless of her approach, a designer should always base her decision on insights from thorough market and user research. Furthermore, we also looked at how flexibility and simplicity drive modern brands in their journey to internationalization. As more brands try to enter new markets, a designer must try her best to incorporate this philosophy into design.

That’s it from me. Good luck, and don’t be shy to share your insights for designing an international brand.

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Minh N. Ly

Minh N. Ly

Cat-loving Brand Designer & Strategist | Introvert helping brands make a global impact.