Never Lost in Translation,
The Essence of a Global Brand

In the post-digital world, every company is international. As barriers to entry continue to fall, retailers find it easier to take their stores into new territory, but it’s not the ability to cross borders that makes a brand global.

The pressure on business to expand abroad is immense thanks to the push of slow growth at home or the pull of the world’s burgeoning middle class, eager for a better quality of life. The world’s leading companies are up to the task, adept at overcoming the complexities that an international base adds to administration and operations.

There’s a difference between retail brands that are international—those simply planting flags in Sao Paulo, Hong Kong or Mumbai—and those that are truly global—managing by brand across different cultures. Delivering the brand globally with clarity, commitment and consistency depends on the long-term involvement of those who work with it every day.

Global retailers live the brand, at home and abroad

IKEA, for example, is a truly global brand because it lives in the hearts and minds of its workforce—the embodiment of its brand in action. When associates are engaged and energized, they bring a brand to life through every customer interaction; creating a virtuous circle between employees, consumers and business performance.

IKEA stands for thrift with modern style, a concept universally understood. Sweden’s affordable furniture brand offers distinct emotional and functional benefits; people of lesser means have the ability to furnish their homes as stylishly as wealthier people do. This simple but powerful idea has crossed successfully into 44 countries, and the company just received permission to enter India where it plans to open 25 stores. IKEA’s promise, and its ability to deliver, overcomes national and linguistic barriers, feeds a genuine demand and inspires the love of legions of Allen wrench wielding fans.

The IKEA store experience, where all the brand dimensions come together, is consistent from country to country, down to the Swedish meatballs in the café. IKEA connects through its catalog, website and a full complement of advertising and public relations, speaking in the same style and voice. But an engaged workforce is more powerful than a multi-million- dollar advertising budget. In our mobile age, companies as far-ranging as IKEA have the advantage of connecting its people in one large social network of shared values.

Zara, the world’s largest fashion retailer, is another example of a truly global brand. It does not advertise. In fact, Zara has only recently begun rolling out a global e-commerce channel. Yet shoppers know they can find affordable up-to-the-minute trendiness and variety in each of the 1,830 Zara shops in more than 79 countries, where each store’s merchandise mix is distinct to its location.

About 3,000 employees from 30 of those countries are represented at its headquarters in Arteixo, Spain, where a very small team takes responsibility for all brand communications. The company is remarkable for its engaged employees: 44 percent of new hires are advanced, 75 percent of its store managers are former sales people and even the youngest employees are quick to shoulder responsibility.

This is a brand that knows how to eliminate barriers.

With an ever-increasing number of competitors gaining traction globally and more big retailers stepping into low-cost fast fashion, H&M, the Swedish multinational retail clothing company, has set its sights on finding new ways to maintain industry leadership. The secret recipe for H&M continues to be partnering with big-name designers, celebrities and high-profile supermodels, and this strategy clearly resonates with the aspirations of its fashion savvy, pop-culture-following target customers.

The brand also appeals to consumers by highlighting its dedication to using organic materials. H&M was recently named the world’s largest user of organic cotton and it aims to improve upon this practice by switching to 100% sustainable cotton by 2020.

Truly global retail is driven by brand before operations

As anyone who travels knows, some flexibility is needed in the way you express yourself in a different culture. It’s the same for a brand. The ability to adapt to local tastes and shopping habits remains a necessity, both regionally and internationally. Brand strategy keeps things in balance.

When a company’s brand drives every element of its growth—market alignment, relevant assortments, diversified formats, new channels, innovative services, etc.—they become more effective in total. Truly global brands show us that the secret for long-term consistent implementation and growth is management by brand.