Building a Global Brand: lessons from global cases

All across the U.S., companies big and small are looking to tap into global audiences as a way to expand and grow. Emerging markets such as China, India, Brazil and Mexico offer lucrative opportunities for brands to expand globally—so much so that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently wooed Chinese audiences by speaking Mandarin. As more and more companies see the world as their playground, creating a global brand that translates across borders becomes a bigger challenge for brand managers. To be successful, marketers must consider a number of differences such as economic, political, cultural and social dynamics to ensure that a brand translates the same way from country to country, yet embraces local cultures. Successful brands invest in local and global activities. The companies that produce locally, employ local people and engage in solving local issues in all markets are the brands that come out on top. Below are a few examples of brands that have successfully navigated globalization by embracing flexibility, consistency and social norms. Most importantly, the following brands have successfully localized while holding onto their global identities.


Wal-Mart stands for saving money and living better. In the U.S., it’s a big-box retailer, but as it expanded globally, it adapted a flexible approach within its stores to help navigate the local economies and laws. For example, in Mexico, Wal-Mart recognizes that its biggest competition are the street vendors, traditional markets and small stores that account for more than half of grocery sales in the country. In addition, space for supermarkets, not to mention big-box stores, is hard to come by in Mexico’s congested towns and cities, where consumers tend to shop in family-owned stores or markets. Wal-Mart’s solution for Mexico is a mini-grocer format called Bodega Aurrera Express.

In India, on the other hand, due to local laws, foreign retailers have to spend half of their investment on building supply chain infrastructure and source 30% of manufactured goods from local small and medium-sized companies. To address these and other challenges, Wal-Mart operates as a wholesaler and doesn’t sell directly to consumers.


What I love about Starbucks is consistency—knowing that I can go anywhere in the world and have the same experience of being served a latte with a taste that I have come to expect. That’s great branding. Starbucks maintains a successful global reach through a combination of leveraging the same target audience globally and offering consistent execution. Starbucks focuses on the upper-scale segment of the coffee market, competing on comfort and experience rather than convenience. Additionally, it offers the same bundle of good coffee, quality service and a pleasant atmosphere in every store no matter where you are in the world. Thus, consistency is the key to Starbucks’ global expansion.


No global expansion conversation would be complete without talking about McDonald’s. It rode the globalization trend by transferring the “American way of life” to many countries around the world. At the same time, McDonald’s has adjusted to the social context of each county by adapting its menu to the flavors of each market. In France, you can get a Le Croque McDoo, a warm ham and cheese sandwich on artisanal bread. In India, customers are offered a McAloo Tikki, a warm, vegetarian, potato-based burger. McDonald’s has embraced social norms and stayed contextually relevant.

Though globalization typically is regarded as a lucrative business strategy, treading foreign land is no easy feat. In order to achieve success internationally, a brand will need to stay true to its core yet be flexible, consistent and socially relevant in every local market.


(Mitch Duckler is the managing partner of FullSurge, a strategic consulting firm based in Evanston)

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