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How to Prepare Your Strategic Story for Global Markets 

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In this series we’re exploring how strategic storytelling helps brands grow.  

In past installments, we’ve discussed what exactly this means: creating a story that inspires employees, excites partners, attracts customers and engages influencers. A story that conveys your company’s vision and communicates your strategy. 

You may have your strategic story licked already. Or maybe this series is helping you define it. When times are simpler, brand stories can be too, but what happens when you want to take your company — and therefore your story — global? 

For most ambitious firms, entering international markets is a natural step at some point in the growth journey. Indeed, for many tech companies, it’s possible to offer their product or service globally from day one. 

Whether it’s been a long time coming or seems possible overnight, when you’re ready to go global, you first need to stop, take stock and ensure your strategic story will resonate just as well in new markets as it did at home. 

In this article we explore five things you’ll want to consider. 

Going global means different things to different companies. It might mean expanding into four new territories, or it might mean 140.  

Either way, from a storytelling perspective you should consider prioritizing a handful of markets and employing a ‘test and learn’ approach, rather than trying to launch everywhere at once.  

One of the major risks of communicating globally too quickly is over-stretching your resources — and your story. Deciding where you won’t focus is just as important as deciding where you will. When picking the first new markets in which to proactively tell your story, a key consideration should be whether you have the necessary assets and infrastructure there to tell a credible local story. 

So, ask yourself: 

  • Do we have people on the ground? 
  • Can we work with local language spokespeople? 
  • Are customers ready to advocate on our behalf? 
  • Are we able to talk about how much we’re investing in the market?  

All these things can help ensure you are focusing on markets where you have a stronger chance of both storytelling and business success. 

If you fail to think through how your brand assets and strategic story translates prior to launching into new markets, you run the risk of spawning confusion, offense or even legal challenges. 

Learn more about PAN Strategic Consulting Group.

There are plenty of examples out there serving as a reminder that globalizing a message isn’t always as easy as it seems.  

When Coca-Cola first looked to expand to Chinese markets in the 1920s, there was no Mandarin translation for the iconic name. In trying to create a phonetic approximation, the company inadvertently landed on a name that roughly translated to “Bite the Wax Tadpole.” 

Cultural reference points that might part of your strategic story should be considered too.  

When Pampers diapers were first launched in Japan, P&G’s marketers were baffled by uncharacteristically low sales. After researching the issue, they realized that the product packaging, which featured an image of a stork delivering a baby, was a problem. The reference was lost on Japanese parents, as the story is not part of Japanese culture — instead, children learn that giant floating peaches deliver babies. 

There are intellectual property checks to be done too. Often brands that begin in just one country might only register names, trademarks and taglines in that market. International checks must be done to avoid embarrassments such as that experienced by the Tokyo Olympics organizers, who were forced to scrap their games logo after allegations of plagiarism 

A company’s vision or mission is an important part of a strategic story. But when you go global, you need to consider if it still resonates as well in all markets.  

For example, Google’s mission “to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful” may be a noble one in Silicon Valley, but is it as resonant in more authoritarian markets such as those in Russia or China? 

Whether it’s been a long time coming or seems possible overnight, when you’re ready to go global, you first need to stop, take stock and ensure your strategic story will resonate just as well in new markets as it did at home. 

Because markets move at different speeds, it’s important to carefully audit the markets you’re looking to move in to.  What may have been a distinctive, innovative message in your home market, may seem behind the curve, or simply irrelevant elsewhere. 

Some companies will adapt their message to convey a global mission to a global audience, but you should be wary of doing this at the expense of what made you distinctive in the first place.  

In 1997 British Airways introduced bold and colorful ‘world art’ tail fins across its fleet. It enlisted the help of international artists representing countries on BA’s flight routes to create the tail fin designs. But to some customers, it was a move that reduced the sense of prestige and “Britishness” that had defined the brand in the first place. The airline restored its Union Flag motif four years later.  

Conversely, HSBC launched its global messaging “The world’s local bank” in 2002 and was widely admired for telling a powerful story about its global reach while embracing local cultures and customs. The bank was smart enough to evolve its story again in 2011 following cuts to local branches. As its global head of marketing explained at the time, “[The story] became something that didn’t position us in a way which was truthful about the nature of our business. We weren’t ‘the world’s local bank’ — we didn’t have branches in places like Thailand anymore and so it is slightly disingenuous to claim to be.” 

Regardless of what adjustments you might have to make, the good news is that the core of your strategic story — if it’s been created well — should remain consistent. Conventional wisdom argues that there are only seven basic narrative plots in the wide world of storytelling. The way you express your story may differ by market, but the core narrative should be consistent.  

One of the toughest communications challenges is striking the right balance between a story that resonates locally and that also conveys a consistent global message. 

If you’re going global, chances are you are solving a problem that is experienced all around the world, and your strategic story will be grounded in this issue. 

It might be that your story explains how you’re helping address climate change or the cost-of-living crisis; reducing the danger of cyber-attacks; or offering software to improve productivity or protect people’s privacy online. 

What is critical is that you tell a consistent story about your commitment to this global issue but contextualize it by showing how you’re making a difference locally.  

Over-centralization of creativity or content can lead to vanilla, cookie-cutter communications that connect with no one. 

IBM, which has a long-standing global commitment to sustainability, has done this well by sharing hundreds of stories of how it is making a difference to the environments of local communities. These resonate in local markets, but also add up to a global narrative. 

Similarly, part of Coca-Cola’s strategic story is a commitment to supporting the communities in which it operates. To bring this element of their story to life, the brand invests in local programs — whether that be building 650 clean water installations across Egypt or sponsoring Ramadan meals for children in Pakistan.  

Finding local statistics, people and customers is critical to adding color to your overall story, as is appreciating local events, pop culture moments and what motivates your audiences there. 

Finally, to achieve global strategic storytelling success, you do — of course — need a team of storytellers around the world. That includes people within your organization — well-briefed spokespeople, employees that will advocate for your organization across social media — as well as customers and partners in the region.  

Many brands will also employ in-market marketing agencies and consultants. These agencies should be experts at listening to what’s going on in their market and advising on how that might impact the localization of a strategic story. 

It pays to give these storytellers a degree of creative license to adapt the core of your strategic story. Over-centralization of creativity or content can lead to vanilla, cookie-cutter communications that connect with no one. Build the right team of local storytellers, with the right degree of autonomy, and your strategic story is that much closer to going global.   

Throughout the global expansion effort, it’s critical to remember that storytelling is a process. The best stories will evolve and grow over time to continue reaching new audiences.

Learn more about PAN Strategic Consulting Group.

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