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Your brand encompasses more than just product or service, it stands for everything you’ve put into your business. Moving into new markets can raise extra considerations for exporters, from superstitions about colour to trade mark issues. Cameron Bayley reports

News rippled through the Australian fashion industry last year that successful jeans label Tsubi was undergoing an unexpected brand name change. A shoe label in the US called Tsubo claimed the name infringed its trademark and challenged the businesses' use of the name. The matter was settled out of court, but not before the Sydney-based design house agreed to export under the brand Ksubi in every country except Australia.

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This case reveals how much a brand name means to the business owners behind it. It’s the same for Yeojin Bae, a Melbourne-based fashion designer already exporting to markets such as the US, UK, Singapore and Dubai. Her self-named label is "what I do, who I am, and what kind of products I offer". Choosing to give the label her name adds extra incentive to protect her brand, too. "It’s something you definitely have to protect and make sure you nurture into the right market, and the right stores," she says. "And make sure that you don’t over-saturate markets and that you stay true to what you believe your collection should be and where it should be sold."

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"Everyone wants to own a brand," says David Higginbottom, general manager for marketing strategy firm Competitive Edge. He’s not just talking philosophically, he’s describing the importance of a brand for those who work for a business, the agents or distributors and, of course, those who make the product or deliver the service. "It’s natural they should own the brand because it’s silly to just be selling garments or fashion," he says. "You need to be selling something that gives you a corporate identity, that gives you recognition. And gives you recognition at the shop level."

Owning a brand, he says, gives you equity, which can provide you with further resources and avenues for your business, and ultimately the ability to sell the business down the line. "It’s just something you should be aspiring to at all times," he adds.

For Bae, like many business owners, getting her brand into foreign markets as well as Australia was the goal from the beginning. "I started the business in February [2006]. In May I launched my first collection and sold in Australia, and a few weeks later took it overseas. So I was certain that I wanted to be selling in the different international markets," she says. "The customer I target is a very international customer."

In terms of branding, the phrase ‘born global’ makes a lot of sense and having an international focus for your brand should be inherent from the beginning, says Higginbottom. When taking startups through marketing, he begins by constructing a website with a broad international focus. Following on from that is all the corporate and communications material, domain names and trade mark and patent protection. "So it is global first, with support and local markets as part of a global approach."

However, as the Tsubi team discovered, when entering new markets things can change, bringing new considerations for the branding of your business. Australian skincare company Purist market their range of Al’chemy products as A’kin in the US because of trade mark issues. Australian hairdressing entrepreneur, Jamie Carroll, successfully took a big name US beauty company to court over infringing his trademark. And multinational Cadbury Schweppes recently took Darrell Lea to court over their use of a particular shade of purple. While Cadbury was ultimately unsuccessful in its claim, it highlights how even a colour can be closely attached to a brand.

Michael Gerace, one of the founders of TheHairStyler.com, an online site that allows customers to upload photos of themselves and then superimpose different hairstyles, says having an online business can require a business owner to be especially vigilant over their brand. Gerace says other companies have tried to copy the site on more than one occasion, at one time even copying the exact site. "It is a shock when you see your entire site, exactly the same, nothing changed. We saw the hairstyles, and they were exactly the same too." While exporters should remain wary and vigilant, Gerace says the law is on your side, and infringing websites have been forced to close. "There are laws which protect you, and we found that out the hard way. But we’re confident now that if anyone copies our content we can pursue them through lawyers."

While keeping abreast of trade mark issues is one consideration for exporters, the cultural aspect of launching a brand can’t be overlooked either. Sometimes there are language issues, others are cultural. Higginbottom says his experience trying to launch some Australian timber into Japan in the late 80s provided branding challenges, particularly with the names of timber. For example, using the word ‘ash’ to describe the wood type proved confusing because this species hadn’t made it into the Japanese or European lexicon. "Using that name was a mess," Higginbottom says. "So we changed it to ‘golden oak’, and we also changed the ‘gum vein’ [a ribbon of gum inside the tree] to ‘kino vein’, or ‘natural feature grain’. It was no use talking about a gum vein, because they didn’t understand that."

The importance of using understandable names is important, but don’t let it consume you too much advises Brian Monger, executive director of the Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand. He says customers in foreign markets will still take up your product if it delivers quality regardless of the name, although Higginbottom says having a suitable name can help get the product into their hands. "You’ve got to make it easy for people to buy. It’s the job of the marketer, especially the export marketer, to understand the culture and position it correctly, with the right personality and DNA." Keeping your colours to a minimum, and an easy and understandable name, are two key elements. "Just keep it simple, so it can scream at people from the shelf and they can understand it."

Sticking by your brand doesn’t mean standardising your product in all markets, adds Monger. "You’d be hard pressed to find a company, a product, a brand that is standardised throughout the world." However, to push your brand’s coverage it may be necessary to be open to making some adjustments to your product.

"You don’t change your brand," says Higginbottom. "Your brand is generic across the world, most of the good brands are global brands and sell anywhere. You just make subtle changes to the brand." Gerace says the versions of the company’s websites for the Asian market were altered, to suit the hairstyles of the region. And while her collection is the same for all markets, Bae always makes sure she lets clients in countries such as the Middle East know her collection can be worn in adherence to any cultural rules on skin covering. "If length (of garments) is an issue for some markets, I recommend doing some layering with leggings or with some pants underneath, which is what some of the markets have done."


Research & Marketing

your brand for launch into world markets goes further than just colour and name, says Monger. It should be the result of thorough market research. "You really have to start with the foundations of marketing," he says. "That is, you’ve got to know your market, who are they and what do they want? And don’t generalise." Higginbottom agrees. Immersing yourself in your market can be hugely helpful. "Fly into town at the back of the plane, stay up the back of the hotel and, with no one knowing you, walk around the markets for three or four days, get bustled, and get used to everything," he advises. "Eat the local food, go into the local supermarkets, see where the product’s going to go. Understand the category you’re going to go into, find out if the category’s there." If you’re attending a trade show in the country, this sort of preparation means you’re better placed to discuss any modifications that may be required for products under your brand, he says.

Getting into a market isn’t the big hurdle, Higginbottom says, staying there and keeping a strong brand presence is, and it’s this part of the equation that exporters all over the world, and of all sizes, often neglect. "I don’t think they spend enough time thinking about their branding in the local market."

Talking to distributors in the markets you’re interested in, can be one good way of finding out how your brand will fare and how much you should be looking at spending on your brand’s campaign, says Monger. "Ask them what’s going to be necessary over there. Talk to a number of them." Find out what other companies have spent on entering the market, which could also require the services of a good marketer (look for one with a satisfactory track record), and be realistic about budget.

Higginbottom estimates a good branding budget comes in at around $8,000 to $10,000 and would include trade-marking, registering a domain name (which may also need to be trade-marked), overseas domain names and variations of your website that will direct users to your site, and graphic design for your site and associated corporate communications (such as letterhead, clothing tags).

Monger likes to broaden the picture. The brand, he says, reaches further than just packaging. "A brand is a promise," he explains. Customers need to know the brand will deliver on value and reliability. Gerace agrees: "If people know us as a brand, it’s security and confidence. Which is very important, because if a user doesn’t know the brand, they don’t have the confidence to purchase."

"We should recognise that the heart of the brand, as with people, is inside," says Monger, explaining that your brand really is the summary of all parts of your business. He warns exporters not to let it get to the stage where they’re looking at the packaging to decide what the brand will be. And keep your brand and what it can achieve for you at the forefront of all stages of the business, says Higginbottom. "Be realistic, be practical, and bide your time until it’s appropriate. But always structure your relationships and your trading around the fact that you’re trying to build wealth and equity through a brand, as well as a product."


Colour Clash

When coming up with a brand, it may be worth considering some of the following:

White: Symbol for mourning or death in the Far East; happiness and purity in Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

Purple: Associated with death in many Latin American countries.

Blue: Connotation of femininity in Holland; masculinity in Sweden, and the US.

Red: Unlucky or negative in Chad, Nigeria, Germany; positive in Denmark, Rumania, Argentina.

Yellow flowers: Sign of death in Mexico; infidelity in France.

White lilies: Suggestion of death in England.

Number 7: Unlucky in Ghana, Kenya, Singapore; lucky in Morocco, India, Czechoslovakia, Nicaragua, US.

Triangle: Negative in Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan; positive in Colombia.

Owl: Wisdom in US; bad luck in India.

Deer: Speed, grace in US; homosexuality in Brazil.

* Source: Brian Monger, Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand


Lost in Translation

Here are some examples of company brands which hit road bumps in foreign markets:

Fiera, a low-cost truck designed by Ford for developing countries, faced sales problems. "Fiera" means "ugly old woman" in Spanish.

• The Ford Coliente did not meet with much success in Mexico. "Caliente" is slang for "street-walker".

• The Ford Pinto did miserably when first introduced in Brazil, and it was discovered that "pinto" is slang for "small male sex organ". When the name was changed to "corcel" (meaning "horse"), sales improved.

Colgate's Cue toothpaste had problems in France, as "cue" is a crude term for "bottom" in French.

Esso found that its name meant, phonetically, "stalled car" in Japanese.

• China attempted to export the Pansy brand of men's underwear to the US.

• In Germany, Pepsi's advertising slogan "Come alive with Pepsi" was presented as "Come alive out of the grave with Pepsi".

Kellogg's Bran Buds translates into "burned farmer" in Swedish.

* Source: Brian Monger, Marketing Association of Australia and New Zealand

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