By Dr Thomas Brown | May 27 2020
If you're expanding across different global territories, how do you stay true to your brand image/tone of voice/story whilst adapting to be relevant to a new region?
HubSpot’s latest content partitioning functionality promotes a structured approach to regional marketing — but that’s only one side of the story. What do global marketing managers and CMOs need to consider when their teams actually write for different regions? And how can they adapt without straying too far from the brand narrative?
With the recent launch of HubSpot Enterprise and content partitioning, it’s never been easier to structure every aspect of your marketing around different regions. But managing team permissions and governing the technical side of multi-regional campaigns is far from the full picture. As a marketer, you know there’s also brand and creative to consider.
You may have noticed us conducting outreach to our database recently as part of a step-by-step process for reviewing our marketing strategy. As one client was quick to ask:
“If you’re expanding across different global regions, how do you stay true to your brand image/tone of voice/story whilst adapting to be relevant to a new region?”
It made me think that while we’ve written about content partitioning and the technology in HubSpot Enterprise that allows a structured, regional approach, we haven’t touched on that brand image/story/voice side — the human part your audience actually connects with.
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Your brand is your story. It may exist in written form as a brand narrative or it may yet to be documented, a collective of experiences and milestones and core values inside the founders’ heads, but between now and the day your organisation opened its doors, it’s there.
Award-winning author and journalist Chuck Palahniuk says it best:
“Your handwriting. The way you walk. Which china pattern you choose. It’s all giving you away. Everything you do shows your hand. Everything is a self-portrait. Everything is a diary.”
Short of reinventing the brand, any changes made to its future direction or your aspirations are a continuation of that story, not a rewrite. Brand and story are interwoven; every business day is a new chapter, and the sum of those stories shapes your brand identity.
The relationship between your brand story and your brand’s overall identity is one of the key reasons why defining and documenting your brand story is so important. It’s also where the issue of staying true to your brand story across different regions becomes challenging.
What’s the difference between brand identity and brand image?
Your brand identity is how you want your brand to be perceived by the market. It’s everything from your logo and your voice to your unique value proposition and, yes, your history and the events that have shaped your brand story. Your brand’s image is how the market actually perceives your brand, and it can vary hugely across regions.
The strength and relevance of your brand identity will impact your brand image, but only so much. Brand image also depends on the values and perception of your buyers. Like any form of communication, it’s a two-way conversation between sender and recipient. And across different regions and cultures, the recipient’s perceptions can vary significantly.
So how can a marketer handle their brand story when addressing different markets?
The trick is in the telling. As the custodian of their organisation’s brand, the creative marketer can draw from their understanding of the regional market to reflect which parts of their story they tell, how they tell them, and even what to leave unspoken in order to express their brand’s identity with both relevance and authenticity.
What’s the difference between tone and voice?
Your brand has one voice. Think of them as a person — are they funny, friendly, and feel-good, like Innocent Drinks? Clean, smart, and cutting-edge, like Apple? What about caring, inclusive, and aspirational, like Dove? Your voice doesn’t change — but you might switch up the tone depending on who you’re talking to, and where. Your Instagram copy might sound a little more conversational than your LinkedIn posts, for example, and they’ll sound different from your sales proposals. If you know a region has certain sensitivities, you may adapt the tone of your voice to reflect that.
A clear understanding of how your buyers vary region to region as well as region-specific sensitivities will equip you with everything you need to create regional messaging frameworks. Your team(s) can use these guidelines to market sensitively, consistently, and effectively across regions, and you can use them to manage the process.
What does this messaging framework look like and what’s the best way to create one?
The way we approach them, a messaging framework should consist of three core areas: your positioning and messaging, your buyer personas, and any tone of voice guidelines your brand operates within.
Depending on the extent of your marketing and level of detail you want to go into, you may consider adding region-specific sections to your core messaging framework or setting up a standalone framework for each region.
Either way, you’ll want to cover these three areas:
How your company positions itself from region to region may well vary. As we discussed above, so might how you present your brand narrative. Lead a stakeholder workshop to uncover how you might position yourself differently and which parts of the brand story to focus on or omit.
Within the region:
TO DO: Equipped with these insights, create a series of one-pagers for your: regional positioning statements, regional brand story variant, and regional timeline.
For the next exercise, you’ll want to review your buyer personas. Given regional differences, it’s likely that some of the key areas you used to define your core buyer personas will change. For marketers working from your buyer personas to understand their target audience, region-specific variants will help them to reach out to and engage new prospects.
Are you interested in running a positioning and messaging or buyer persona workshop? Find out how we approach these with our clients in their Strategy Phase.
If you’re researching expansion into new markets, it’s very likely you already have established tone of voice guidelines. (Need to set some up for the first time? Check out our article on how to write simple yet effective tone of voice guidelines for your business.)
When adapting your organisation’s guidelines to a specific region, consider regional sensitivities as well as cultural differences, and even linguistic ones in the case of regions with different languages. One word in one language can mean something very different when translated literally into another. As Business News Daily writes:
“American Motors made this mistake in the early 1970s when naming its midsize car, the Matador. Although the name was intended to conjure images of courage and strength, it may have been a little too aggressive for Puerto Rican consumers – in Spanish, ‘matador’ translates to ‘killer.’ Needless to say, the name didn't instil a great deal of confidence in drivers.”
The proper level of research at the beginning of a regional campaign or expansion is all it takes and will pay dividends further down the line, from more efficient content production and a more confident editorial process to more impactful and resonant regional marketing assets.
If you do need to translate or transcreate global copy for regional use, look to work with a professional native to that region. Such an individual will be familiar with all kinds of local sensitivities, from differences in word meaning to culture and design.
Your story is your brand’s core. It's the tale of where you started out and how you came to be where you are now and what you're striving for in the future. It’s interwoven with your messaging and your voice and your brand values and the behaviours they drive.
But what you choose to highlight and how you tell that story should vary according to platform, format, purpose and, yes, region.
Follow the three-step approach outlined above and you should have all the information you need to create a region-specific messaging framework. With one of these in your pocket, your organisation is all set to expand its borders, share its story, and move a whole new market with its words — wherever in the world you’re marketing next.
I hope you found this helpful. For more content best practices, download our free ebook, ‘The Beginner’s Guide to Content Strategy and Implementation’.
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Principal Copywriter at BabelQuest. PhD Creative Writing from the University of Southampton. Novelist with Sparkling Books.
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