Expand Your Brand Globally Like Starbucks, Disney and Sur la Table

As a parent, it’s almost impossible not to appreciate the genius of Disney’s branding.

Not only has Disney developed design language that’s about as evocative as it gets (consider the reality that just seeing a pair of Mickey Mouse ears can transport a child and even some adults to a different world) — they’ve also done a remarkable job of universalizing their brand. There are Disney stores and theme parks all over the world, and parents from Japan to the UK have rolled their eyes and reluctantly given in to an umpteenth viewing of Frozen. Disney is one of the few, notable brands that all of us across the globe have in common.

Disney’s success is not due to the fact that their movies are fantastic (they are) or that their theme parks are the “Happiest Places on Earth” (they are, unless you’re a parent with cranky toddlers) but that they’ve figured out how to speak to a universal truth: We all need a little magic in our lives.

The thing that makes Disney “Disney” is not their characters or their theme parks but the magic they inspire.

What is Universal About Your Brand?

Before marketing your brand on a global level, you have to recognize the intrinsic aspect of your brand that can speak to people all over the world, regardless of how old they are, where they live, how much money they make, or what they do. This is the universal truth of your brand — it should drive your brand promise and serve as the foundation for both your local and global marketing strategy.

To figure out your brand’s universal truth, go back to the basics. Strip the graphical identity you’ve developed away and think about the primary reason someone (anyone, in fact) would be interested in your product.

To start, ask: What is it about your brand that speaks to a more basic, instinctual need? If you’re in the food and beverage industry, you can stand on the promise that your product meets a universal need to eat or drink. That’s simple enough, right? But truly setting your brand apart requires tapping into a deeper human longing for love, acceptance, security, adventure — whatever the case may be. This connection to a higher need is your brand’s bread and butter.

Starbucks and the Need for Belonging

Starbucks is one of the most widely recognized and globally successful brands of all time, and it’s because they’ve made their universal truth an integral part of their brand. No matter where you live or where you’re from, you understand that Starbucks is a brand for coffee drinkers across the spectrum. No matter how simple or sophisticated your tastes may be, Starbucks creates a coffee house culture for everyone.

Starbucks is a brand that translates everywhere, from small-town America all the way to the Great Wall of China, because it conveys a universal truth: We all want a warm drink and a place to gather together. But maybe more importantly, the brand speaks to a deeper longing — that we all want a place where we can do those things and feel like we belong, whether we’re ordering an Americano or a Pumpkin Spice Latte.

Starbucks lets you be whatever kind of coffee drinker or really, person, you need to be.

Sur La Table and the Creative Spirit

A few years ago, we worked with Sur La Table, a US-based kitchenware company. They had experienced success within their local market but were looking to expand — specifically to the United Arab Emirates. Like many companies delving into global branding for the first time, they had no idea where to start.

A lot of agencies faced with Sur La Table’s predicament would have recommended completely rebranding these new Middle Eastern stores to fit some misplaced perception of what a kitchen store in the UAE should look like. But they would have realized on the other side that these international stores looked and more importantly, felt, nothing like a Sur La Table store.

To reach this new international market, our advice to them was simply to redraft their logo in Islamic script.

We took a much more straightforward approach to their global marketing challenge not because it seemed like the easiest thing to do but because after getting to know their brand, we knew we didn’t need to reinvent the wheel when it came to their brand strategy.

Our advice stemmed from an understanding and recognition that the Sur La Table brand was already built on the fundamental and universal truth that people cook. Their brand also resonated with this much more interesting concept that the more you cook, the better at it you become — and the more creative you can be.

Sur La Table not only helps you become a more accomplished cook; it provides an outlet for self-expression and creativity. It’s a brand that speaks to a universal need for self-actualization, and that’s a message that’s about as strong as any brand can hope to portray.

Think Universally to Market Globally

Once you’ve uncovered this universal truth and made it a part of your foundational branding strategy, the global marketing process should come naturally.

If you can figure out how your brand connects to a human experience we all share, you don’t need a brand new marketing strategy for each country or region you expand to — you just need to pay attention to how that truth should be expressed in light of different cultural norms.

The key to global marketing is not to make isolated, regional brands work for a global market but to create a universally compelling brand that resonates with markets all over the world.

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Founder, President, & Chief Strategist
David was two decades into a design career with a wall full of shiny awards and a portfolio of clients including Nordstrom, Starbucks, Nintendo, and REI. His rocket trajectory veered when his oldest child faced a health challenge of indeterminate origin. Hundreds of research hours later, David identified food allergy as the issue and convinced skeptical medical professionals caring for his child. Since that experience, David and Retail Voodoo have been on a mission to create a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable food system for all.

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