Joining the new global brand generation? How to remain relevant
Joining the new global brand generation? How to remain relevant
A view from Paul Stafford

Three steps to designing a brand fit for a global audience

Paul Stafford, co-founder of DesignStudio, the company behind Airbnb's recent change of logo, examines how a new generations of brands are re-evaluating their marketing approach to compete on the global stage.

Successfully building a global brand identity capable of transcending culture, geography and language is the new Holy Grail for marketers. But what are the principles brands should consider when going global?

It’s all about storytelling

Creating a brand identity has, and always will, be underpinned by storytelling. Since the dawn of time storytelling’s been the way to express an idea or grow a belief – a way of engaging people and connecting with them emotionally.

A brand will always be able to transcend barriers if audiences believe and connect with the message. 

The way a brand tells its story is becoming more important in order to convey a sense of purpose and convince consumers they are worth their time and money, but when branding within multiple territories this need is accentuated even further.

Developing a core brand story that is emotive and compelling builds a consistent picture of a company. For me, this is not only the difference between graphic design and branding, but a game-changer when it comes to helping brands succeed globally.

Ultimately a brand will always be able to transcend barriers if audiences believe and connect with the message. Super-brands like Nike, Coca-Cola, and Burberry do this incredibly well and have been successful in maintaining their brand heritage and story but tailoring it to each cultural audience.

Brand immersion is a vital step in the development process to get this right by quickly highlighting the differences and core similarities in cultural attitudes towards the brand. 

When working with Airbnb on its new rebrand, the immersion process which consisted of a global audit of more than 13 cities across four continents was key to understanding how its community felt about the brand. On top of this over 120 people were interviewed at Airbnb’s global offices and an amazing story emerged filled with concurrent themes of belonging and an emotional sense of affection towards the brand. It was this story that provided the essence for all brand expression.

Validating global meaning and cultural context

Everything we do is governed by a set of cultural messages and conventions, linguistic quirks and locational differences and for a brands message translates both linguistically and visually to all target audiences these need to be carefully observed. Take the example of a simple ‘thumbs up’. Used in a Western context, it symbolises "everything being good" or a way to hitch a ride on the side of the road, but in the Middle East it means something rather offensive.

A recognisable symbol is an idea, a promise and a sign of being part of a community.

Colours and typeface can have similar effects when it comes to branding, so conducting an in-depth semiotic study of the brand name and how this resonates globally and culturally can help avoid costly mistakes further down the line. Some of the biggest brands in the world such as Nike and Apple have opted to be identifiable outside of language through creating a powerful universal marque or global status.

While branding with a symbol is open to personal opinion and interpretation often through social media, it allows super brands to be recognisable by a simple mark – one that’s more than just an image. A recognisable symbol is an idea, a promise and a sign of being part of a community.

But in an increasingly borderless world, cultural similarities need to be recognised to the same degree as cultural differences. Brands need to be careful of falling into the trap of changing things because they think they have to.

Embrace co-creation

There’s no better way to encourage consumers to buy-in to a brand than to encourage them to have a part in it, to co-create it, to personalise it. Airbnb’s community was actively encouraged to recreate and personalise the new marque to create something that was uniquely personal – an embodiment of what Airbnb meant to them.

Large companies have historically liked to maintain tight control of their brand, having put so much work into creating their brand identity. But provided there’s a reason – in Airbnb’s case in gave members the opportunity to take being a micro-entrepreneur to the next level by having their own business cards or branded goods in their listings while still being identified as Airbnb.

This personalisation can create an emotional relationship with your audience. This is the way people will remember you. They won’t just remember a brand, but an experience.