Will building a brand delay international expansion? Not necessarily. Here’s how you can establish your brand identity in any market without losing momentum.


Your start-up is going from strength to strength and you’ve just secured more funding.

Perhaps you’re one of the 47% of UK start-ups thinking about overseas options in the wake of Brexit?

Either way, you’re taking your start-up global – and you’re keen to crack on.

You’ve probably heard successful brands like Dropbox talk about how they did ‘tons of planning’ before expanding and didn’t go ‘too fast.’ But you don’t have that luxury. You’re under pressure for results, so you just need the minimum viable product to maintain momentum – and keep your investors happy.

You definitely don’t have time to worry about translating your brand identity overseas. You’re already distinctive (you’re a disruptor after all), and what you’ve got will have to do.

But what if I said you could have your cake and eat it? With just a short upfront time investment, you can lock down your core brand identity across markets, launch more successfully and make changes as needed further down the line.

Because when done right, building a brand can accelerate your growth – not delay it.


You already have the makings of a really great brand.

You stand out from the crowd. You do things differently from your established competitors – you’re more nimble, flexible and approachable.

The way you sound probably reflects this. You may use simple, casual, humorous or even provocative language to distance yourself from corporate rivals.

So far, so good – but have you ever put pen to paper and locked down your voice? And have you based it on any research or data?

You’re still small, so everyone in the company ‘gets’ who you are and how you sound. But as you grow, you’ll want to protect this so you don’t get drowned out.

To control your brand voice, create a tone of voice guide, a style guide and a glossary – our article here explains the difference. With these practical guidelines, everyone at your company will always be on the same page.

But we know you don’t have time to sit around finalizing everything before you expand. So we recommend taking an iterative approach.

Establish some simple tone of voice principles first – follow our simple step-by-step instructions to get started. This won’t take long if you already know who you are and what you’re about – it’s just practical advice to convey your brand in writing. Then, when you have more time, you can always expand your guidelines to include more channels and audiences.


Once you’ve identified your brand’s voice, the next step is to work out what this sounds like in other markets.

72.4% of customers are more likely to buy a product with information in their own language. So if you want to be successful, you can’t afford not to localize. But do you really want to trust translators to recapture your brand identity in their language, without giving them any reference points or guidance?

There are other practical considerations too. If humour is your thing, how will you make sure you’re funny in different markets? If you’ve cultivated a rebellious image, how will this go down in Asian markets, where honouring family and community is important?

Without thinking through some of these issues, your start-up could end up in hot water. But we know you’re under pressure to launch fast. And you don’t have time to iron everything out first.

The solution is to prioritize.

For example, Japan has a famously low English proficiency level, so you absolutely need to localize your brand voice before launching there. Sweden, on the other hand, has the highest non-native English proficiency in the world. So you could launch in English initially, gauge demand levels and then localize once you’re sure it’s worthwhile.

That way, you can take the time you need to get your voice right in every market. Long-term, this will help you engage better with customers, grow faster and build your brand on your terms.


Whether it’s for your core market or overseas targets, if you’re working out how you sound, you need to listen to in-market experts.

They’re in the best position to know who you should target, what you should say and which channels you should be on. They’ll also tailor your brand identity for maximum impact, because there are some things you can only learn from being on the ground.

To get the best results, we work with industry and channel experts, as well as experienced copywriters. This allows us to gain as much insight as possible into the market landscape, then apply it creatively to everything we produce in that language.

It’s a successful approach. For example, when localizing Maserati’s brand voice for Switzerland, our Swiss experts told us to dial down the brand’s luxuriousness because everything is luxury there. So we found a different niche that was more effective.

You probably don’t have time to identify multiple individual experts in every market. So partner up with an international marketing agency (like us). They’ll already have a rich pool of contacts for you to draw from, and years of hard-won experience applying their knowledge to real-world situations. Let them do the hard work so you can get on with growing your business faster and more effectively.

Not sure how to go about building a brand, or just want access to experienced experts? Over 30 years, we’ve helped start-ups like Circle Pay and established brands like Herman Miller communicate more effectively and grow more quickly in any market. And we can help you too. So get in touch – we’d love to hear from you.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

ABOUT Zoey Cooper

I’m a global content and brand strategist, with more than 15 years' experience researching, planning, delivering and testing content and brand solutions across multiple regions, languages and platforms. I love words. And I love culture. And I believe that the right combination of these two essential ingredients will deliver content that is not only on brand, but will engage customers and drive sales.

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