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Insight/ Strategic Planning

Proceed With Caution: Bringing A Brand To A New Market


by Craig Heisner
VP Of Marketing, Sales,
& Merchandising, Li-Ning

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Creating a successful brand identity is a challenge in any market. Taking that brand from a market where it’s a household name to one where it’s virtually unrecognizable brings the challenge to another level. Often times the brand name doesn’t carry the same weight in a new market, and there’s no guarantee that consumers in the new market have the same preferences or values as the others did.

An example of this would be the China-based company where I run marketing, Li-Ning. As the third largest sports footwear and apparel brand in China, you’d think it would be a no-brainer to enter a new market. However, the brand is hardly identifiable to U.S. consumers.

On top of the “unknown” factor, there are many other geographical, demographic, and cultural differences that need to be taken into account to properly align a brand with a new market. It can certainly be a challenge, yet it is exactly the mission that many brands (not just ours) take on as they attempt to expand globally.

When handled correctly, entering a new market as an unknown and foreign company can provide a unique branding opportunity. In our case, it has been no easy feat to create the same emotional connection to a brand in America, where consumers have an overload of brand options to keep them entertained. They are also loyal to brands such as Nike and Adidas that have been building their identity for decades. In order to gain a cut of this market’s disposable income, it’s imperative to understand who the consumer is and how you can appeal to them in a way that will sway their loyalty.

Additionally, you’ll want to consider how to properly address the way consumers in the new market interact with products and brands. Do they prefer to order online? If so, what is the expected delivery time? Are the original return policy guidelines different per market? These are just a few of the many factors that will have different consequences depending on consumer expectations and preferences.

How Does Your Industry Measure Up On A Global Scale?
Another crucial issue to take into account is the dynamic of your industry in one country vs. another. How do cultural differences impact your marketing strategy? In the United States, consumers view athletic footwear and apparel as a purchase that aligns with fashion and makes a statement about their lifestyles. They want a “cool” shoe that provides an intangible emotional feeling of breaking away from the norm.

Is that true across the globe? If not, you might have to consider how to adjust your strategy. If so, how can you capitalize on that? Maybe it’s an opportunity to play up the “uniqueness” of your brand that’s essentially unknown. Emphasize how consumers can show their individuality by purchasing the latest up-and-coming style. Try promoting exclusivity through flash sales and limited-edition product lines to further feed the desire for individuality.

Overcoming The Logistical Issues Of Entering A New Market
There are also common logistical factors that make entry into a new market challenging for any industry. Supply-chain issues can be one of the most difficult aspects of bringing a brand to the United States. You have to take into account different needs per market regarding release milestone dates. For instance, drop dates connected to holidays or school schedules vary by market, and product sizes differ as well.

How do these affect your inventory needs? How are you going to incorporate these aspects into your marketing calendar? How do you ensure you have samples in time for fall fashion previews or events you’re attending? These details become infinitely more complicated when entering a new market where the “rules” have changed.

There’s Not Always A Blueprint For Success
It’s also important to recognize that your strategy in one market isn’t necessarily the template for success in another, particularly for a consumer-facing brand attempting to make the switch from eastern to western culture. Because there’s no template for success or history for guidance, you have to be flexible and adapt to the new market’s preferences. Be prepared for this to turn into a learning process that could possibly require the existing brand to “pivot” its focus in the new market (similar to the way any start-up company would operate).

Brand awareness does not happen overnight. It’s earned over time through multiple levels of engagement with the consumer. It requires interaction through multiple channels–whether that’s face-to-face, mobile, online (social), or direct mail–on a regular basis. Being a “pioneer brand” requires you to develop a relationship between a product and brand and the consumer through dedication to the new market. The good news is that it’s just as much of an opportunity as it is a challenge.