Exporting Your Product or Service is Easy Compared to Properly Exporting Your Brand


By Patrick Milan, Chief Insights Officer, Tunheim

Some of the greatest brands around the world have developed sophisticated teams and complex structures when it comes to reaching customers in their home markets. But even the most experienced marketing and communication strategy teams can experience significant frustration when it comes to exporting their brands to global audiences. Nowhere is the difficulty more obvious than in the digital space.

“All the passion and investment that a company pours into its brand oftentimes becomes a significant barrier to success when they export to foreign markets,” says Ralf Weber, a leading expert on intercultural brand transfer and owner of m/e brand communication”, a Dusseldorf-based global branding agency.

“Organizations fail to research, study and adapt their brand to a new market’s cultural code. The result is a lack of proper perception and a failure to gain consumer or customer acceptance because the brand is not accepted in the new market.”

Weber is traveling the United States and Europe this summer sharing the results of a study he co-authored with Berlin University of Applied Sciences. The study, Projecting an International Brand to an Online World, is a transatlantic report on global brand challenges across countries and cultures. Weber presented the findings and recommendations to a meeting of the German American Chamber of Commerce. The presentation was sponsored by Tunheim, a Minneapolis-based communications consultancy. Weber’s Dusseldorf-based agency and Tunheim are partner agencies sharing talent and resources to service clients in more than 100 global markets across 29 countries.

Focused on German-based companies with subsidiaries in the United States, the study found a significant disconnect between German “home offices” and subsidiaries in the U.S. trying to build brands and win market share. Among the study highlights, Weber noted:

  • Many German companies limit digital marketing to websites only; U.S. based colleagues see this as an old-school limitation;
  • German companies that are aware of the need to use additional communication channels rarely have a comprehensive communication strategy;
  • Of the German-based companies that do use multiple digital channels, many deploy identical information across all channels.

The study says U.S. counterparts find the process of adjusting brand communication channels and messaging through headquarters to be “very challenging.” Weber says, U.S. subsidiaries’ efforts to build brand online are seen by German communication leaders as hard-selling, loud and service-oriented.

“U.S. marketers see the service-oriented approach as an opportunity to build relationships and increase customer loyalty,” said Weber. “While Germans question why you would even want or need service if the product is perfect to begin with.”

The report notes that this mismatch is a result of vastly different cultural codes between headquarters and export markets.

The study shares specific examples of the cultural code differences between the U.S. and Germany. Weber shared how the codes are interpreted by the automotive brands. U.S. auto branding focuses on “identity” with messaging touching on unique look, how the car is a part of family life and delivers freedom. In Germany, auto brands speak to a cultural code based on technology. Marketing of autos focus on horsepower, fuel efficiency and streamlined design. “These cultural codes define the way consumers or customers think and act. Cultural codes are key to perception of the brand,” said Weber.

Weber and his team at me in Dusseldorf have designed a sophisticated methodology to help brands navigate intercultural brand transfer. For more information on the process or the report, contact:

United States
Patrick Milan
Chief Insights Officer

Ralf Weber
m/e brand communication
+49 211-173010