Ryan Lawler

26 January 2021

30 min watch


How Twilio fosters innovation at scale

By Ryan Lawler

26 min watch

Building a global brand today requires more than just international name recognition. There are a lot more pieces to the puzzle then there were at the dawn of the “Mad Men” era in the 1960s, when "push marketing" was king. Just ask marketing veteran Tiffany Rolfe, the chief creative officer of R/GA.

To educate marketers, founders, and CEOs on modern global brand building, Samsung Next hosted a virtual Masterclass session, “When Every Brand is Global, How Do You Stand Out?” during Web Summit 2020 that featured a conversation between Rolfe and Angie Lee, head of marketing at Samsung Next.

These days, consumers everywhere have instant access to just about any brand, no matter where it originates. Whether they like it or not, the Internet has made just about every brand global. Consumers from Delhi to Dallas can visit your website or blog and experience your brand instantaneously.

During the masterclass, Rolfe outlined new approaches to global brand building, including a more purpose and value-driven approach. She also provided strategies for startups and founders to build a global brand correctly from the beginning. Rolfe wrapped up by touching on how brands should approach cultural conversations and what to expect in 2021.

Brand as operating system

One of Rolfe’s biggest ideas is for organizations to view their brands through lenses like business decisions, product roadmaps, and company culture. The brand isn’t just a name and a logo, it’s an entire operating system through which business functions.

“You can debate words on a page about your brand’s mission or purpose, but it’s really about making those things active,” Rolfe said. “How do those values show up as actions in the organization?”

Building a brand as an operating system requires organization-wide buy-in and collaboration. But it’s all part of building a larger brand expression through every action, and not just isolated to the marketing department.

“We like the metaphor of brand as an operating system because it helps organize and activate those principles,” said Rolfe. “It’s about how your entire business comes together, the way your brand is expressed, and how working as a brand makes better decisions that scale across the business.”

Rolfe recommends that businesses view their brand as an interactive process — a living document — that influences every part of your business.

Building a storybrand with founders

Going from a product-focused startup to a full-fledged global brand is a huge step for most founders and early employees. However, Rolfe said that smaller, fast-growth companies do possess certain advantages when it comes to international brand-building agility.

“One of the most common threads is that people oftentimes think of their brands as the thing they sell, instead of what they’re out in the world helping people do,” explained Rolfe. “So you have to get really clear about how your actions will match your words.”

Moreover, Rolfe added, “It takes a while to get there, but it’s easier from smaller organizations because they can get everyone on the same page faster.”

People then begin to realize that aligning around a brand purpose and vision empowers the entire company to make better decisions. Then startups can begin expressing their brands as a vision and purpose, instead of merely a technology solution.

“The brand gravity should be around the role you play in the world and the value you bring to people,” Rolfe said. “Then, you have to think about how that translates globally.”

Rolfe went on to explain how growing startups should position themselves to transcend political and cultural boundaries en route to becoming a global brand.

Brand building from local to global

“When you’re first starting out and want to grow into different cultures, you have to make sure that whatever you define as your purpose relates to different communities and cultures,” Rolfe explained.

Instead of simply looking for the White Space — the market potential of your brand in a new culture — brands should seek out the right space. “What is the right opportunity for that brand in the context of that culture,” she explained. “Looking at it beyond a business opportunity, but the role that you'll play with people in their lives. And to find your place that will connect with those consumers in a meaningful way.”

Cultural conversations are more important than ever when it comes to how brands are perceived globally. Rolfe recommends a targeted, thoughtful approach towards participating in these conversations. “Brands need to know who they are, the role they play in the world, and the value they add to people,” she said. “And the more that your brand or product intersects with a certain issue in the world, the better.”

She emphasized that, more often than not these days, brands are participating in cultural conversations around topics like racial equality and diversity. After all, saying nothing says something in and of itself. But brands should do true introspection about their core values and how to approach each cultural issue appropriately and aligned with their brand values.

Rolfe predicted that the future of building global brands — from large corporations down to startups — will be more real-time than ever. “I’m excited about the notion of real-time branding,” she explained. “Brands are living in culture more and being more responsive. That's why it's even more important to you to know who you are as a brand, so you can respond and behave in a more real-time way.”

Rolfe ultimately advised that building a global brand will certainly require risk. But startups should get laser-focused on building out a brand operating system that reflects their values, and making every part of their organization a brand expression.

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