The Power of Language in Global Brand Identity

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Thanks to the internet, almost every modern company is competing against other brands for its share of a global market. A strong brand helps a business stand out. And, more than anything else, developing a strong global brand identity rests on the power of language. 

Make no mistake. Visuals are important. But it is the language a business uses in its brand identity that influences perceptions of it. It is the language that enables businesses to connect with their audience on a cultural and personal level. 

The language you use in your branding tells your audience who you are. It describes your values and your attitudes. It speaks to your unique story that makes you memorable. 

But employing the power of language in your brand isn’t always easy. Here is what you need to know about the challenges involved – and the successful strategies and solutions that will help you take your brand global: 

Examples of good global branding 

1) Airbnb 

Airbnb is a great example of what effective global branding looks like. To the vanishingly small number of people who haven’t heard of it, Airbnb is an online homestay and experience marketplace, chiefly used to rent other people’s homes. 

This requires trust. Recognising this, Airbnb has put huge effort into localising its offer. It has successfully built a strong sense of global community among its users, where the brand’s values and what separates Airbnb from traditional accommodation options are placed front and centre. 

The company also delivers powerful and effective global marketing campaigns, such as its “Made Possible by Hosts” campaign of 2021. This stimulated the desire to travel (and rent other people’s homes) in its global audience after the COVID pandemic slump. 

With its own internal localisation department staffed by qualified professionals, Airbnb has been able to expand into 190 countries so far. 

Of course, an internal language department is beyond most companies. But it underlines the need for expertise and a considered approach to trust-building when developing a global brand identity. 

2) Wise 

Wise (previously, TransferWise) is an online money transfer business currently operating in over 160 countries around the world. Wise’s approach to fostering the trust necessary for its users to entrust it with their money is both centralised and highly localised. 

The centrality comes from the fact that you can find a deep well of content on Wise’s website designed to provide information about all 40+ of the currencies it works in and a huge range of money transfer situations besides. 

The expert content localisation comes in when you notice that this information is customised to the unique needs of its clients in 63 different countries. The brand has created highly useful, relevant content to reinforce a brand image of trust and authoritative expertise in their field. 

Again, this is an important takeaway for those interested in developing a strong global brand identity. 

Strategies for leveraging language in your brand 

From these examples and others, we can pinpoint several key strategies for building a brand that will be effective worldwide: 

1) Use language specialists 

Airbnb’s internal localisation department has more than proven its worth. For businesses without the necessary resources, working with language specialists is vital. Simply using Google Translate or a helpful bilingual employee will not cut it when it comes to translation quality. 

As Wise has also proven, localisation of any branded content needs to be carefully considered and appeal to specific local tastes, needs, and desires. This requires experts who understand the nuances of language – and also of culture. 

2) Consult on culture 

Airbnb might have been able to rely on a simple human desire to travel and experience the world to power its brand. But its advertising campaigns show that the company has a local eye on what appeals to their audiences in specific regions. 

Equally, brands like Wise, despite their financial expertise, don’t start from a position of understanding the unique money transfer needs of 63 different regional audiences and 40 different currencies. 

Their strong brands are built on extensive cultural consultation and research. This ensures that their messaging remains relevant and appealing to their audiences even if those audiences hail from dramatically different cultures on opposite sides of the world. 

3) Get creative 

Creative translation – also known as transcreation – is often required in global branding and some marketing localisation projects. 

In transcreation, rather than a translation of an original text or piece of content, your content is reimagined – often from scratch – by a creative team native to your target region and culture. The original piece is used as an inspiration and informative guideline. 

For example, humour is often very cultural. Something that an American audience might find funny might be offensive to an Emirati audience or simply nonsensical to a French one. 

However, a brand that has an identity to which being humorous is key will want to retain that aspect when targeting new regions. This calls for linguistic and cultural expertise specific to each region. 

4) Focus on word choice 

When you created your initial brand, you may have spent hours and employed professional brand consultants, marketers, and copywriters to build a careful whole based on the sum of its parts. 

Every word on the screen or page contributes to the brand image you are creating. It should go without saying that the same holds true when you take your brand global. 

Understanding the nuances of how each individual word you employ as part of your brand identity will be understood on a linguistic and local cultural level is the difference between successful expansion and business failure. 

A simple example of this is the experience of the online retailer Fab. Fab experimented with two versions of their online shopping cart. One was labelled “+Cart”. The other was marked with the more familiar “Add to Cart”. The difference between the two? 49% more clicks for the latter. 

5) Carefully consider language choice too 

Not every market a business chooses to enter will be monolingual. For countries that have more than one national language or multiple everyday lingua francas, the language you choose to advertise in can have a huge impact on how your brand is perceived. 

Research on consumer assumptions based on language done in India showed that local consumers had different impressions of a brand depending on whether its advertising was in Hindi or English (significant numbers of the Indian population speak both). 

Hindi was associated with a sense of belonging and everyday use. Thus, it did better when employed by brands that had an ethos or product that appealed in those areas. 

English, on the other hand, was sometimes regarded as being sophisticated. Thus, luxury products seemed to sell better when advertised in English as opposed to the often more warmly received Hindi. 

Again, this requires a deeper level of cultural understanding if you are to choose the right language for your brand in the right market. 

Global brand identity challenges and solutions 

Perhaps the biggest challenge in developing a global brand identity is remaining true to your original identity while also effectively adapting it for specific target audiences. 

Here are some strategies you can use to keep your brand cohesive while also adapting to the unique experiences, desires, and cultures of a global audience: 

1) Consider picturing a 60/ 40 solution 

A good visualisation technique for the degree of adaptation a brand can undergo before it becomes too divorced from its roots is the so-called “60/ 40 rule”. 

This rule says that around 60% of your brand should remain true to your domestic market. The other 40% should be carefully adapted to each target local market. 

This could never be a truly hard rule. Yet it’s a good way to envisage the problem. 

2) Be clear about what is core (to your brand) 

So, what can we always envisage as going in the “60%” category? These are the elements of your brand identity that you would never want to stray away from, such as: 

  1. Your values and vision 
  1. The problem you’re solving 
  1. The general “feel” of your brand (this might include elements like typography) 
  1. Your logo (and the variations you permit) 
  1. Your tone (e.g. “lighthearted” or “humourous”) 

3) Know what you can adapt 

The corollary of the above is to know what you are willing to adapt so that your global brand is effective in its appeal to specific audiences. 

Imagery and design elements, for example, can be an easy focus here. Colour symbolism is vital to understand in many parts of the world, especially in many Asian markets. 

Any audience would be turned away by references in language or imagery to a region or culture clearly not their own. Trying to appeal to an English audience by referencing national pride in a French landmark like the Eiffel Tower, for instance. 

By adapting elements that aren’t core to your brand, you make it possible to be flexible and creative while staying true to what makes you “you”.

4) Understand and adapt your message 

The language you use in your messaging will, of course, have very specific connotations in what is received by your audience. Not understanding what those implications are can seriously impact your ability to connect. 

Many companies have led the way in carefully adapting their brand or market position to the situation in the various places they sell their goods and services around the world. For example, in the automotive industry: 

  1. Ford – Ford’s Galaxy minivan is marketed as something that isn’t really a van in the UK. Instead, it’s a luxury vehicle suitable for the well-to-do. In Germany, it is sold as a “smart alternative” to the go-to Volkswagen brand. 
  1. Honda – is perceived as the choice for quality and reliability in the US. In Japan, these qualities are taken as read in any vehicle manufacturer. Instead, Honda’s Japanese brand also incorporates themes of youthful energy and velocity. 

5) Use your language service’s tools to improve cohesiveness 

Any modern Language Service Provider should work with the latest technology to maximise the cohesiveness of your branding efforts and content across language barriers. 

If you haven’t done so already, you will achieve the best results if you work together with your LSP’s experts to ensure their technology is empowering your global success. Some of the most effective tools to do this include: 

  • Brand glossaries – contain agreed translations of all the terminology and branded terms specific to your business. Product names. Taglines. Other elements that should be associated with your brand. 
  • Translation Memories – create translation time and cost-efficiency savings by suggesting strings of already translated content. This has a big effect on consistency too. 
  • Tone guides – ensure what your brand is saying fits with your values no matter what language you’re saying it in. 

The power of language in global brand identity 

The most successful businesses in the world have reached that pinnacle because they understand the power of a global brand. Brands like Apple don’t just sell products. They sell innovation and a certain lifestyle. 

This pitch is communicated through the language and individual words these brands use. They have managed to walk the most difficult of lines in global branding – remaining true to their core while also adapting to local consumer preferences and desires. 

Globalisation has enabled brands to connect with worldwide audiences. Yet, in recent years, understanding the unique nature of individual audiences around the world, and their one-of-a-kind cultural and linguistic preferences, has proven key to business success.  

Harnessing the power of language is the way to build a truly global brand identity. Yet it requires a careful balance and extensive linguistic and cultural expertise if you are to match the masters. 


Want to take the first steps towards taking your brand global? 

Kwintessential is the Language Service Provider trusted by some of the world’s leading brands, including Facebook, Lidl, and the BBC. 

Reach out to us today for a cost and commitment-free chat about your brand goals. 


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