Transitioning from an emerging brand to one that has global recognition can be a long and arduous process — one with numerous challenges along the way that can stall or even reverse your growth. Like a giant game of Snakes and Ladders, one wrong move could undo all of your progress and send your brand right back to square one.
One tricky balance to consider along the way is how to broaden your appeal to a national or global audience, especially if you’ve already fostered a strong connection with the local consumers that fueled your business’s growth in its earliest days.
Do you stay true to your roots or do you sell out?
Indeed, if you’ve already fostered a strong connection with local consumers then you’ve acquired an invaluable asset, one that could actually help you grow and connect with consumers elsewhere if you adapt it in the right way to their preferences.
While it’s not a tactic that suits every brand, boasting about your brand’s heritage and drawing on the local influences that have flavored its identity can be a great way of making it stand out in a crowded, global marketplace — where every offering looks, sounds, and feels the same.
In this article, we’re going to explore how brands can leverage their hometown culture to give their brand identity a distinctive character, along with the considerations needed to preserve that local flavor when breaking into new markets.
What Makes A Local Brand
All brands have roots in the places they base themselves — by employing local people or having your logo emblazoned on a town’s skyline, you’ll inevitably become entwined in the fabric of that community.
It’s no surprise then, that in a 2015 survey, consumers in America’s Pacific Northwest had a special affinity for Amazon and Starbucks — two brands with strong links to Seattle.
But you can go much further than this when building your brand. By piggybacking on local culture, ingratiating yourself in homegrown scenes, and engaging with the communities there, you can unlock regional growth and gain loyal customers in the process.
Sports teams and breweries are particularly good at creating this strong sense of connection with their hometowns — in the UK, nearly every town has at least one of each and, in most cases, they’re a source of intense local pride. A quick scan of the branding from any randomly selected local brewery and you’ll be sure to find messaging that celebrates the history, culture, and community of its hometown.
But tapping into local heritage and pride is not just restricted to these two brand types. Whether your brand is in the financial sector, a locally produced foodstuff, or even a tech startup — by telling a “local story” and creating a sense of community with consumers “who want to understand your story and support your business”, you can become part of a local ecosystem and thrive.
But how can a brand maintain this specific element of its brand identity as it pursues consumers in new markets? Luckily we have examples from some of the biggest brands that have achieved global recognition while still retaining the character of their hometown.
Carlsberg | Stand Out From The Crowd
We’ve already discussed how beer brands successfully establish themselves in local markets by leveraging the culture and heritage of their hometown, but Carlsberg represents a global beer brand that has gone back to its roots in order to speak to a transnational audience.
Starring Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, The Danish Way campaign was used to promote Carlsberg in the UK in 2017 — after recognizing that previous messaging had “led it to become interchangeable with other beer brands”.
Liam Newton, Vice President of Marketing at Carlsberg UK, explained:
“Our Danish provenance may be a bit more interesting than four or five years ago, as there’s been this explosion of Scandi-cool. But this is not about jumping on the Scandi bandwagon, it’s about going back to basics. We’ve got this amazing brand that’s 170 years old, but people don’t know much about it.”
Regardless of whether it was intentional, the ad practically doubles as a promotion for Danish tourism. Touring notable landmarks from the country’s capital, the ad undoubtedly leans on increased interest and exposure to Scandinavian culture — and even includes a casual reference to the concept of Hygge (which was widely popular in the UK at the time the ad aired).
In going back to its roots at a time when the beer market was oversaturated, Carlsberg was able to find a way to stand out from the crowd by incorporating unique and quintessentially Danish characteristics into its brand.
Yorkshire Tea | Embodying Regional Character
The number one selling tea brand in the UK, Yorkshire Tea leans heavily into the culture and heritage of its home county. Indeed, despite containing a product grown and processed in Africa and India, the brand’s packaging showcases an illustrated panorama of Yorkshire countryside — while its slogan “Let’s have a proper brew” draws from the county’s dialect.
The brand’s “Where everything’s done proper” campaign was conceptualized to grow the brand in what was then a shrinking market — and wake up the those who always buy the same brand of tea and "to help spread the message of properness." Like much of the brand’s messaging, the campaign leveraged the region’s stereotypical character to humorous effect.
As with Carlsberg, finding a brand ambassador who can effectively personify the local character that you want your brand to represent is vital — and Yorkshire Tea found the ideal candidate in Yorkshire native and Hollywood filmstar, Sean Bean.
The campaign catapulted the brand from third place into its current leading position, growing its market share from 15% to 28%, by waking up those habitual shoppers and making the brand “culturally famous to cut through the noise”.
Barcadi | Create A Sense Of Heritage
Baracadi’s identity is a unique one — exiled from its original home of Cuba after the Castro government confiscated and seized its assets in 1960, the rum producer relocated to the Bahamas.
Its brand story is one that is tied up in the history of the Caribbean. In fact, the original Barcadi building still stands in Havana, topped with the brand’s famous bat emblem.
However, in 2013, Bacardi chose to put its Caribbean heritage front and center in its “Untamable” campaign. Senior Global Category Director of Rums for Baracadi, Dmitry Ivanov, explained that:
“Taking a global creative approach with the ‘Bacardi Untameable Since 1862’ campaign allows us to focus all of our marketing resources against a single powerful idea; an idea that’s completely ownable to Bacardi as it is rooted in the brand’s history and the Bacardí family’s attitude to life.”
The campaign demonstrates a key benefit of emphasizing your brand’s origins as you grow to target international audiences — your brand’s roots and history can create a sense of heritage, and this can become a valuable asset that is unique to your brand. Whatsmore, research suggests that incorporating heritage into your brand can “among other benefits, lead consumers to believe products are of a high quality because they are time-tested.”
Don’t overlook your hometown and the local enthusiasm for your brand, even if you have your sights set on markets further afield than those on your doorstep. Your brand identity can be given a strong sense of authenticity, heritage, and uniqueness by leveraging your business’s roots.
As demonstrated by Carlsberg, leading brands can often smoothen their brand identity to allow it to fit comfortably into as many markets as possible — but this can lead to consumers’ forgetting what set your offering apart from the competition. If you’re competing against bigger brands with deeper pockets, drawing on your brand’s roots can be a great way to stand out. For these brands, it’s much wiser to “resist the temptation to try and reach all customers or imitate the multinationals” and, instead, target consumers who “appreciate the local touch”.
Your brand’s roots are an asset that only you can leverage — and there are numerous ways that you can incorporate them into your brand identity in a way that will excite and intrigue consumers in other markets, as well as those local consumers who’ve already built a strong connection to your brand.