6 Tips for Operating in Different Countries Around the World

Taking your business sin to the unknown is scary, and even more so when you know you are unprepared for what’s ahead.

Below CEO today hears from Fredrik Carling, CEO of Hövding, who provides five great tips for operating on a global scale.

I have been operating at a global level in one capacity or another for the majority of my career. I have come to realise that this is quite rare and that I am lucky to have as much experience as I do in this remit. In a way I have always been focussed on my brand and on the tasks at hand within that company. I don’t usually stop to think about the wider repercussions of my international work over the past years.

I am aware of how fortunate I have been to work with the varied teams that I have had the pleasure of managing. I started in fashion, working in various senior positions at Levi Strauss & Co, including European Brand Manager, and Diesel. My roles at these companies required extensive travel and knowledge of other markets.

In my current position of CEO at Hövding, I have been able to come in at a time when a product was relatively unknown and grow this brand until it is selling 150,000 units across Europe and Japan. Now, during our busiest year yet – what with the launch of an entirely new product – I have given some thought into the essential points that one must consider when looking to expand globally:

  1. Change the way you, and your team, think. Most companies on Earth started from one geographical location. Entire organisations and corporations are built from that one birthplace. Management teams, engineers, designers, marketeers, etc. are all hired at this point in time. This means that, during a period, most people on a business’ books are local. It is therefore essential, if you are looking to expand and grow in other markets, that you make a conscious effort to think on a global level. For example, if you want your product to be stocked in a department store, don’t reference the one on your high street. Start to talk about equivalent department stores from other countries. Start to use these comparisons in your every day language. It teaches everyone else to think outside of the box and set their targets globally, rather than nationally.
  2. Look from the outside in. You can’t assume that a brand starts in the same way everywhere. Just because your organisation is now well known and understood in a certain way in your country or continent, doesn’t mean that it will be seen and accepted in the same manner elsewhere. When I worked at Levi’s it was a 125 year-old brand. People all over the world knew the red label on the back of those jeans. However it was seen completely differently in Japan, for example, than it was in the USA. You must understand people’s perception of the brand or product and accept that this may not always be the same.
  3. Establish your core identity. With the above in mind, it is important to establish a brand identity early on. Consider the core essence of the business and establish the pillars of your brand that you are not willing to negotiate on. Stick to this throughout the world, but be flexible with the rest. I was humbled when I learnt this. Our companies become our babies, in a sense. We want everyone to see them the way that we do but through this new lens, you can learn to understand a whole new place as its inhabitants learn to accept and adopt your product.
  4. People, and their respective cultures, are different. This, out of everything, struck me as the simplest thing to notice, but the hardest thing to truly learn to understand. It is a case of having to amend your behaviour and approach whilst still remaining true to your identity. I, for example, am a Swede. I therefore think completely differently to an American. Said American will share very few similarities with someone from Japan. The markets in these three countries are very different too. We must learn to adapt and learn from one another. A specific example from my previous experience in selling products in multiple European markets; the Dutch, on average, are very tall people. The Spanish, on average, are not. Selling clothes in both of these places means essentially redesigning your entire range from a practical perspective, but at the same time we also had to take care to ensure that the visual elements remained consistent throughout.
  5. Needless to say that, in the case of marketing at least, the world is now smaller. It used to be that a well-known phenomena in Korea was just that – a Korean phenomenon. But now that same sensation can be broadcast across the world and turned into memes and goodness knows what else within minutes. Think, on a serious note, of the Me Too movement. It just would not have been possible 50 years ago. Having men and women from across the world unite over a simple message to combat years of wrongdoing from people abusing their power. It was a very powerful thing. But my point is that finding a global reference point now is easy. When I say Kardashian, which I don’t often, it isn’t a reference that only someone that has access to E! News understands. People without a television in far-flung remote locations recognise David Beckham. This is all worth considering when planning a marketing campaign. But remember, different markets still respond to different things. In Asia, celebrity is huge. The power that celebrity has is massive and will take part in many of your campaigns. However, in Europe, just because you have a celebrity on your billboard or Instagram, it doesn’t mean that people will connect with it.
  6. Do not be afraid to take a step back. This may sound almost counter-intuitive. But it is perhaps the most important lesson of my career. When a business does start to grow and expand into new markets, everyone’s natural reaction is to dive in and keep going. It is then that you, as the steerer of the ship, must keep a cool head and think. It is very easy for a brand that starts feeling success to get overwhelmed and rush through to expansion – stalling before ever reaching its full global potential. It is vital to think whether you are actually ready for a new market as a business. Can you supply the demand, can you find the local support needed, can you meet all of the new market’s regulations? Can you do all of this in a sustainable manor? There is a fine line between ambition and overpromising.
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