14 Oct 2015

Brands That Have Reinvented Themselves Abroad

Taking a brand overseas offers marketing teams the chance to present it in a totally different way. Reaching a new audience gives brands a new freedom to present themselves, and brands entering a market from overseas can often leverage a certain mystery that comes from being an import.

That can really work to the advantage of some brands, providing they get it right. Here are some brand that seem to have reinvented themselves in a positive way for overseas markets.


A historic British brand, Burberry was already well established overseas when it decided to reinvent itself in the late noughties. With luxury sales booming worldwide at that time, Burberry was growing more slowly than the industry average and wasn’t performing as well as it could have been in a strong luxury market.

The brand was doing different things in different markets by using a licensing system that gave a lot of leeway to local, decentralized design teams. In Hong Kong the brand’s core item, the classic trench coat, was completely overlooked in favor of polo shirts and other items for the local market. Licensing meant that cheaper versions from the range were being sold in several markets, which devalued the brand image.

Burberry reinvented itself in all its worldwide markets by reverting back to its core values of heritage and British manufacturing. This meant placing an emphasis on the trench; a controversial move as far as many within the company were concerned.

Cheaper items such as polo shirts were an accessible way for large numbers of people to own an item from the label. In fact, the Burberry check had become ubiquitous across a wide number of goods and the accessibility of the brand was at risk of damaging its exclusivity. This wasn’t helped by widespread cheap imitation items (including baseball caps) bearing the famous Burberry check.

Retreating to the core values of quality and heritage, and the hard-to-copy trench, made it more difficult for these imitators to follow and upped the cachet of owning a genuine item. By focusing more on the bigger-ticket coats and making them the crucial and desirable item to own, Burberry raised its average sale value.

It promoted the exclusivity of the brand by making it less accessible to large numbers of people but still made higher sales. What was interesting was that Burberry also focused on a demographic that had been neglected by competitors: millennials. By aiming to engage with this crowd, Burberry was able to encourage brand loyalty in the long term as this group grew with the brand.

The global reinvention of Burberry perhaps had the most impact in overseas markets such as Hong Kong, where the entire local design team was scrapped in favor of a centralized design approach. Burberry’s reinvention meant that cheaper versions of their products, made under license in places such as New Jersey and Italy, were no longer available as the brand retreated to its core ‘Made in Britain’ offering and reduced the amount of manufacturing that went on overseas.

This was a significant departure from the old under-performing, over-licensed Burberry that allowed a great deal of local creative freedom. The result of Burberry’s reinvention perhaps hit these local markets the most but the impact on the global brand has been extremely positive, restoring Burberry into a leading brand in the luxury fashion industry.

Beers that reinvent themselves

We’ve mentioned in this blog before how Pabst Blue Ribbon, a cheap US beer, reinvented itself in Asia as a luxury brew. This included a redesign of the bottle to emphasize its heritage: the 1844 date of the brewery’s establishment is much more prominent on the Chinese bottle.

Whilst the brew is seen a blue collar beer in the States (admittedly one hipsters also seem to love), when PBR went to China the brand cranked its price up to the level of a fine wine. Advertising in Asia likens the beer to the finest of scotches and (whilst it is a slightly different brew to the one sold domestically) most Americans would find the brand’s aspirations in China fairly comical.

Heineken pulled the same trick when it took its beer to the States. In its domestic market of the Netherlands, Heineken is not seen as anything but a fairly standard beer. When the brand expanded to America, it worked hard to create an image of a prestigious import. Heineken refused to brew beer locally, instead insisting on importing the finished beer to maintain exclusivity. The price of Heineken was often up to twice that of the local beers such as Budweiser and in the 1990’s Heineken was the leading imported beer in the US.

Pizza Hut

Pizza Hut ventured into China early: the first store was opened in the late 80’s and the chain now has over 700 across the PRC. The chain goes far beyond pizza in this market and offers a wide selection of American-style food including ribs, as well as French food such as crepes and even escargot. In fact, the Chinese name for the chain makes no mention of the word pizza and aims to be locally rooted rather than an obvious foreign import.

Pizza Hut’s Chinese restaurants offer an upscale, sophisticated dining experience in a stylish environment but at mid-market prices. Chinese consumers have seen it as a classy choice and a way to try exotic foods, all presented in a stylish package. This is quite a contrast to how the brand is perceived in the States, where it’s certainly not seen as anything like fine dining or even gourmet pizza.

Only three years ago management were expecting that rapidly growing revenue from China would mean that sales in this market would soon dwarf domestic ones. But Chinese diners seem to have tired of the brand, as new entrants to the market begin to appear even more sophisticated.

This includes chains like Pizza Express, where you can watch a chef toss your pizza dough before cooking it for you. As an early entrant to the PRC, the successful spread of Pizza Hut in China has been helped by the fact it has appealed to the newly affluent Chinese consumer during China’s economic expansion. With sales dipping, it’s unclear which direction the chain will go in next either at home or abroad.

Should your brand reinvent itself when venturing abroad?

Most brands that are successful in their global expansion efforts have made big changes to how they operate – adapting their business models, products or services and corporate culture to suit local customs. But the decision on how to position your brand when expanding overseas should not be taken lightly and a local approach where each market is considered separately is highly recommended.

Often the conventional wisdom gained from domestic markets needs to be turned on its head and new approaches adopted to allow businesses to focus on fixing what initially doesn’t appear to be broken. As always, the advice and support of experts in local markets is key to success.


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